MC Holliss writes wonderfully illustrated books rooted in history and mythical beasts. Aimed at a younger audience, these are a great example of how history can be used as a tool to grip the imagination of children. Inspired by her own young grandchildren the books use aspects of the past such as castles and knights alongside mythical beasts such as dragons. The artwork is provided by a number of illustrators, often recent graduates of the Local Universities School of Art.
What inspired you to write children’s history books?
Although I started my career as an infant teacher, the inspiration to write came from my first grandson. At the age of two, he showed great enthusiasm for knights, castles and especially imaginary dragons!
Illustrations are very important in children’s books. How do you plan for that aspect of your work?
As I’m writing, I build up pictures in my head of the plot characters and background. I always use illustrators, as art was never one of my strong subjects! I also try and use illustrators who have just started their career and have a young approach. For example, the illustrator of my first book had just graduated from the Leeds College of Art.
“The freezing cold water swept over his face and filled him with terror. He tried to shout, but his voice disappeared as he swallowed another mouthful of water. He gasped for breath. ‘Think Callum,’ he shouted to himself and then he saw the large tree trunk, which had fallen into the river. ‘I must reach that,’ he thought.’It’s my only chance.’ The river swept him towards it and he grabbed hold, but his hands were now so cold that he couldn’t find the strength to climb on. Just as he was about to lose his grip, a dark shape leapt onto the trunk. It was the Wolf and gripping the sleeve of Callum’s coat with it’s teeth, began to pull him out of the river.”
Extract from The Winter Dog, M.C. Holliss
Clearly, with younger children, the key is gripping their imagination and making them interested in reading. How do you balance that with getting the historical parts accurate?
When I start a new book. I first concentrate on the plot, making sure it will maintain the attention of the reader, whilst at the same time ensuring that the historical content is generally accurate. Timelines are sometimes varied, to maintain continuity and interest. My objective is to ensure that the reader builds a love of history, as my various audiences are all younger than 14.
It is early in the 13th century, in the north of England and the story begins in the Earl’s Castle. Gregory, the Earl’s son and Rufus his trusty Wolfhound companion, face further dangers, as the Green Dragon is seeking revenge and is not the only one trying to steal the ‘Green Eye of the Saracen’ – a priceless emerald, with magical powers.
Blurb: Gregory and the Green Dragon
Which authors or illustrators have influenced your work the most?
Gosh! There are so many!! As a child, I read everything I could get my hands on, including books by Robert Louis Stevenson, Charles Dickens, Johanna Spyri, Captain Marryat, Louisa May Alcott, Lewis Carroll, the Brontes and many more. These helped stimulate my imagination, however, I try very hard to make my stories original.
Who are your favourite authors? (any genre)
Currently – Bernard Cornwell, CJ Sansom, Joanne Harris. Barbara Erskine
Why do you think it is important for young children to read stories based in the past?
You can learn so much from reading about human experiences, particularly those taking place over the last 3000 years. There are so many examples of ‘history repeating itself’, most of which could have been avoided if our ancestors had studied history!
It is early in 13th century. The Gregory Adventures continue with ‘Gregory and the Green Eye of the Saracen’. Once again Gregory, the young squire and his trusty companion Rufus, face evil forces intent on stealing the emerald called ‘the Green Eye’. The jewel is held safe by Gregory’s father, one of England’s most important earls, in his northern castle. The emerald is also protected by a Saracen ghost. Helped by Rufus, his trusty wolf-hound, Gregory must confront this enemy, to protect the honour of his family.
Blurb: Gregory and the Green Eye of the Saracen
What plans have you for your writing? Will it continue to be set in this period or do you see yourself writing in different genres or historical periods?
My first three books – ‘The Gregory Adventures’ series – are set in the middle ages, at the time of the Crusades. These were followed by ‘The Winter Dog’ which is set in Scotland in the 19th century. I have two books about to be published – ‘ The Baby Dragon’ – a picture/story book for ‘under fives’ and a book set in the English Civil War. My next book will have a naval setting, during the Napoleonic wars. Apart from ‘The Baby Dragon’, all my books are targeted at 6 to 13 year olds. At this stage in my writing career, I have no plans to work on different genres, but you never know!!
What tips do you have for aspiring writers, of any age?
I can only advise aspiring writers of fiction. Don’t try and create ‘the finished article’ at the ‘first pass’. Concentrate on getting the story down. There will be plenty of time later to refine the story. Let others look at your work and provide constructive criticism! Make sure that the action line captures the attention of the reader, throughout. Remember that you are competing with computer games and the numerous other distractions facing today’s readers!
It is early in the 13th Century. Gregory, the son of one of England’s most important earls, lives in a castle in the north of England. Together with his faithful companion Rufus Gregory sets out on the first of many adventures and helps the Green Knight to escape the evil spell cast by Sir Ethelred. To release the Green Knight from the spell Gregory and Rufus must face a scary Dragon, a ghostly Saracen and challenge the evil knight at the King’s tournament.
Blurb: Gregory and the Green Knight