Children’s Book Week: Andrew McGahan’s imagined world of Ship Kings

To celebrate Children’s Book Week, we asked acclaimed author for adults and children Andrew McGahan to tell us about his favourite reading experiences, as well as writing his Ship Kings series. Also read on for your chance to win a water based adventure!

Before now, I’ve certainly not been known as a fantasy writer, but I’ve always been a fantasy reader. Growing up, by far the most vivid of my reading experiences were the great fantasy epics of the day – be it Lord of the Rings or the Earthsea series or the Thomas Covenant chronicles or Julian May’s Saga of the Exiles. The sense of wonder and delight those books inspired remains with me still, and I return to them often even now with nothing but pleasure. I’ve always thought— somewhat wistfully—that it would be wonderful to contribute something similar to the reading world one day, however modest in comparison to those giants, but in fact my earlier novels all turned out to be straight fiction, more or less, with barely a hint of fantasy about them.

Andrew McGahan office

In the meantime, I’ve also always had a passion for seafaring tales, starting from Poe’s A Descent into the Maelstrom, which I first read, utterly awestruck, at about ten years old. Note, I don’t claim to have a passion for the sea itself, or for sailing: mine is strictly a landlubber’s longing, a romance that thrives in complete ignorance of the reality, for I’m not any kind of a sailor – it’s only the tales that I love. Tales that are written to be read firmly on dry land, tales of cold and misery and storms, tales of monsters of the deep, and of giant waves and bottomless whirlpools; tales in which the widths of the ocean become an unknowable realm where all normal laws are suspended and anything can happen, and where mankind and his tiny vessels can never truly be at home.

I finally indulged this passion a few years ago in the novel Wonders of a Godless World, a section of which is set at seabut that was only a brief foray, and all it did was whet my appetite. Suddenly, I knew I had to write a story that was properly seafaring from start to finish. And I knew too that the tale I wanted to tell could not be bound by the rules of the real world, and that the ocean I wanted to sail upon could not have the same limits that our own ocean does – I wanted bigger waves, and wilder storms, and horrors more unspeakable in the deeps below. Hence, it seemed only too obvious that I should also indulge my other wistful desire at last, and make it fantasy.

Thus the Ship Kings began to take shape.

Writing The Ship Kings

Four years later I’m three volumes into the series, with just one book left to go, and I don’t think I’ve ever had quite so much fun while at work. The writing itself is still a serious business, of course, and no less exacting than any of the earlier books, but there’s a certain lightness and delight at the core of it all; a boy’s-own thrill at getting to make up the marvels and terrors that our hero Dow Amber encounters, and in mapping out the islands and oceans of the world that he and the Ship Kings inhabit.

It’s the combination of those three things – seafaring, fantasy and delight – that I think has steered Ship Kings into the Young Adult category. I’m quite comfortable for it to be there, but I didn’t specifically plan it that way when I began. It was more that I just wanted to write fantasy in a clean and classic style; an adventure for adventure’s sake, set upon a haunting sea. That notion certainly lends itself to Young Adult, but I’d like to hope that the series would appeal to readers of any age, as long as they’re young at heart.

WIN a water adventure!

To celebrate the release of The War of the Four Isles, we’re giving away a thrilling water adventure – a Jet Boat experience for you and a friend!

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