Scarlett Thomas has always loved stories, magic and mysterious places. She tried (and failed) to write her first novel when she was six. Since then she has successfully written lots of novels, but this is her first one for children. She lives near the sea in an old house full of books, and is a professor in the English department of the University of Kent. Dragon’s Green is the first volume in the Worldquake Sequence.

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Praise for Scarlett Thomas

‘Ingenious and original. . .
A cracking good yarn fizzing with intelligence’
PHILIP PULLMAN

‘Entrancing . . .  one of the sharpest fantasies I've encountered’
NEIL GAIMAN


A Q&A with Scarlett Thomas

How did you have the idea for Dragon’s Green?

It was early summer, with fields full of buttercups, and my partner and I were driving down the A272 in Southern England. I was navigating. I kept reading out the funny names on the map. Old Wives’ Lees. Frog Hole Lane. And then I saw it. Dragon’s Green. Something happened in my brain at that moment that I can’t explain. I turned to my partner. ‘If I ever write a children’s book I’m calling it Dragon’s Green,’ I said. ‘Do you think you’ll write a children’s book?’ he asked. ‘Of course not,’ I replied. We drove on. We were away for five days. On the way back, I realised I had a rough outline of the book in my head and I began writing as soon as I got home.

How did you begin writing the book?

I started with Mrs Beathag Hide – the mean English teacher. As soon as I had her name, I was off. I also knew that there would be a magical library in which books have great powers, a wise grandfather who dies or disappears and a princess who is rescued from a dragon by another girl. I knew that at the start of the book someone would steal or destroy the grandfather’s library and that our girl hero would have to try to rescue the books. I also knew that all this would take place in a world quite a lot like ours, in which people are born able to do magic but don’t necessarily awaken their skills. After that it was all a lovely surprise. I kept writing because I wanted to know what would happen!

What does happen?

We follow Effie Truelove (full name Euphemia Sixten Bookend Truelove) as she embarks on an adventure to get back her grandfather’s books, which have been sold to a very shady book-dealer called Leonard Levar. Effie’s grandfather has also left her several magical items and some rather confusing instructions. Effie learns that if you touch something magical you become magical yourself – you epiphanise – and if you have the right paperwork (or a lot of determination) you can cross over to the Otherworld, a mysterious other dimension that runs on magic, and where everything is free. Effie goes on a sort of hero’s journey, discovering herself and her true nature in the process. She also makes four important new friends – nerdy Maximilian, strong Wolf, helpful Lexy and mysterious Raven.

Who is your favourite character?

I love all the characters in the Worldquake Sequence. The five main children are my most favourite characters, of course, but I also love the mean old teacher Mrs Beathag Hide, the rather intense school sports master Coach Bruce and even the evil Diberi characters, all of whom seem to come from the world of publishing!

The book has a lot of magic in it. Do you believe in magic?

Yes. I have always believed in magic, other dimensions, and the inherent lifeforce of everything. I’ve written a lot about science in the past, and while doing research I have often come across things that seem magical even though they are real, like the placebo effect and the concept of ‘the zone’ in sports. I usually describe myself as a Pagan Christian Hindu Buddhist (not always in that order) and I think the book reflects that. I particularly loved creating the magical world of Dragon’s Green and the Worldquake Sequence because it involved being honest about a lot of things I secretly think.

You’ve written for adults before – why did you decide to write for children now?

I’m always a bit surprised by where each new book takes me, and in this case it was quite a big surprise! I’d never imagined writing for children before that day on the A272. But it does make sense. Magic has been creeping into my adult fiction for a while now, and I finally gave up on realism in The Seed Collectors, when two of the characters find they are able to fly. I’ve also had quite a lot of important child characters in my adult fiction – particularly young Alice in PopCo, and Holly in The Seed Collectors. But writing Dragon’s Green meant I could completely let go and write the imaginative world that has long been very real to me. I really feel like I have discovered something closer to my ‘natural’ voice with this novel. It’s been a joy and a pleasure.

What was it like writing for children?

Amazing, and like nothing I have ever experienced before. Every night when I was writing Dragon’s Green I would go to bed brimming over with plot, almost unable to wait to get on with it again in the morning. For the time I was writing the book, it was almost the only thing on my mind. I wrote in intense bursts, completely losing myself in the writing and the world. I couldn’t wait to know what would happen next, and so I wrote as greedily as I would read something I loved as much as this. I simply couldn’t put it down.

What were your favourite fantasy novels as a child?

I read so much as a child – and mainly from libraries – that I now find I have forgotten so many of the titles and authors of my favourite books. I particularly loved any books I could find to do with magic, time travel or philosophy, and it helped if they were funny! Favourites I do remember include Which Witch by Eva Ibbotson, Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones and the Magic Faraway Tree series by Enid Blyton.

What sort of books influence you now?

I have quite eclectic tastes, but one of my favourite novels is The Master and Margarita, which is referenced in the novel when Maximilian travels to the Underworld and finds a bunch of existentialists, futurists and absurdists acting as gatekeepers. I read TH White’s The Once and Future King not long before I started Dragon’s Green, as well as a lot of PG Wodehouse’s Blandings novels, which I adore. I’m also a fan of Tolstoy, Chekhov, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Katherine Mansfield, Dodie Smith, Joan Aiken, Diana Wynne-Jones, George Saunders and the contemporary short story writer Kelly Link. I absolutely loved Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy too.

In the book, the characters discover their special magical abilities, known as their kharakters. What is your kharakter?

I am a bard, which means I love to tell stories and perform. Not all writers are bards – they can be engineers, composers or even elysians. [You can take the test yourself here.]