Here are some answers to the most common questions that I get asked by readers. If you want to ask a question that you don’t see here – contact me and I will try to answer you!
How long does it take to write one of your books?
That depends – usually about four to six months, but sometimes I get stuck, and it takes a lot longer. With Frogspell it took about three months to write the first draft – but then I rewrote it quite a few times. The final book was twice as long as the first version! In Cauldron Spells I got a bit stuck with figuring out how Morgana’s plot was going to work. The same thing happened in Swordspell. Ice Spell was the easiest – I think I probably wrote that in about three months. Deep Amber was the hardest – it took me almost a year.
Where do you get your ideas from?
Lots of people ask this question – but I think everyone has ideas bubbling around in their head all the time. If you stop to think about it, you probably have twenty interesting ideas a day – they find their way into imagining yourself doing other things, daydreams, plans for something you might do tomorrow, funny things you mishear. You might see someone in the street and wonder what they’re doing, why they said what they said to their friend, why they’ve got a bunch of flowers in their hand (who are they going to give them to?). All these things jostle for space in your head, and sometimes they become the beginning of a story. Of course, other books are a great source of ideas too – I probably wouldn’t have written the SPELL series the way I did if I’d never read T.H. White’s The Once and Future King.
Who is your favourite author?
That’s easy! My favourite author is Diana Wynne Jones, who wrote lots of marvellous books for children stuffed full of magic and adventure. Her books are also very funny. When I was about nine I read Eight Days of Luke, and it made me want to be a writer. If you would like to read my review of this book, it’s here.
What was the first thing you wrote?
I wrote lots of stories as a young child and at school, but the proper thing I wrote as a grown-up was a bedtime story which I wrote for a competition. It didn’t win, but it was shortlisted – and I got to have my story read on radio! (It was called The Thing, and if you want to listen to it, here it is:
You’ll see that Max features in this story as well as in Frogspell – not so good at inventing names, then!
How did you get your first book published?
When I’d finished writing Frogspell, I sent the first three chapters and an outline to about twenty agents. Over the next few months, I got letters from all of them – and every single one said they didn’t want to see the rest of the book. Sigh! However, I also sent it to Chicken House, a publisher, and they did ask to read the rest. Unfortunately, they didn’t want to publish it in the end – but it was quite a boost. At around the same time, my niece wrote a fan letter to Diana Wynne Jones, and got a lovely letter back from her – so I decided to write my own fan letter! She was so nice, and so friendly, that I let her know I had written a book, and she instantly told me to send it to her agent, Laura Cecil. Laura decided she liked my book, and then she found me a publisher. It was still a very long time from that point to the first book actually coming out, though!
What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done?
When I was ten, my Dad decided we were going to take the barge we lived on to Holland and through the Dutch canals. This meant crossing the English Channel. Our barge, Nidd, was very round, and prone to roll in heavy seas… Unfortunately it was rather stormy the day we went across, and the boat rolled so much I thought it was going to roll right upside down! I have never been so terrified in my life. We did make it safely to Calais, though, and travelling down the canals was brilliant! In fact, I had lots of great adventures living on a boat – I recommend it!
I can’t think of anything quite as scary as that, but I did have some scary moments when I lived in India. I had a motorbike, and at the time, cars and buses in India didn’t really bother too much about rules on the road – you just got out of the way of anything bigger than you. That was sometimes a bit hair-raising!
And some more questions…
An Interview with C.J. Busby
In 2013, Armadillo magazine interviewed me about Swordspell. Some of the questions are here:
Swordspell, the fourth book in your series, captures all the excitement and thrill of the previous titles whilst winding up lots of loose ends from the stories, was it the most difficult of the four of write?
It was the most difficult, you’re right, mostly because it was the most complicated to plot. I knew that Morgana would somehow have to steal and enchant Excalibur, and Arthur would have to fight a knight wielding it, because that is what happens in the original legends – it’s her final act of treachery before she is defeated by Merlin. But it took me ages to work out how she was going to do that, why there was a ‘swordspell’ involved, and how to make sure no one noticed till the last minute! Once I’d worked that bit out, the rest was a doddle!
What made you take the decision to write stories set in Arthurian myth and legend?
I knew I wanted to write a story with magic, and for me the perfect setting for magic is one where it’s taken for granted – the fairy-tale world of witches, wizards, knights and castles. When I first started writing Frogspell, it was simply set in this kind of fairy-tale world. But I’ve also always been fascinated by the Arthurian legends, and as soon as I found myself sending Max off to Camelot for the Annual Spell-Making Competition, I knew Merlin and Arthur would have to come into the book somehow. It also gave me a fantastic ready-made villain, Morgana le Fay.
Is it difficult to write books based around existing stories or does the fact that there are so many possible versions of the Arthurian legend make it easier to weave your own stories?
In some ways it does constrict you – you can’t stray too far from the original stories or characters – but in other ways it’s a delight, because you have a ready-made world that your readers recognize. That means you can simply dive straight into the story without having to worry about setting the scene or working out the background details. And of course there are lots of versions of the legends, and there is a lot of leeway to re-imagine how things happened. The section set in the Otherworld in Cauldron Spells is almost directly taken from a Welsh poem, The Treasure of Annwn, and I loved taking the challenges in the poem (the Brindled Ox, the River of Jet, the Fortresss of Mead Drunkenness) and fitting them to the different characters I had.
Max and Olivia are not very Arthurian names, was this intentional?
The two children were originally Max and Lily, after my son and younger daughter. Then Lily became Olivia, but I simply couldn’t think of another name that fitted Max. When the story became Arthurian, I checked all the names to see if I could still use them, and in fact Maximus was the name of a Roman general who commanded the army in Britain in the period when Arthur was supposed to have lived. Similarly (to my surprise!) Adrian is a name contemporary to that time, as well as Richard and Bertrand (I decided Bertram would do as a variant). Olivia is not a Roman name, but it’s similar enough to Livia, which is, for me to decide it was OK to use it. On the other hand their pets, Adolphus and Ferocious, whilst not being Arthurian either, do not seem to be out of place.
How difficult is it to dream up names that are appropriate for each and every character?
Those two names simply came into my head, and I have no idea where, really, except they seemed to fit. Similarly with Snotty Hogsbottom and his father. I always feel it is important to get the names right, and it can take a few goes to get there. Vortigern the duck, from Icespell, had a number of different names before the right one came along and stuck.
If you want to know more, you can read the full interview here.
Please do contact me and ask some questions of your own. I will try to answer them as soon as possible!