Kieran Larwood was born in Kenya and moved to the Isle of Wight when he was eight. Here he talks about his new book Uki and the Outcasts and his thrilling The Five Realms series…
Firstly, congratulations on the news that The Five Realms series will be developed into a show for television! How does this feel? How involved in the process will you be?
Thank you! It is amazing news, and it feels a bit like a dream come true, although it still has to get picked up by a TV network and put into production, so I’m not getting too excited just yet. Luckily, the production company and animators want to work really closely with me, and I am planning on writing an episode or two myself.
How has your life changed since winning the 2011 Times/Chicken House Competition? What was that experience like?
It was a great breakthrough for me to win the competition, although it wasn’t until Podkin One-Ear won the Blue Peter prize in 2017 that my life really changed, when I was able to give up teaching to write full time. Now I can really focus on developing my stories and trying out new ideas, which is brilliant.
With reference to The Five Realms series, what was it like seeing your words and stories transformed into illustrations and artwork by David Wyatt? What do you feel his illustrations bring to the series?
I am so lucky to have David as an illustrator as he is absolutely fantastic. His pictures really bring the story to life, and my favourite part of putting a book together is seeing his illustrations come in. He manages to capture every detail that’s inside my head so accurately, it’s actually a bit scary.
How important are the names in the story? How do you go about creating names like Podkin, the Gorm, Sparrowfast and Spinestone?
I think names are very important for suggesting an atmosphere or idea. I usually just make them up, or combine bits of other words to come up with something new.
What might teachers learn about storytelling from the old Bard?
The bard is based on my time as a Reception teacher, when I tried to read the children as many stories as I could. I try to get across the magic of storytelling, and all the incredible things it can do. I think it is so important, and unfortunately gets squeezed out of the school day with all the curriculum pressures, especially as children get older.
Another popular book you have written is The Peculiars. How is The Peculiars similar to The Five Realms series? How is it different?
It’s really very different, as it is a historical/mystery story, but I think some of the themes are similar, such as inclusion, respect, friendship and being able to accomplish great things if you try hard enough.
I am excited to see that you’ve signed a new publishing deal with Faber Children’s and your new book, Uki and the Outcasts, will be published in September. Can you tell us a bit more about Uki and the Outcasts?
The tale of Uki is connected to the overall story of Podkin, but I wanted to explore some of the other parts of the rabbit world that I had created. The hero is a young rabbit who is cast out of his tribe for looking different and who then gets caught up in a struggle for the future of the rabbit world against a host of spirits left over from the time of the Ancients. There’s lots of adventure and new characters, and the bard and Rue have some excitement and danger as well.
Why did you decide to set Uki and the Outcasts in the same world as The Five Realms series?
It is part of the overall story of Podkin and his friends, and I wanted to explore some other parts of the rabbit world.
After the success of The Five Realms series, what are your feelings about writing another series?
It would be great to write something else as well. The problem is coming up with an idea good enough…
What does a day in the life of Kieran Larwood look like when you’re writing? Do you have any writing rituals?
I usually start off the day with emails and letters, and then I go back through the last bit of writing I did. That usually takes me up to lunch, and then I have a few hours to write a bit more before the kids come back from school and doing anything becomes impossible. I do spend a lot of time thinking about the story and making notes, which is actually just as important as writing (even though it might not look like I’m doing anything).
What do you think is more important: characters or plot?
I think they are as important as each other. All parts of a book are equally important, in their own way.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
I’m lucky enough to get lovely letters and emails from readers. They are all really positive and it’s great to see that children are enjoying my books.
What stories and authors did you enjoy as a child? Are there any that you feel have particularly influenced you?
I loved fantasy books, and still do. My biggest influence was probably The Hobbit, which opened my eyes to the whole fantasy genre.
I know that you worked as a Reception class teacher on the Isle of Wight. What is it about teaching this age group that you particularly enjoyed?
I don’t teach at the moment, as I’m writing full time. I did especially enjoy the child-led style of learning and their boundless enthusiasm for anything new.
What advice would you give to teachers about how to develop reading for pleasure in their classrooms?
I think the important thing is to make time for reading and enjoying books. I also think it’s amazing if teachers share a passion for books new and old. They can really enthuse children and help them broaden their range of reading. There seems to be great interaction between teachers and authors on Twitter at the moment.
Apart from your own books, are there any children’s books you’ve particularly enjoyed recently and would recommend?
I love all of Emma Carrol’s books, and also The House With Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson, Begone the Raggedy Witches by Celine Kiernan, anything by Katherine Rundell, Phillip Reeve and M.G.Leonard. There are so many more… it really seems to be an amazing time for Middle Grade writing at the moment.
Finally, can you describe your books in three words?
Epic rabbit fantasy.