In our Seven Stories feature, we ask a Scottish children’s author to share some stories about their own life.
This month we meet Lari Don. We were enchanted by her new book, The Legend of the First Unicorn, and wanted to find out more about the stories behind it.
1) NEWS STORY: (What’s the story with your new book?)
The Legend of the First Unicorn. It’s about a prince who has lost his smile and the magician’s granddaughter who tries to cheer him up by inventing the unicorn. But there’s another newly invented creature lurking in the forest, so there will be a bit of danger before the happy ending…
It’s based on an old Scottish Travellers’ tale, and I hope it will introduce young readers to a unicorn that is more authentic, more heraldic and more muscular than the current trend for soft glittery ones… (Though Nataša Ilinčić’s amazing illustrations mean this unicorn is also stunningly beautiful! )
2) SHORT STORY: (your book in five words).
unicorn, invention, forest, battle, friendship
3) LIFE STORY: (How did you get where you are now?)
I was brought up in the northeast of Scotland, where I played with friends and family in beautiful (but slightly dangerous) landscapes, inventing our own worlds and adventures.
Then I grew up, moved away to the city and started to do proper jobs, but my imagination never really left the hills and rivers and trees, which is why I write stories set in the Scottish countryside.
I’ve always worked with words. In my 20s I worked in politics and broadcasting, and in both those jobs I was expected to stick to the facts. But now I can make things up! My first kids’ novel – First Aid for Fairies and other Fabled Beasts – was published almost 12 years ago, and since then I have written more than 30 books, including adventure novels, collections of myths and legends, and picture books, almost all of them inspired by my love of traditional tales. I get to play with stories all day. It’s the best job in the world!
4) LOVE STORY (What do you really, really care about?)
I love traditional tales. I especially love monster-defeating stories, and I’m always on the look out for stories about strong girls who don’t wait about for a boy with a sword to rescue them. I am passionate about finding, researching and sharing these stories, and about showing kids how they can create their own new stories from the compelling and timeless building blocks in fairytales and folklore. So, I love old stories. And I love making up new stories. And I love seeing kids’ eyes widen when they have a story idea of their own… Also, in my thin slivers of spare time, I love politics and political campaigning. And my cats. (And my family, obviously…)
5) ADVENTURE STORY (What was your most exciting adventure?)
For me, the greatest adventure is every time I ask a ‘what if’ question and start to follow a story path to see where it goes. It’s new and exciting every single time, for every single book! I vividly remember the morning I suddenly thought – wait a minute, the unicorn is Scotland’s national animal, what’s the story behind that? So that afternoon I went to the huge Central Library in Edinburgh, and started hunting through the indexes of all the history and folklore books I could find, and realised that there was a story there: the royal connection, the rivalry with the lion, the chases through forests, the heraldic imagery. So taking that initial question, doing the research, seeing a story light up ahead of me, filling it with characters, then seeing an awesome artist like Nataša Ilinčić bring it to life with magical pictures, is the best possible adventure! And the wonderful thing is… I get to do it again with the next book! (I’m already partway through that adventure, and I can’t wait to tell everyone where it’s taking me!)
6) OLD STORY (What were your favourite childhood stories?)
The books I read and reread and read again were fantasies by Diana Wynne Jones (especially The Power of Three) and CS Lewis (especially The Horse and His Boy). I loved them (I still love them!) because they open up new magical worlds and new imaginative possibilities.
7) BEDTIME STORY (What’s your bedtime reading now?)
I’ve just finished One of Us is Next, by Karen McManus, a YA novel recommended to me by one of my daughters. I used to guide their reading, now they guide mine!