We’re delighted to welcome debut author Alex Mullarky to Roaring Reads, to tell us about the stories behind the story, The Sky Beneath the Stone.
We were captivated by this book, which is filled with folklore, adventure and characters you can’t help but root for, in one of the most original magical worlds we’ve ever travelled through. Plus, reading it has added a few things to our own bucket lists (see hawfinches, visit Long Meg, buy a tup).
If you love wildlife and the wilderness, and enjoy a quest with a generous sprinkling of magic, then we know you’ll find this story a treat, and we hope you enjoy our chat with Alex as much as we did…
News story: What is your new book about?
The Sky Beneath the Stone is about a girl named Ivy whose younger brother is transformed into a kestrel and trapped in the fairy realm beneath the mountains of her home in Cumbria. Armed with her map and hiking gear, Ivy must venture through a mysterious hole in her garden wall and journey across this strange land to find her brother, break the spell and bring him home.
There’s just one problem: she’s too afraid to go outside.
The Sky Beneath the Stone is a middle grade fantasy adventure about family, friendship, and realising that we’re never as lost as we think we are.
Short story: Sum up your book in five words
Magical world beneath your feet!
Life story: How did you get where you are today?
I grew up in Cumbria, like Ivy, then came to Scotland to study English at St Andrews. I met my wife there, who is Australian, and we ended up moving to Australia together where we lived for several years. We missed Scotland so much that eventually we came back and settled in Midlothian.
I have always loved books and wanted to be an author from a young age. I wrote my first book at the age of 16 but it was another 14 years until I wrote one that would be published – this book, in fact!
In the meantime I studied screenwriting, wrote a few plays (some of which I directed, but I much prefer writing) and worked as a journalist.
I am a Registered Veterinary Nurse, so when I’m not writing I’m usually looking after pets and wildlife at vet clinics or volunteering with animals somewhere. I have two cats, Gansey and Pepper, and a dog called Finn. They all came over with us from Australia, but our horse, Rouk, is happily retired down under.
Love story: Who, or what, do you really care about?
I really love trees. We should be planting more of them and doing everything we can to preserve our ancient woodlands. There’s a reason magic is so often found in forests in folklore and fiction.
It makes me really happy to see that there is a big movement, especially in literature, to reconnect with the natural world. That underpins everything I write, really.
To tell you the truth, I couldn’t agree more with Hannah Foley’s answer to this question!
Adventure story: What has been your most exciting adventure yet?
Getting to see other parts of the world is one of the upsides to being married to someone from another hemisphere – but the paperwork is a nightmare!
Actually, my most exciting adventure was with my wife but in Bulgaria, rather than Australia. I was doing a lot of writing about horses as a journalist at the time and I learned about a project in the Rhodope Mountains where horses were being reintroduced to the wild. Technically, there haven’t been truly wild horses in Europe for more than a century – but this rewilding project aims to change that. We got funding from National Geographic to travel to the Rhodopes, where we hiked and camped in the horses’ ranges in remote forested valleys with abandoned villages.
In one area there were free-ranging cattle guarded by dogs, and the horses had learned to spend their nights with the cattle so the dogs could protect them. One night we woke to the sound of wolves howling, dogs barking and some very concerned horses and cattle! Somehow I managed to fall back to sleep anyway.
Old Story: What were your favourite books as a child?
The His Dark Materials trilogy was my favourite and still is to this day – animal manifestations of your soul that can shapeshift and accompany you through life? What could be better?
I was completely in love with The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I remember crying at school while reading it at lunchtime. The style and the narration really swept me away and I kept writing stories narrated by Death afterwards!
The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper is one I know I would have loved as a child but actually only discovered in my late twenties – so that’s a bit of a sneaky answer.
Bedtime story: What’s your bedtime reading at the moment, and what’s next?
Next up for my middle grade reading is The Slightly Alarming Tale of the Whispering Wars by Jaclyn Moriarty – I cackled my way through The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone and have been saving the sequel for too long!
This feature was part of the Blog Tour for The Sky Beneath the Stone, by Alex Mullarky (Kelpies). Full review to follow.