Q&A interview with Branford Boase Award shortlisted author and editor of
Elys Dolan’s debut children’s book Knighthood for Beginners was edited by Clare Whitston and Elv Moody of Oxford Children’s Books. The judges loved it, and described it as ‘exuberant, joyful and original’; ‘silly but with an important message’.
Can you tell us about the inspiration for Knighthood for Beginners?
I’ve always really enjoyed taking a genre and flipping its stereotypes on their head. There’s such a lot of content in the knights and dragons, and They All Lived Happily Ever After tradition of storytelling so I can take some of those well know tropes and alter them to show things in a new light. So, instead of having a traditional super-macho knight I can contrast it with a thoughtful, empathic little dragon who’ll approach the job in a different manner. No one perfectly fits a mould in Knighthood for Beginners and I wanted to show how an odd cast of characters can find their own way of doing things. I’m not sure that having a character who’s a German goat/trusty steed/life coach/adventurer fits any particular trope but Albrecht was an awful lot of fun to create and I hope he gives the reader a few chuckles too.
As a debut author, what was the thing you found most hard to get right?
Charting the emotional journey of the characters throughout the course of the book was something that took a while to get right. I have a habit on focusing on the funny bits and the individual incidents so sometimes it’s easy to lose track on the thread that connects it all together. Fortunately this is where an excellent editor or two can come in handy.
What did you enjoy most about the editorial process and what do you think was the most important suggestion or piece of advice that Clare and Elv gave you?
I’ve been surprised how collaborative making a book can be. It’s been incredibly helpful for me to have an editor to bounce ideas off, a person to keep you on track with the bits that I’m not so good at and, on occasion, someone to provide a sanity check! I really couldn’t pick out one single piece of advice because it’s that constant stream of good ideas, support and a few laughs along the way that’s been so important. It seems to me that the relationship with your editor can make or break a book so I consider myself very fortunate to have not one, but two, excellent ones.
What most excited you about Elys’s manuscript when you first read it?
(Clare) The combination of humour and heart. Elys is masterful at setting up layer after layer of hilarity – jokes and visual gags which had me crying with laughter – and then matching this with a really beautiful story about the power of friendship and the importance of loving who you are. A winning combination if you ask me!
What were the aspects that you worked on most when editing it with her?
What’s your favourite scene in the book and why?
(Clare) My favourite scene occurs on page 103. The King is telling Dave and Albrecht the sorry tale of how his beloved daughter, the Princess, has been cursed by a wicked witch and has fallen into an enchanted slumber. He tells them this as they are all sitting on the Princess’s bed. The illustration depicts the King in mid-rant, shaking his fist while Dave listens intently. Albrecht on the other hand, is nonchalantly sticking his finger up the Princess’s nose. His body language is so relaxed – the sheer gall of that goat! I reckon it’s what most kids would be tempted to do in the same situation and is a perfect example of how Elys captures a real anarchic spirit in her work.ии
(Elv) This is SUCH a difficult question! I'm tempted to say Dave and Albrecht's couples' counselling session, which is hilarious and feelgood at the same time, but the moment that really stays with me is Elys's drawing of Albrecht, slumped in the tavern, unwisely trying to drown his goaty sorrows in mouthwash.
Thanks to Elys, Clare and Elv for answering our questions.