Into The Belly of the Beast: Shane Hegarty’s Darkmouth

Anyone who has known me for a long time will know that I am most likely to be found with my nose in a book. As a kid, I could go missing for hours and be found squashed in a corner somewhere, book in hand. As an adult, I often complain that my bag is too heavy, only to open it and find a tiny library inside. I don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration to say that I found out what kind of person I wanted to be in the pages of hundreds upon hundreds of books. As someone who puts a lot of pressure on herself, I collect heroes and heroines who struggle with who they want to be, whether they can really be the person that they’re expected to be. Of course, I’ve never had to brandish a sword or cross vast, strange lands on a mystical quest, but nonetheless, I found friends in characters that I recognised myself in. And I found another in Finn, the hero of Shane Hegarty’s young adult series, Darkmouth.

darkmouth shane hegarty finn

Finn probably regretting some of his decisions here. Illustration by the amazing James de la Rue.

Full disclosure here: Shane is a friend of the family. I know a lot of really brilliant people, so it was only a matter of time before one of them did something really brilliant. And my god, this is really brilliant. I read the entire first book in one evening. The series takes place in a small Irish town called Darkmouth, which is strikingly similar to Shane’s hometown of Skerries. But Darkmouth is different. Because in Darkmouth, there be monsters. In ancient times, the world was filled with portals, through which enormous mythical monsters, called Legends, escaped into our world. Darkmouth holds the last one. Fortunately, the world is protected by Hugo, a fearsome Legend hunter, and Finn, his young son. Finn is being trained to take up the family business. Except that he’d really rather just be a vet. I shan’t spoil it for you but this is a gorgeous, hilarious portrait of a young boy struggling to live up to his legendary father, all while fending off literal demons left, right and centre. I caught up with Shane and his talented illustrator James de la Rue to find out more about the men behind the Legends.

Shane, what first gave you the idea for the Darkmouth series?

I’d always wanted to write fun, adventurous, fantastical fiction but took years to build up the confidence to actually give it a go. The irony is that I was writing for years before that – as a journalist and as the author of two books of popular history. In the end, I came up with this not particularly original idea – a boy fights monsters that invade his town – but knew it offered a great starting point to explore two worlds. And for jokes. Lots of jokes.

If you were a Legend, what kind of Legend do you think you’d be?

I’d like to be one with seven heads and fourteen arms so I could write these books quicker, without having to interrupt the all-important coffee-drinking. In the books I choose from existing myths because a) I’m lazy and b) it’s fun to imagine what would be the practical, day-to-day reality of having, like an Orthrus, a dog’s body but a snake for a tail.

shane hegarty darkmouth

Illustration by James de la Rue.

 

You take a lot of inspiration from your hometown…ever seen any monsters or mythical creatures lurking?

I’m not allowed say, for fear of libelling someone! But writing is often a game of “what ifs”. What if my town had been invaded by monsters of myth for a thousand years? What if you had to fight off invading minotaurs and then go back to school? Again, I’m lazy. This approach works for me.

(Note from Fiona: I wish my laziness was this productive. When I’m lazy, I tend to binge watch Pretty Little Liars, rather than casually penning a bestselling book series)

The latest instalment of the series, Worlds Explode, has just hit bookshelves, what should we expect from Finn and the gang this time around?

The first book is about Finn living in the shadow of his dad, but the second is about how he has to cope when his dad isn’t around. It’s also a glimpse into the world of the monsters, which was always the plan from the very beginning, but also turns out to be just what the readers were asking for. As it’s only just out, the reviews are only coming in. I met one boy who said it was the best book he had ever read. That boy happens to be my son, and I was buying him ice-cream at the time, but still…

What is it like to have kids sharing your stories and loving them so much?

(Note from Fiona: Can you hear the innate jealousy in this question?)

I’ve four kids, but only my 10-year-old son is old enough to read and enjoy the stories. The best bit of the whole adventure for me was the night he wouldn’t turn his light out because he needed to read on and see what happened. That was a relief. I’ve to write four of these books and if my own son didn’t enjoy them it was going to be a long few years.

James, I am completely obsessed with your illustrations. Where do you get your inspiration from?

My main inspiration is from the writing! There is of course a mixture of influences from favourite illustrators such as EH Shepard, Chris Riddell, Edward Gorey, Mervyn Peake, Helen Oxenbury, John Burningham, plus any number of movies, TV shows, etc., but the more vivid the writing, the more vivid the images are in my head, same with any reader. I just go one step further and draw what I see.

Do you have a favourite illustration from the Darkmouth series? Why?

I’m quite keen on one from Darkmouth: Worlds Explode in which Finn is inside a room made entirely from the bones of demonic beasts (being careful with spoilers here because spoilers). It’s a tense moment in the story and the effect of the starched, whiteness of the remains comes over reasonably well. Essentially it’s one of those rare illustrations of mine I don’t mind looking at for more than five seconds.

shane hegarty darkmouth

Five seconds? Hands up who could look at this for hours.

If you could be a Legend, what kind of Legend do you think you’d be?

My kids think I’m a legend already so I know how that feels. Not going to last forever probably. Although if you pushed me I’d have to say something with wings. Who’d want to be a Legend if you were stuck on the ground, especially if it was infested?

What drew you to the Darkmouth series?

The concept, as it was initially described, was simple and I just thought “I’d draw that”. Then by the time I’d read a couple of excerpts (I was requested to do a couple of character sketches) the dialogue in particular showed me this was going to be good. Finn was instantly likeable, and I think that’s a difficult trick to pull off so quickly. Even though I had a worryingly full schedule at the time (always a good problem) I didn’t want to let this one slip away.

Where can we find more of your work?

I’ve done plenty of Spy Dog books which are widely available; I’ve done some Terry Deary World War Tales recently and have lots of covers to do for him over the next few weeks; Archie Greene is a magical series with book #1 already out there; also Myth Raiders, a series whose concept is not totally dissimilar to Darkmouth, but with a different tenor; there are other things scattered around too, and the list is building nicely. I remember thinking none of this would ever be possible.

You can find Shane on Twitter @ShaneHegarty and James @PencilsMcDraw.

Great Storybook Role Models For Little Girls

This post originally appeared as a guest post on Dolly Dowsie. Reposting today in honour of National Libraries Day.

When I was a little girl, I could usually be found curled up in a corner with my nose in a book. I could disappear for hours on end, only emerging once yet another story had been devoured. The courageous, feisty heroines within their pages were my best friends, and from a very young age, they taught me what kind of girl I wanted to grow up to be. Long gone are the days where girls in storybooks are passive damsels in distress. Now, girls can turn to books for aspirational, strong female role models. I’d like to share with you a few of my favourite childhood books and the characters in them that helped make me the woman I am today.

1. Matilda, from Matilda by Roald Dahl

As a slightly strange, extremely bookish girl, I’ve always had a special place in my heart for Matilda. Matilda tells the story of a little girl who uses her intelligence and special powers to outsmart her bullying headmistress and apathetic parents. She is wildly imaginative and a little bit mischievous. Although she plays tricks on the grown-ups in her life, she is very fair, and only punishes people who really, truly deserve it. Those who treat her well, such as her friend Lavender and her teacher Miss Honey, are met with respect, love and loyalty from. As with most Roald Dahl characters, Matilda encourages children to see learning as an amazing journey that should continue outside school. Once I had begrudgingly accepted that I didn’t have telekinetic powers, I focused on attaining Matilda’s second and even more important weapon, her brilliant mind. Matilda shows little girls that reading voraciously and learning just for the love of it can be just as powerful as having a magical superpower.

2. Charlotte, from Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Charlotte is a spider living in the dark corner of a farmer’s barn. She befriends Wilbur, a young pig who is horrified to learn that he might some day end up on the farmer’s breakfast plate. With the help of the other farm animals, Charlotte hatches a plan to save Wilbur from this terrible fate. Charlotte is intelligent and well spoken – it’s thanks to her that I can greet someone with “salutations”, or aspire to create my “magnum opus”. She is kind to all the animals in the barn, despite their apprehension towards her because she is a spider. She is firm, but gentle towards the naïve Wilbur, and never lets him give up hope. She often puts the needs of her friends before her own. Charlotte taught me that it doesn’t matter how people perceive you, as long as you have a kind heart and a quick wit, you will always be loved.

3. Henrietta Hickathrift, from The Stray by Dick King Smith

This one isn’t a very well known book, but it is one of my absolute favourites. I first read it as a little girl, and now, as I pass it on to my littlest sister, I’m finding that it hasn’t lost a single bit of its charm. Henrietta is an old woman who decides to run away from her nursing home and go to the seaside. She is plucky and compassionate, earning the admiration and friendship of everyone she meets. Although she hits a few speed bumps along the way, the book eventually sees Henrietta’s kindness and generosity returned on her tenfold. She faces her fears with great panache, inspiring me to live life to the full, and taught me that no dream was too big or too small.

4. Sophie, from the series Sophie by Dick King Smith

Sophie is a stubborn but loveable four-year-old girl, who detests frilly dresses and dreams of becoming a lady farmer. The series follows her between the ages of four and eight, passing milestones such as beginning school, starring in the class play, taking riding lessons and informing the farmer’s son next door that they’re going to get married some day. She is steadfast and loyal, and a great lover of all animals. She is incredibly proud of her impressive vocabulary, and frequently uses very long, complicated words, albeit with a few endearing mistakes. Most of all though, Sophie works conscientiously to achieve her goals. She puts her heart and soul into everything she does, which frequently causes accidental chaos, but usually also ends in success. She taught me not to sit around and wait for things to happen to me. With a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work, I could achieve anything.

5. Hermione Granger, from the Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling

I know, I know, this one’s a big cliché, but I just couldn’t exclude Hermione. I have a special soft spot for her because we were almost the same age when the first book came out, and with each passing year, we grew up together. The Harry Potter series could more accurately be titled “Harry Potter gets confused, Hermione fixes everything”. She is intelligent, meticulous and motivated, leaving the boys in the dust both in and out of the classroom. She isn’t afraid to be herself, despite taking pretty much constant stick for being clever. As she matures throughout the series, she becomes increasingly considerate and understanding, acting as mother, teacher and friend to a great number. In the final couple of books, she has her heart repeatedly broken, but instead of sulking, simply continues to rid the wizarding world of evil until the object of her affections realises what a colossal mistake he has made and comes back. Hermione is beautiful, but this is completely outshone by a stunning personality, a keen intellect and a willingness to do anything that is necessary to protect her friends. She is a true leading lady: so, so much more than just a pretty face.