The Edinburgh International Book Festival provided an appropriate setting this summer for an interview with Scottish childrenâ€™s author, Anne Forbes, whose Dragonfire series is keeping her busy both here in Edinburgh and at her second home in Kuwait.
Anne was born and brought up in Edinburgh where she trained as a teacher. An avid reader and a lover of books about foreign countries, she applied for a post with the Kuwait Oil Company and for many years taught the children of BP employees in Al Ahmadi, the companyâ€™s desert township.
Kuwait in the sixties, she says, was fairly unspoilt but oil wealth soon transformed the country. During her years with the oil company she frequently travelled to places like Egypt, Syria, Turkey and Lebanon and has a smattering of Arabic â€” just the survival sort, she says with a smile.
Although she wrote stories as a teenager, Anne admits that as college, teaching and marriage took over her life, her writing suffered and it is only since retirement that she has put pen to paper once more. â€˜I dug out a short story that Iâ€™d written years ago,â€™ she confesses. â€˜Iâ€™d always meant to do something with it and now it seemed, was the time.â€™
Thus, her first childrenâ€™s book Dragonfire was born; the first of a series ofÂ books involving a dragon that lives in Arthurâ€™s Seat and the adventures of two children, Neil and Clara, who manage to enmesh themselves in the world of magic. Anne, herself, appreciates her good fortune in hitting on an idea that has lent itself to a wealth of story lines; for although Dragonfire is a fantasy story, it takes place in present day Edinburgh and it is this â€˜mobiles and magiciansâ€™ concept that children seem to love.
While in Edinburgh for the summer, she gives talks to schools and, between times, settles to working out the plot of her next book. It is when she returns to Kuwait in winter months, however, that she begins writing in earnest.
How I Write
â€˜I find it works well,â€™ she says. â€˜There are fewer interruptions in Kuwait so I can concentrate on the story and I do, of course, keep in touch with my editor. I generally work from 9 till 12 and, in the afternoon, from 2 to around 5 or 6pm. I edit the previous chapter in the morning and write a new chapter in the afternoon. Although there are, of course, times when I have other engagements, I do seriously try to do a solid dayâ€™s uninterrupted work.
The quietest place in the house is the drawing room, which is why my computer lives there. We used to have dogs but, sadly, over the years they died of old age so I now rescue stray cats and usually sit at the computer with one in my lap.
Becoming a writer has been an interesting journey. It is amazing and actually quite frightening, to find out just how much of ones personality is unconsciously reflected in the pages of ones books â€” and I have more than a sneaking suspicion that being a teacher also shows through! The upshot is that I now read books quite differently, searching for the persona behind the written word.
I find it difficult to believe that I have become a published author and still tend to think of myself as â€˜a housewife who has written a bookâ€™. But now Iâ€™ve had three published and the fourth, Firestar, is due to appear next spring. The fifth is already written in draft and this summer I have been putting together the plots of the last two books so that the stories mesh together in what, I hope, will be an exciting finale to the series.
I donâ€™t quite know what I will do when the last book is finished. Iâ€™m not good at coffee mornings and hate the thought of not having anything to write. Retirement can be boring without a hobby, and as this â€˜hobbyâ€™ has taken me over so completely, Iâ€™ll really have to rack my brains to find an alternative half as good.
Who knows, perhaps Iâ€™ll have another idea as captivating as the one that gave me Dragonfire â€” indeed, I always find it amazing how one word, one incident or one picture can stir the imagination and conjure up a whole train of thought that somehow, quite miraculously, ends up as a book.â€™
Anne Forbes’ latest book The Underground City is reviewed here.