The Swan Kingdom is a re-telling of a famous fairy-tale called 'The Wild Swans' by Hans Christian Andersen. A 're-telling' is when a writer takes the basic idea of a myth or fairytale and re-writes it from a new perspective.
That's why in my version, as well as the traditional elements of the 'The Wild Swans', there are elements of 'The Children of Lir/Llyr', which is an ancient Celtic story (which has princes who are turned into swans) and ideas from English and Japanese folklore. I've always loved the story of 'The Wild Swans'. My sister bought me a picture book of the fairytale (another re-telling) when I was about six or seven, and it featured the most gorgeous illustrations - art that looked like dreams I'd had, or wished I had.
Those images and that story stayed with me all my life, and when I was about twenty I felt ready to write my own version. I wanted to answer some questions for myself:
Why did the children's father, the King, re-marry so suddenly?
Why was he so quick to turn against his own children?
Why was the wicked stepmother so wicked?
What really happened to the brothers when they were enchanted?
How did their sister find the strength to endure so much pain to restore her brothers based on nothing but a dream?
It also struck me that in the traditional fairytale we never get to meet the first queen, the mother of these remarkable children. She's only mentioned once! I wanted to find out who she was, what effect her life had on her children, and what her death did to the family.
Another strong element in the story is my love of the British countryside. I wanted to write about the places in this country that I have visited and loved - the marshes and the beach near where I live, the craggy mountains of Scotland, the cliffs and moors of Ireland and Cornwall, the gentle hills of the South of England and the wild forests all over Britain that I played in as a child on family holidays. I wanted to write about the beauty and fragility of nature - about plants and animals that I had seen on my travels. People often talk about 'creating fantasy worlds' but I wanted to use real landscapes to make my fairytale real. And, hopefully, to make readers fall in love with the landscapes that are dear to me.
Most of all, I wanted to write a really cracking good story, and I hope I've succeeded. Read an excerpt of the first chapter here.