I recently arrived home excitedly clutching a new book for my seven-year old son, Samuel. Over the summer holiday he had become increasingly engrossed in his reading, devouring books at a tremendous rate of knots. This new book was called “The Legend of Podkin One-Ear”, a beautifully illustrated fantasy novel featuring a band of daring rabbits.
Samuel read the book in about two days and then insisted I read it, I mean he REALLY insisted. So I put down my copy of War and Peace (OK it was a Star Wars novel.) And started reading Podkin. I quickly realised I was onto something special and I could see why Samuel enjoyed it so much. This epic series is like a mash-up of The Animals of Farthing Wood and The Hobbit. It also has elements of Watership Down and even the Dark Crystal. I was not surprised to find out that the author, Kieran Larwood, is a self-confessed Hobbit fan. Adding to the book’s Tolkien-esque feel, with his fantastically realised trees and leaves, is the contribution of illustrator, David Wyatt, who has completed work for some of J.R.R. Tolkien’s stories.
The drawings combined with the grand scale of the story add to the sense that this is an ambitious exercise in world building. I do not compare the book to Farthing Wood or others glibly as there are some dark scenes lurking behind the seemingly child friendly veneer of questing rabbits with swords. Like Watership Down and Farthing Wood the main characters, Podkin, Paz and Pook, face death and the destruction of their home by a mysterious and wicked army of altered rabbits called the Gorm. (Think of Peter Rabbit meets the Borg and you’re somewhere near the mark.) These eclectic parts work thrillingly and I would recommend these books for all ages.
Samuel and I enjoyed the book so much there was only one thing for it, I decided to reach out to Kieran Larwood and invite him over to The World Outside HQ for a chat and some carrot stew. He agreed so I asked Samuel if he wanted to ask any questions and whether he wanted to do a book review, he thought this was a good idea so here it goes.
Samuel’s book Review
“I love this book. It is the first proper big book I have read. The Gorm were evil and they shouldn’t have dug so deep. The rabbits were cute but my favourite character is Podkin because he was brave and always comes up with good ideas. I liked the Bard and I know something about him Daddy that I won’t tell you until you’ve finished the book.”
Daddy’s Questions for Kieran Larwood
“Stories belong to the teller”, says the bard. “At least half of them do. The other part belongs to the listeners. When a good story is told to a good listener, the pair of them own it together.” – The Legend of Podkin One-Ear
This is one of my favourite lines in the book and for me typifies the books narrative attitude to the importance of story-telling. Why is telling stories important to you?
Passing on stories is a way of passing on culture, tradition and history, and it’s been a human tradition for hundreds of thousands of years. But more than that, I think it’s a way for children to develop their imagination and to think about and deal with things that are outside their experience. Good stories hopefully inspire creativity and ‘thinking outside the box’.
Where did the idea for The Five Realms series come from?
I had an idea of the type of story I wanted to write, and I knew I wanted it to be a fantasy, as that’s my favourite genre. The idea for the rabbit world came from doodles of armoured rabbits I had been doing for years. I saw some when flicking through my old sketchbooks and thought it would be something fun to develop.
As someone who works with children what I really loved about the book was that it never talks down to children, I think anyone of any age can enjoy this story. Is this an important philosophy for you?
Yes, I really don’t like pigeon-holing books by age. I think good stories can be enjoyed by anyone. It’s also fun to add in a few jokes for parents along the way.
On the same theme I enjoyed that the story has elements of fairly dark fantasy, I found it genuinely creepy in places, alongside more apparent children’s book themes like questing rabbits etc. there is something for everyone. Sometimes it feels like we sanitise things too much for young people. Do you think it is important to introduce young readers to danger and peril in an age appropriate way?
I do. If you look at the earliest versions of traditional fairy tales, they were quite horrific! Reading is a great way for children to experience situations and emotions that are new or alien to them, which is why many old stories had a moral or were cautionary. I think everyone also enjoys being scared a little (from the comfort of their own home!)
What are some of your favourite works of fiction for children?
My childhood favourites are the books that influence me still. I love ‘The Hobbit’, ‘The Borribles’ by Michael de Larrabeiti and ‘The Hounds of the Morrigan’ by Pat O’Shea.
I read that you are a reception school teacher, a challenging (yet rewarding) job at the best of times, how do you balance writing and teaching? And do you ever sleep?
I’ve actually just left my teaching post to focus on writing (for as long as I can pay the bills!) because it was becoming so difficult to manage both. Teaching is a very demanding job, and to do it well takes up a huge amount of time. Trying to combine that with writing was actually making me quite ill!
How did you feel about the Blue Peter Award and has that changed anything for you?
I am so honoured to have won that award, especially as it was one chosen by children. Winning any kind of award like that is brilliant for an author, as it boosts their profile, and hopefully encourages lots more people to buy their books. It’s very difficult for emerging authors to get noticed, so the Blue Peter Award has been amazing.
Did you work closely with David Wyatt on the illustrations? How did that process work?
David has an amazing ability to draw images which are exactly the same as the pictures in my head when I am writing. He reads the book and sends through some roughs, which I can comment on if needed. But they are so incredible, I hardly ever have to suggest anything more than the tiniest tweaks.
Can you tell me where the humans went in the Podkin series? Are we in some dystopian future? (or can’t you tell me because of spoilers?)
Spoilers, I’m afraid!
What can we expect from book three?
Book 3 continues the struggle against the Gorm, and also the bard’s story. It’s the end of the trilogy, (but not the end of Podkin’s adventures!) so there’s going to be a big climax. I think I’d better stop there before I give too much away…
Any tips for aspiring young writers?
Read, read and read some more! And write lots too. Short stories are great to get started. Try out different voices and styles and just enjoy it. Eventually your own style will come, and when you are ready you can have a go at a novel. Oh, and keep a notebook or six on the go for all your ideas.
“This epic series is like a mash-up of The Animals of Farthing Wood and The Hobbit.” – The World Outside the Window
Do you have any pets?
Hi Samuel! Yes. I have two leopard geckos, and a very annoying dog.
Did your children read the book?
My two youngest are a bit little, but my eldest daughter has read it five times now! She’s just started reading the second book, ‘The Gift of Dark Hollow’.
Where did the idea for the Gorm come from?
They started off just being invading rabbits, a bit like the Vikings. I told my agent that I was worried about making them too scary, but she said I should ‘go for it’, so I did! I think the scariest thing is how they spread like a virus, or a nasty idea…
Thank you Kieran for agreeing to this interview, giving some great answers and some inspiring advice to young writers.
The first two books in The Five Realms Series are available now at all good book shops and online.
Check out Kieran’s website for the latest news and updates. – Kieran Larwood
Coinciding neatly with my interview with Kieran is the birthday of our great friend Bilbo Baggins, because The Hobbit is 80 years old, check out this Time article for more information and happy birthday Bilbo.