If your powers of deduction are good, then you probably have a good idea what today’s Peek-a-Book is all about! Author Fiona Ingram’s first book, The Secret of the Sacred Scarab, takes place in Egypt, and the adventure is packed with fascinating bits about that ancient part of the world. When I was a kid, I thought the pharaohs and pyramids were exciting and even a little scary. What a perfect backdrop for a mystery!
Fiona Ingram was a bookworm kind of kid who loved to make up stories and act them out! Perhaps that’s what led her to study Drama at the University of Natal in South Africa. It’s a sure bet that her theater background helped her develop a great ear for dialogue. Fiona also enjoyed a career in freelance journalism, but her journey to writing a children’s book was a new adventure that’s taken its own unexpected turns. Her book, The Secret of the Sacred Scarab, has won several awards, including a Finalist in the Children’s Fiction section of the USA National Best Books 2009 Awards. She also went from writing one book to making plans for an entire series! I asked Fiona a few questions about writing a series, and researching projects like The Secret of the Sacred Scarab.
Your characters travel from one exciting destination to another, picking up clues and meeting up with bad guys! What’s involved in research for a writer who chooses an exotic locale like Egypt?
Going to Egypt, or whatever the exotic locale you have chosen. This may sound difficult, but in fact travel is fun and easy, and if the locale is really exotic (and the locals don’t speak English) go on a tour where you’ll be looked after. Tour guides are brilliant at making sure you don’t miss out on all the amazing things their country has to offer. They also have many snippets of information you might not find in the actual guide books, such as old legends and customs. At the same time, you’ll have to put in the extra research later to make sure you get your facts right. The actual visit should be for you to ‘taste’ the atmosphere, the ambiance, and the very different environment—sights, sounds, food, language, traditions, weather … it all counts. Although I was inspired by my trip to Egypt, I absolutely had to do lots of homework when I started writing the book to get my facts straight. I have a few more really interesting and exotic locations lined up for the next few books—I can’t wait to pack!
Your protagonists are two young boys, which makes this a great read for guys! Can you give some insight into how you developed these characters?
I used the real characters of my two nephews as the basis for my fictional characters. Their responses and reactions to the events of our trip also gave me a deeper insight into where my fictional characters would eventually go. They are both very different: the older boy is bold, practical, and something of a ‘know it all.’ He’s great to lead any expedition into Darkest Wherever. The younger boy is more spiritual and imaginative, and made the perfect template for Adam, the hero who turns out to be the bearer of the sacred scarab. In my opinion, it helps to use real life examples (or maybe just aspects of them) when creating characters. It helps to convey a better sense of authenticity.
The Secret of the Sacred Scarab is the first book in a series. Did you know from the outset that you wanted to do a series? Do you think a writer should make that decision from the beginning?
When I began writing the story I hadn’t developed the back history or mythology behind the series because I’d only thought about writing one story. At the same time I really liked my two young heroes and I had toyed with creating different adventures for them to pursue once The Secret of the Sacred Scarab was finished. But apparently the book had other ideas! About halfway through the project, the adventure suddenly took a quantum leap forward. Because the entire book is based on real facts (check it all … the Shemsu-Hor, the Neteru, and all the gods!), I found myself delving deeper into ancient mythology and seeing the fascinating threads that connect most of the ancient world and various mythologies. Once I’d created the mythology behind the Stone of Fire (again based on a real legend), ideas literally began to pop out of my head. By the time the two-thirds mark was reached, I’d already planned more books to develop my ever-growing theme. The adventure was too big, too all-encompassing to end with the first book. I am not sure if a writer can make that decision alone. Just as the characters come alive during the writing process, I think the story itself will dictate how far it can go. Let your imagination fly while you write and (amazingly) things will take shape.
What should a writer consider when developing a series?
I think the writer should consider the strength of the story. My Chronicles of the Stone series incorporates Seven Stones of Power, which means Justin and Adam have seven ancient artifacts to find, thus seven strongly linked adventures that all lead to a grand final conclusion. The books need each other to make sense of the adventures. That’s one kind of series. On the other hand, a writer can develop a strong cast of characters who share a good theme—let’s say, kid detectives. The kid detectives could solve different mysteries, not necessarily related, but with the strong thread of the characters’ shared experiences as the backbone of the series.
You can find out more about The Secret of the Sacred Scarab at Fiona Ingram’s website (www.fionaingram.com) or visit the book site. Or ask Fiona! She’s happy to tackle your questions, so drop back by Finders and Keepers to find the answers to your writing mysteries!
Do you find you’re getting more interest in your book because so many parents and teachers say there aren’t that many “boy” books available?
Hi Jodi, yes, I have found that parents and teachers say to me, “I want my child to read, but he doesn’t seem interested in books.” Then they come back to me and say their child was riveted by the story, loved the action and the fact that the two young heroes are boys. The kids also seem to enjoy the ‘active’ part of the book which is following the journey through Egypt, discovering the actual places mentioned in the book, and seeing photos of the real trip I made with my nephews. One young reader in Dallas was so inspired he used the website and the book for his Egypt project in school!
Thanks so much for dropping in today! Fiona has assured me she’ll be checking in throughout the day to answer any questions, even though she’s all the way over in South Africa and it’s who knows what time (or day, for that matter!) over there.
But I have a quick question myself…will your boys age through the adventures, or will you keep them the same age? I know the characters are based on real kids, so I’m wondering if that will make a difference in how you write the stories…
I want to keep the boys more or less the same age because I really like that freshness of the tween years, the boys’ open attitude towards life and the exciting elements of what the quest will reveal. My young heroes obviously have to get a bit older, but I’ll keep them more or less around the 12/13-14 mark. There is also a time limit imposed at the end of Book One. All seven Stones of Power have to be found by the confluence of certain planets … so the race against time has begun. Of course that means I’ll have to write even faster so that my readers don’t grow up before the boys do! By the way, South Africa is seven hours ahead so it’s night here.
What a great concept for a series! It’s good to learn about Fiona’s books. Can’t wait to read ’em.
Hello Vicky, I hope you’ll visit the book website as well as the website for the series which is http://www.chroniclesofthestone.com. You’ll get a glimpse of what’s coming up when you read about the Scroll of the Ancients and how the whole mythology behind the Stones of Power began.
Great tips about the research. I wrote an historical fiction book set during the Civil war in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and it is so hard to 1. know when to turn the researcher off and the writer on and 2. think about all those little details you need to know about the setting before you can write the book. I’m not sure if I would attempt it again. So, I applaud you for your setting bravery! 🙂
Hi Margo, It’s interesting to hear another writer’s experience with handling research and just how much to include. I made this rule: everything the heroes learn about Egypt must relate back in some way either to their mission, or their survival. “Is it relevant to the plot?” is a good way of knowing whether to put something in or not, however interesting or tempting the snippet of information.