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“Now I will believe that there are unicorns …”

– William Shakespeare, The Tempest

There are many unicorns (well, five!) in my upcoming Middle Grades book: The Wizard’s Conscript. These unicorns are of a particular kind, evolving in a particular way. It goes without saying, they’re enchanted and conform to Lady Gaga’s idea of such creatures: “The unicorn is born magical …”

When I wrote the book, I had only vague notions of unicorns, and none whatsoever of the particular type I conjured up. Well, seems there are plenty of those, too!

Unicorns have been around for thousands of years. For a quick overview, consult Mr Google. There’s some amazing history there, and some very strange representations of the creatures.

They’re mysterious beasts. I made mine noble animals, with agreeable dispositions. Their origins in my story owe something to my heroine, Caeri, who’s the wizard’s conscript of the book’s title. At the moment, in the midst of writing book 2 in the All the Corners of the World series, I’m toying with reintroducing the unicorns. One of the advantages in writing fiction is having a licence to invent (or reinvent) characters and creatures!

“My” unicorns are beautiful, biddable beasts, but many representations from centuries past are not all that attractive. However, I’m loving the one depicted here on a drinks coaster. A very modern creature! Somehow, too, its cheekiness brings to mind a clever Tibetan proverb: “A wise man never plays leapfrog with a unicorn”. This proverb, with its underlying humour, I hope is representative of the style of my book. There’s heaps of serious action—peril, even—in The Wizard’s Conscript, but also lots of humour.

My main protagonist is a princess, but she’s broken the mould. I’ve had to be careful not to make her and her feminist attitudes too modern. Most medieval females had restricted, male-dominated lives, but this story is a fantasy, set in an imaginary world, so there’s room to manoeuvre. Caeri has a tendency sometimes to act the spoilt brat, but counters these inclinations by being caring and working hard when it’s asked of her. The situation she finds herself in, where much depends on her skill and fortitude, requires her to grow up quickly, as must the people (many not much older than she is) who accompany her on the journey. In a way, Caeri has grown up, at least since I completed the second last draft of her story. I decided to raise her age from thirteen to fourteen. Marvellous, the power of an author!

But back to the unicorns. I do like horses, and a few years ago when we had a farm we bred and raced Thoroughbreds. I also like donkeys (a group of donkeys prove themselves very useful in The Wizard’s Conscript). The second pic in this blog is of a horse sculpture at one of the annual Swell sculpture shows on Currumbin Beach near where I live on Australia’s Gold Coast. The form of this beautiful work of art provided more inspiration for my vision of how the unicorns should look (with several extras, of course!).

It seems to me the most common question authors get asked is, “Where do you get your ideas?” Well, as I’ve previously stated, this story started with a dream. Additions have been made over the years (yes, years!) taken to write this adventure, using a grab bag of influences, like the beautiful sculpture mentioned above, for instance. It pays writers of fiction to have a vivid imagination, to read widely, watch all sorts of movies and documentaries, and visit art galleries and museums. Inspiration can spring up in the most unlikely places.

When I say it’s wise for writers to “read widely”, that doesn’t necessarily mean it must always be books. Newspapers and magazines sometimes contain fascinating articles that can be a springboard to lots of ideas for authors. As touched on in my previous blog, truth can often be stranger than fiction. There are lots of little snippets I’ve picked up when researching subjects that I’ve filed away for future reference and possible use.

Conversations with others, especially other writers, can sometimes prove fruitful. If you want to write, I suggest you join a critique group (or at least find a critque partner). When you’re stuck on a plot point, a different perspective can be useful. People in the group can keep you honest by encouraging you to persevere with something, to keep producing chapters. I’ve found the best way to write is to try to do it every day. That way, you don’t lose the thread of the story and have to waste precious time going back over what you’ve written before you can carry on! It can take a while to establish this habit, but it’s well worth while.

And so, back to the unicorns and my book. I hope you’ll read the amazing exploits of Caeri and her friends, and that they might stir your imagination enough to want to write your own tales of fantasy and adventure. Good luck!

B.K. Houldsworth


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