Award-winning YA author Shivaun Plozza shares the inspiration behind her latest book, The Boy, The Wolf and the Stars.
When I was young I was afraid of the dark. I was afraid of a lot of things – I still am – but nighttime chilled me to the bone. I slept with the light on but I was still terrified of the shadows – What was hiding there? What dangers couldn’t I see?
I’m no longer afraid of the dark but I still feel afraid sometimes. I have an anxiety disorder that makes navigating the world tricky but I’ve learnt positive ways to challenge my fears. When I sat down to write this book I wanted to look back at my younger self and ask: Where did your fear come from? What do I know now about facing anxiety that I wish my younger self had known?
In writing this story, I came up with a world where night time was something truly to fear – complete darkness filled with evil creatures that are shadows come to life! I put a boy, Bo, in the middle of this world and challenged him to find a way to end the night-time curse.
To make things harder for Bo, I set off a magical plague, a deadly sickness swarming the land and destroying everything in its wake (I honestly didn’t mean to be so topical!).
Not everyone behaves well when their life is disrupted by this plague – it brings out the worst in a lot of the characters. They spread misinformation and refuse to engage critically with what they’re being told. They lash out at each other and turn their backs on empathy, instead falling back on fear’s best friend – hatred. That’s why this is a book about the heartache of being let down by the people we’re supposed to be able to trust the most.
But there are also characters who rise up to be their best self, like Bo, who discovers that the best defense against fear is love, and that the best way to face your fears is with good people by your side. That’s why this is also a book about the families we build around us when we open our hearts to the unexpected.
And there’s lots of fun too. The Boy, the Wolf and the Stars is filled with weird and wonderful creatures (like dragon-worms and Colossal Spit-Mouth Slugs and carnivorous forests), and weird and wonderful characters (like Un-Kings and Shadow Witches and sassy foxes).
So although this book is about fear and anxiety, something we’ve all experienced lately, it’s mostly about overcoming fear and the unexpected ways we can find our own light in the darkness.
Most importantly, this is a book about the warming and enduring power of friendship.
The idea came to me twenty years ago. I’ve been writing it off and on since then, most seriously for the past ten years. Can you guess why it took me so long? Fear (of course!). I was afraid I didn’t have the skills to write a fantasy novel. But Bo and his pet fox, Nix, burrowed into my mind and wouldn’t leave – they kept demanding I write their story. So I wrote it, slowly, and with lots of revisions. I drew maps and character portraits and anything to help me flesh out the world I was creating. And my own animal companion, Fenchurch, was by my side (well, in my lap) helping me stay focused (this is a lie – she’s a terrible distraction).
The Boy, the Wolf, the Stars and the Cat (Fenchurch Plozza).