Exploring family in its many forms seems to be a recurring theme in my stories in some shape or form. Growing up as one of four children, sibling relationships fascinate me. I love that family can be messy, complicated, come in all shapes and sizes, that there can precious bonds, and sometimes, an important heritage to live up to!

Vashti Hardy

The eagerness to follow in others’ steps can be daunting and for Grace all she’s ever dreamt about is being a warden. Sadly, she’s too young and can’t yet be trusted. Until one day, everything changes and she gets to show her family what she is truly capable of. The Griffin Gate is a great adventure story about the importance of family and togetherness. With the usual splash of fantasy and sci-fi from the brilliant author Vashti Hardy, and fab illustrations by Natalie Smilie, it’s a joy to read.

I’d like to thank the wonderful Vashti Hardy for joining us today in the NEW VIP Reading blog. Vashti has supported us since the start and we are delighted to have featured many of her books in VIP Reading so far.

Firstly, congratulations on The Griffin Gate, which I thoroughly enjoyed like many others people have. What gave you the inspiration to write this story?

Thank you so much for your lovely support! I’m so happy that you enjoyed The Griffin Gate. As you know, I love books with maps and I’d been thinking for a while that it would be great to have a story where characters could teleport into a map. When the lovely people at Barrington Stoke approached me about potential ideas, it seemed like the perfect time to develop this idea and create a new adventurous story world.

Family is integral to the storyline as we see Grace constantly worry about her family members. Was this theme important to you?

Yes, it was. Exploring family in its many forms seems to be a recurring theme in my stories in some shape or form. Growing up as one of four children, sibling relationships fascinate me. I love that family can be messy, complicated, come in all shapes and sizes, that there can precious bonds, and sometimes, an important heritage to live up to!

Grace’s character is so strong-willed, was she based upon anyone in particular?

Well … she might just be a teensy bit like me in that way. In my family I’m renowned for having a bit of a strong will! Not that I am, but I love that Grace is so assured in her capabilities, although it does get her into a bit of a pickle. Also, I think that sometimes we underestimate what children are capable of, and Grace is a good example of proving to others that where there’s a will, there’s a way!

Watson, the raven, acts as Grace’s protector and sidekick and is such a brilliant character, who reminded me of Zazu in the Lion King. Where did the idea for Watson come from?

Ha! I love that comparison. For me, Watson is that little voice we all have sitting on our shoulder sometimes, warning us of danger, or making the wrong move, and keeping us in check. Sometimes we need to shush that voice because it can hold you back, and sometimes we need to listen to it.

What was it like writing for the publisher Barrington Stoke?

Barrington Stoke are an amazing publisher and I’ve long admired what they do. They are utter experts in their field, producing dyslexia friendly books using careful language edits, tinted paper and specially developed font. But also, their books are, of course, for everyone to enjoy. Sometimes we all prefer a shorter read and I think it’s important to integrate these books among others on the book shelves of schools.

The Griffin Gate is your first dyslexic-friendly book published. What challenges did you face when writing this book and what were the positives?

The first challenge for me was not to short change on concept and world-building simply because the books need to be shorter (The Griffin Gate is around a sixth of the length of something like Brightstorm). The team at Barrington Stoke were brilliant at helping me tighten the overview to simplify in certain areas in order to achieve this. A great positive of having to achieve more with less words is that it makes you tighten your world-building description. For example, describing the village that Grace travels to as looking like it had fallen out of a fairy tale. I know this worked well as Natalie Smilie produced the most amazing cover and internal images from very little description, yet I felt like she had stepped inside my imagination!

How have you felt about the great reaction to The Griffin Gate so far?

It’s far surpassed my expectations! I’m mostly thrilled that my stories are reaching a wider audience and hopefully inspiring a joy of reading and fantasy worlds to some children who may not have discovered it yet.

Your books do allow children, and adults too, to escape to these wonderful fantasy worlds. What advice would you give children who want to be able to write in this particular genre?

The biggest piece of advice I can give in this area is to remember that writing is about so much more than sitting at a desk with a pencil or at a laptop tapping away. I draw maps, collect images, listen to music and sounds, read books with facts, watch nature programmes, all to help me create the worlds and their satmospheres, and to grow my imagination.

After the success of this book, will there be a sequel to The Griffin Gate?

Yes, The Puffin Portal is out September 2021 and I’ve already finished it, hooray! There are puffins, portals and more family adventures (oh and a new character…).

I’m sure that we would all love to know whether you are working on any other books. What are you allowed to tell us?

2021 is going to be a busy year! My new 7-9s series is out 1/4/21 with Scholastic. It’s called Harley Hitch and the Iron Forest and is highly illustrated by the marvellous George Ermos, and takes place in an imaginative world called Inventia. I had so much fun writing this book and creating locations for Harley to have inventive adventures in, including the school Cogworks, the star chatter observatory (where you can talk to the stars), and the rusty river where you can fish for inspiration (and of course there is a map!). For 8-12s I have a new story called Crowfall, published by Scholastic too. It’s full of adventure and invention with a big ecological heart. Orin Crowfall finds himself cast out from the island of Ironhold, where mechanical technology rules everything, and he is alone adrift in the middle of the ocean. There is a mechanical sea monster and a very unexpected creature which I hope will surprise you all and make you think deeply about humans’ relationship with nature…

Wow! Sounds like 2021 is going to be the much-needed exciting year, Vashti. We have loved welcoming you into our blog to talk about #TheGriffinGate. It has been fascinating!

Thank you for your awesome questions VIP crew. Keep up the wonderful work and wishing everyone a marvellous Christmas with lots of reading time!

Q & A hosted by
Rob McCann