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The Creature Keeper is the fantastic new novel from Damaris Young, author of the highly acclaimed The Switching Hour. The story follows Cora who becomes responsible for a menagerie of extraordinary creatures at the mysterious Direspire Hall when she becomes the new Creature Keeper. However, what looks like a dream role challenges her whole way of thinking as she realises that the animals kept in captivity at Direspire Hall are suffering and need to be released back into their natural habitats. With strong themes of conservation and its important message about the need to urgently address habitat loss The Creature Keeper will inspire a love of the natural world and all the wonderful creatures that live alongside us. It inspires us to realise that we are all the keepers of these extraordinary creatures and that it is up to all of us to help protect them. With its magnificent menagerie of magical beasts and important environmental message this is a thrilling adventure that is highly recommended.
Without giving too much away could you tell us a little bit about The Creature Keeper?
Creepy Direspire Hall sits glowering on the moors – and if you stray too close then beware the growls and scary sounds from within… When animal lover Cora learns that Direspire’s mysterious owner is looking for a new Creature Keeper, she realises this might just be the chance she’s looking for to save her parents’ farm. But Direspire Hall is a spooky place and the strange creatures who live there are nothing like Cora is expecting. As Cora settles into her new life, it soon becomes clear that Direspire has its secrets, and that somebody will do whatever it takes to keep them…
On page 21, Cora describes Tilly as being like a wolf without the good bits. If you were to describe yourself as an animal, what would it be and why?
Great question! I often imagine myself as different creatures depending on my mood. When I’m feeling cold and tired in winter, I’m a grouchy bear who needs to hibernate. If I’m feeling particularly sunny then I’m a meerkat, who likes nothing more than hanging out with their friends and soaking up the sunshine.
At the start of the story we begin to see Cora’s affinity with animals when she says, ‘I could think more clearly and untangle thoughts from each other in a way that I couldn’t with people.’
Do you have an affinity with animals and find solace in their company?
We live in a loud world, with so much going on around us, especially in 2020. It is easy to feel overwhelmed and out of control. I have two dogs, and when my thoughts begin to tangle, I spend time with them, walking in the woods. Sometimes, all it takes is hugging one of my dogs and my thoughts grow calmer.
I loved the fact that Cora has the ability to mimic the calls of the animals and creatures she encounters. Can you mimic any animal calls?
I used to be an avid bird watcher when I was younger. My parents bought me a pair of binoculars and a book about birds and I would go on rambles with my dad. I learnt the different calls of different species of birds, and I would mimic their calls by whistling. The trilling song of a house martin or the chatter of a magpie. The robin has the most amazing songs, with different tunes depending on the season or mood.
What characteristics do you think you need to be a good Creature Keeper?
Good creature keepers have bucketloads of empathy, never-ending patience and fierce determination! Cora shows immense courage in overcoming her fears when she leaves home to work and live amongst all the extraordinary creatures as the new Creature Keeper at Direspire Hall.
What things are you afraid of and can you give an example of how you have faced or overcome your fears?
I write about the things that scare me. My first book, The Switching Hour, was all about my fear of forgetting special memories as we grow older. The Creature Keeper centres around the fear of not fitting in and the frustration of not being understood. By writing about what scares me and allowing the characters to overcome those fears, it makes me feel brave enough to face them myself.
I have read that you were influenced by the key-stone species of our world. Could you tell us a little bit about the research that you did for your book and how you came up with the ideas for all of the extraordinary creatures and the habitats of Four Realms?
Research is a really important part of writing and it is one of my favourite things to do. I became a member of the World Wide Fund for Nature when I was ten, where I first learnt about keystone species. This sparked my interest in the natural world and wilderness preservation. For The Creature Keeper, I researched a species that has a huge impact on an ecosystem, like the elephant, and all the wonderful things it does to help other animals and plants thrive. Through researching real-world animals, I came up with lots of imaginary extraordinary creatures, like the seacat and the glass dragon! I loved the Pangolin and the fact that as a real creature it contrasted so brilliantly with the host of extraordinary creatures you created.
Which of the creatures at Direspire Hall is your favourite and why?
I love the pangolin too! I think Fern is my favourite, as she’s curious and mysterious and magical.
It’s clear that we all have a responsibility to help wildlife survive and thrive. What advice would you give to the future Creature Keepers of our world?
Cora is a fantastic creature keeper because she is curious about the world around her. She understands that the world isn’t just her home, but home to lots of other creatures too and she fights for their right to live free. Learning about all the amazing creatures that live in our world is the first step in becoming excellent creature keepers.
At the end of the book Mrs Cavendish begins to recognise the creatures are much more than specimens to be studied and agrees with Cora that the creatures should be returned to their natural habitats in the Four Realms. Do you think you will be writing a sequel to the Creature Keeper that follows their release back into the wild?
I would love to go on an adventure into the wilderness with Cora and the extraordinary creatures. Maybe one day!
What do you see as the biggest threat to our natural world?
Climate Change is a big one but also habitat loss through deforestation. Small things, like planting wildflowers in your garden or on a windowsill planter can make a difference to the bees and other insects.
Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?
I read Beyond the Deepwoods by Chris Riddell and Paul Stewart when I was younger and I immediately wanted to write stories like that, full of adventure and fantastic creatures.
Can you tell us: a book that you will always love, a book that you have enjoyed reading this year and a book that you would love to read?
I will always love Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge. I’m re-reading it for the hundredth time right now! I really enjoyed reading When Life Gives You Mangos by Kereen Getten this year, it’s a beautifully written story full of mystery and friendship. I’m looking forward to reading The Boy Who Met a Whale by Nizrana Farook which is out next year.
Finally, can you describe The Creature Keeper in three words?
Mysterious, magical and fun!
Thank you so much for taking the time to read and answer our questions.
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