“For several years – decades actually – Spellbinders have been worried about the oceans.” (The Stolen Prince of Cloudburst)
It is such a pleasure to return to Spindrift in the Kingdom of Storms in Jaclyn Moriarty’s new book, The Stolen Prince of Cloudburst (Allen & Unwin). This is her third stand-alone middle-fiction novel in the Kingdoms and Empires series. It is another captivating story, with perceptive characterisation, assured fantasy elements and perfectly integrated layers and depths of meaning.
Thank you for speaking to PaperbarkWords, Jaclyn.
You have been writing stunning original fantasy novels in recent years. The Stolen Prince of Cloudburst stands alone – it can be read without having read the previous Kingdoms and Empires books. Could you briefly introduce the other books in this series?
Thank you for your very kind words, Joy! You are lovely.
The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone was the first book in the series. It was about ten-year-old Bronte, who was sent on a journey across the Kingdoms and Empires to deliver gifts to her ten aunts. The Slightly Alarming Tale of the Whispering Wars, the second book, took us back to a time before Bronte was born: in the city of Spindrift in the Kingdom of Storms, Finlay lives in the orphanage, and Honey Bee, in the exclusive boarding school. Conflict between the children of the orphanage and the boarding school escalates—until the Whispering Wars breaks out and the children realise they might have to work together to save their world.
How do the characters overlap between the books, or do the stories overlap in other ways?
The books all take place in the same world and main characters from one book make cameo appearances in others. Sometimes the appearances are the result of time travel…
Your title The Stolen Prince of Cloudburst is very catchy and memorable. Could you tell us something about this title?
Thank you! I’m terrible at titles. It always takes me a long time to come up with one. In fact, my US and UK publishers were doubtful about this title because the stolen prince of Cloudburst himself only plays a very minor role in the book. The main character is actually Esther Mettlestone-Staranise. The stolen prince is a boy who was raised by pirates and who has just discovered his true identity as the long-lost prince of the Kingdom of Storms. Esther, who feels like a very ordinary person herself, is fascinated by the story of the stolen prince and longs to discover some deep and extraordinary secret about herself too.
What pleases you about your setting?
Well, I especially love Kelly Canby’s maps of my settings… This world came to life for me all on its own – I just followed Bronte on her journey to visit the ten aunts and waited to see what she would find. I drew a lot of maps as I went along (which Kelly transformed into beautiful artworks).
Could you introduce your wonderful and endearing protagonist Esther?
Twelve-year-old Esther is a student at Katherine Valley Boarding School. Although she herself is ordinary, her older sister Imogen and younger sister Astrid both have unique talents. She also has two best friends who are gifted, and a cousin, Bronte Mettlestone, who is an adventurer. Esther is very proud of all the extraordinary people in her life, but she secretly wishes there was something special about her too. She has a habit of eavesdropping – partly because her mother hardly notices when she’s around, so she’s used to being overlooked, and partly because of this yearning of hers for mystery, secrets and adventure.
Esther’s favourite things in the world are reading books, writing stories and playing poker. How would your own list coincide and differ?
Ha, great question. Reading books and writing stories are definitely on my list. I also like playing cards and board games, but I play in a very non-strategic/`intuitive’ way and often forget the rules so I’m definitely not a poker champion …
Esther is a good writer but her new teacher Mrs Pollock is giving her low marks, not just for her writing, but for all her schoolwork. Have you experienced or witnessed the dismay, confusion and frustration of being in a similar position? If so, how did you cope or deal with it?
I have never received a low mark in my life. (Ha ha. You should see the marks I got in sewing class.) I did have a teacher who seemed to take against me when I was in Year Seven. I remember her looking at me with open dislike. She was so critical of everything about me that my mother wrote her a note when I got braces, asking her to please be a little kinder to me today as my teeth hurt. It only made her crankier. Anyway, we had to write a ‘novel’ as a class assignment—my dream assignment—and this teacher put the marks for our novels on a noticeboard for everyone to see. Girls crowded around the board. As I approached, I overheard one of them say, ‘Look what Jaci Moriarty got! She used to be good at writing stories!’ I remember being in such shock I felt like I was floating. (I was a bit of a drama queen.) It really felt like the end of everything.
Esther recalls being rolled upside a carpet and shoved around the room by her sisters for fun. Now the feeling of being alone inside a rug is a burden. What difference does having caring sisters or siblings make?
All the difference in the world. Esther argues with her sisters and can be annoyed by them but they are her best friends. I have four sisters and one brother myself and feel incredibly lucky to have these kind of built-in friends in life, who speak the same unique language as I do, and who know all my flaws but seem to like me anyway, and who can be outraged on my behalf when a Year Seven teacher gives me a bad mark for a story.
Which of your invented creatures such as True Mages, Spellbinders, Shadow Mages, Sterling Silver Foxes, Radish Gnomes, Crystal Faeries, Aquatic Elves, Spit-lolly Vacancies or others would you most or least like to meet and why?
I’d like to meet a Water Sprite because as well as doing magic they are quite sexy. Also, an Elf because they are tiny…
I had to smile as I enjoyed reading certain parts and realised that, as well as being integral to the characters or story, you were also very cleverly referring to significant current issues and concerns. Could you please give an example?
There are issues with water levels rising and weather patterns changing, just as there are in our world. In the world of the book, though, it’s assumed that there is some kind of shadow magic at work…
You refer to bioluminescence beautifully. How is it different from luminescence?
Thank you! I like all kinds of light, but I’m especially drawn to the idea of bioluminescence—the emission of light by a living organism such as a firefly. Luminescence is any other emission of light.
I love how you describe a possible difference between girls and boys through their reactions to teacher Mr Dar-Healey’s backflips. How does this reflect any of your experiences speaking to children at schools or other events?
I know I shouldn’t generalise about boys and girls, but I find the differences so funny. At school visits, both girls and boys are usually lovely, interested listeners, but if often feels like the girls are empathetic and keen to please me, so they will carry on listening politely even when I get boring—whereas the boys are restless, keen to make each other laugh, and will carry on listening politely for precisely as long as they find what I’m saying interesting. After that they start doing backflips.
Which of Kelly Canby’s illustrations particularly delights or surprises you?
They all surprise and delight me, but I especially like the one where Esther is walking down the cobblestone main street of Pillar Box Town or the one of Esther’s mother standing in a shaft of sunlight at the door to the hall, with a background of Esther’s class paintings of the sun.
What are you working on now?
I just finished writing a fourth book in the Kingdoms and Empires series. Bronte Mettlestone, along with her best friend Alejandro and her three cousins, Imogen, Esther and Astrid meet a stranger from another world—a boy with a skateboard. Together, the children have five days in which to save an Elven city.
What else are you reading and keen to recommend at the moment?
I just read and loved The Left-handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix. Lately I’ve been absorbed and delighted by a series about a family of life-sized rag dolls who live in a suburban house and pass themselves off as real people (The Mennyms books by Sylvia Waugh). Also, I just finished reading the manuscript of my sister Nicola’s latest novel, You Need to Know, and I’m now halfway through my sister Liane’s new manuscript – both are absolutely brilliant and I want to cancel every other thing that I’m doing so I can keep reading. (I was actually excited today when I got a muscle spasm in my neck which meant I had to lie down and keep reading Liane’s book.)
How can your readers contact you?
I’d love for readers to follow me on Instagram where I’m at jaclynmoriarty. I’m also on twitter (@jaclynmoriarty) but I don’t go there very often because it seems like a ferocious place. Or you can use the contact page of my website (www.jaclynmoriarty.com). It takes me a while but I like to reply to everyone – so if you write to me and haven’t heard back within a few months the message probably never got through to me…
The Stolen Prince of Cloudburst is an attractive hard cover gift book as well as a gripping and memorable tale. I would recommend it as a shared family read-aloud – ideal for the holidays – and fans of the series will have already ear-marked it as a must-read.
Thank you for your great responses Jaclyn, many of which made me laugh, as well as another fantastic reading experience.
The Stolen Prince of Cloudburst is shortlisted for the Russell Prize for Humour Writing for Young People (of which I am a judge).