Cathy Farr is the author of The Fellhounds of Thesk, a series of historical fantasy books which introduce the reader to the medieval land of Thesk and the mighty Fellhounds which protect the villagers. The first two books in the series are now available and Cathy is working on the third installment (see below).
Cathy is also the co-founder of Penarth Book Festival, which enjoyed a successful first year in 2012. Here, Cathy discusses the reality of organising a festival and the delights of school visits with an Irish Wolfhound.
You were one of the founders and organisers of the first Penarth Book Festival, held in Oct/Nov 2012. What, for you, were the highlights (and indeed the low points) of establishing the festival?
The festival was originally my idea although I’d never even been to a book festival before, so one of the highlights would have to be that people took me seriously from the start; another was the teamwork of the four of us who actually brought it all together – plus lots of help from friends and family during the festival week. The only real low point was when an organisation that had indicated that grant funding would be available suddenly announced they didn’t have any money left to give; as that was our advertising budget it really was a bit of a blow. Standing surety for the event I have to admit to a bit of a wobble but I trusted the faith of the team and it was all fine in the end.
What advice would you give to anyone else thinking of setting up a book festival, especially in the current economic climate?
Don’t rely on promises. If someone offers help (or money) get them committed early on. In particular, we were extremely lucky that we had a core of excellent volunteers who gave over and above what was asked of them – without them we would have really struggled. The other thing I really didn’t appreciate was how much time it takes – the four of us lived and breathed the festival during the final six weeks.
I believe you’re hoping to hold the festival again in 2013. Do you have any authors/event ideas on your wish list yet?
We would like to do more with the schools next year and ideas like a quiz night and writing workshops have been mentioned to get more interaction going, but its early days. As far as our wish list of authors goes it would be fabulous to have a really big name but to be honest we were delighted with the authors we had this year, they all turned up on time, no-one got lost and they were all really interesting. We’ll just have to see what 2013 brings.
You’re the author of Moon Chase and Moon Crossing, the first two books in the ‘Fellhounds of Thesk’ series. Could you tell us a little more about the books?
They are fantasy adventures set in my imaginary land of Thesk, a medieval-style world with two moons, Wraithe wolves and huge dogs called Fell hounds. In the first book, Moon Chase, a boy, Wil Calloway, is wrongly accused of trying to murder another boy and is sent on the Moon Chase to prove his innocence. The idea for the chase came from the witch hunts in medieval times; I was interested in the unfairness of those trials and played with the concept until I came up with the idea of a midnight hunt where the odds are stacked very much against Wil. It’s about friendship and self-belief. I have to admit I’ve grown very fond of Wil. He’s certainly no super hero; he’s quite clumsy and tends to rush into things – if it wasn’t for the friends he makes on the way and the help of the giant Fell hound, Farrow, goodness knows what would have happened!
The second book, Moon Crossing, sees another challenge for Wil when someone is kidnapped. I decided to use the twin moons as my ticking clock; the idea being that the deadline is the crossing of the moons. Throughout the story they move closer and closer until they eventually cross – and watch out when they do! Moon Crossing draws a lot of influence from Halloween, with lots of action. Both books have been described many times as real page turners.
It’s impossible to mention your books without talking about Finn, your own Irish Wolfhound. How much did owning Finn inspire your writing?
I actually started writing what became Moon Chase over twenty years ago when I first discovered Irish wolfhounds. I was awestruck by their size. Seeing them eye-height to a child I tried to imaging what it would be like to have a dog that was eye-height to an adult – that was when the Fell hounds were born. Back then I only actually wrote about twenty pages before I moved on to other things, although I never forgot about my scribblings. It was getting my own Irish Wolfhound, Finn, almost five years ago that really helped me to hone my ideas. Watching him play when he was a puppy and seeing his personality develop – he was a gift really for a writer. Farrow is the hound in Moon Chase because she was my original Fell hound all those years ago, but Finn does make an appearance; and Farrow, Finn (spelled Phinn – you have to read the book…) and another hound called Mia are in the thick of the action in Moon Crossing!
I believe you often take Finn with you on book signing events and school visits, which I’m sure must be really exciting for the children. Is he always well-behaved or have you had any adventures?!
My books were originally written with a teenage boy in mind but I quickly discovered that they are going down extremely well with children as young as eight years old, right up to adults. I hadn’t really thought about visiting schools, let alone taking Finn, but a teacher bought Moon Chase at a signing in Waterstones and met Finn there, too. He loved the book so much that he invited me and Finn to visit the school to talk to their Year 5 and 6. I was very nervous that first time. Finn has always been great with children and had come to the launch and signing events so I knew he’d be okay but I’d never talked to a group of children before! I suppose that was our first big adventure and the children responded fantastically to Finn. It’s great to see their faces when we walk in; and they absolutely love being read to. That visit was an absolute pleasure and since then I must have visited almost forty junior and senior schools in South Wales and the South West of England talking to years 5, 6, 7 & 8. Finn is always impeccably behaved and from feedback I get from teachers the whole experience of my visits really does inspire the children to read – even the reluctant ones! Finn knows now that if I start putting boxes of books in the car it means we’re off on another adventure and believe me he sulks if I don’t take him. Luckily, there have only been two occasions when he couldn’t come because of school policy.
As for adventures – I’ve been lost more times than I care to count and recently a desperate search for the loo resulted in a rather painful altercation with some brambles!
Are there any plans to write another book in the ‘Fellhounds of Thesk’ series and if so, do you have any idea when it will be published?
I’m planning the third book now and have promised the many, many people who write, tweet and Facebook that the draft will be done by June 2013, with a view to it being published before Christmas next year. The working title is Ghost Moon and it will follow on from the other two. I’ve got the broad idea in my head but I don’t like to plan too much. I prefer to see where the story takes me; I heard a writer once say that he likes writing stories because he wants to find out what happens in the end – that’s how I write and it’s why I love it.
What was your favourite book when you were a child and do you have any modern-day favourites?
There were quite a few but I think The Hobbit ranks at the top. I also loved Enid Blyton, especially the Malory Towers stories. When I was fourteen I read Wuthering Heights and that opened up a world of literature that I never dreamed existed.
Of the modern day children’s authors Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books are wonderful as are Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series. And of course you can’t ignore Harry Potter; I find it challenging enough to hold my stories together over three books, how J K Rowling did it over seven books and ten years I find seriously impressive.