We're excited to be publishing A.F. Steadman's epic fantasy novel Skandar And The Unicorn Thief as a physical audiobook under our Little Acorns children imprint in May. To celebrate we sat down with her to discuss where she finds inspiration, her history with libraries and what she's doing next.
Where did you find inspiration for Skandar and the Unicorn Thief?
Growing up, I always preferred books full of magic and adventure. In particular, I loved stories that felt like they could really happen to me – like discovering a world where I had a daemon or an entrance to a faerie realm at the end of the garden. Then eight years ago, walking home, an image of a boy and a unicorn flying ahead of me soared into my mind. I’m a visual writer and often play out scenes in my imagination and I remember very clearly thinking: This unicorn doesn’t look like it belongs in a fairy tale. This creature belongs in nightmares. I suppose I have always been a little suspicious of the friendly image of unicorns that is prevalent in modern times. Especially as they have a sharp horn – a weapon! – right on their heads!
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Trust your writing instincts! I spent eight years after having the initial idea for Skandar, not writing it. My worries varied from ‘this isn’t a good enough idea’ to ‘my writing isn’t good enough’ and I wish I had spent less time worrying and more time writing! Even if it had taken eight years to get published, I think I would have benefitted from trusting myself and my work.
Do any of the themes in Skandar come from experiences in your own childhood?
One of the key themes in Skandar and the Unicorn Thief is about the importance of finding friends who accept you for who you really are – and self-acceptance too. I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 4, which meant that growing up I had to test my blood sugar and inject insulin at school. For many years I used to hide my illness from my peers because I just wanted to be like everyone else. But finally, once I started to talk about it more and share my worries with friends, I realised their support made me stronger not weaker.
Were you a big library user when you were a child? What are your favourite memories of the library?
Yes, absolutely! My mum used to take me to our local library almost every week when I was growing up. Libraries are so magical and I know that having access to them made me the reader and writer I am today. One of my favourite memories is when I had accidentally chosen too many books to borrow in one go and I was desperately trying to choose which one to leave until the next week. The lovely librarian took pity on me, and moved me up to a teenage library card so I could take out more books each week!
Are you excited to have editions of your own book available to library users?
Honestly, Skandar and the Unicorn Thief being in libraries is one of the parts of being an author I am looking forward to the most. I think if I ever see a copy with date stamps from children borrowing it, I will cry many (happy) tears!
What elements of the audiobook version of Skandar are you most looking forward to listening to?
I had the privilege of listening to the wonderful narrator of Skandar, David Dawson recording some of the story in the studio, so I had a little preview! Let me tell you the way he reads the prologue is spine-tingling and brilliant – you won’t want to stop listening. I am so looking forward to listening to the climax of the story – no spoilers here – but I also can’t wait to hear some of the ways he has brought out the individual personalities of the characters, especially Bobby Bruna!
What books from your childhood had the biggest impact on you and why?
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin had a big impact on me because I’d never experienced vast world-building like it. I also loved the magic system – and the darkness – in Sabriel by Garth Nix. The Roman Mysteries by Caroline Lawrence were also a favourite of mine, and those books were my first experience of reading a long series and desperately waiting for the next book to come out. I also grew up with The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini and His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman and I loved the pure escapism of those books, along with the way they showcased the bond between humans and animals.
How important is it for your books to be available in audio as well as traditional formats?
This is so important. Personally, I listen to audiobooks a lot, and for many children it is such a wonderful way for them to access books and immerse themselves in stories. A friend once told me about a child they knew who wouldn’t read physical books but loved audio and would draw images from the story as they listened. I am all for children accessing books in as many different ways as possible!
What are you working on next?
The Skandar series will be five books, so at the moment I am editing the second book, and starting to plan the third. I am so grateful I get to spend more time hanging out in the world of bloodthirsty unicorns! Skandar and his friends have many adventures to come.