When I was a kid, I wanted to be the girl version of Indiana Jones. And by girl version I mean, I wanted to be exactly like him but not be a boy. It made perfect sense. He had all the fun, the swashbuckling adventures, the near misses, and he got to save the world. What’s not to love?
So it’s been a thrill for me to see characters like Drest take their rightful place in the pantheon of action heroes. She’s smart, tough, loyal, determined but not without flaws. She can be a bit hot headed and doesn’t always make the right choices but her heart is in the right place and she will get the job done, even if it gets a little messy. Add in the compelling medieval setting and period details and The Mad Wolf’s Daughter will keep you up all night. (Buy the book: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound)
Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?
I’ve always been an avid reader. I grew up in a family where everyone read—there were books in just about every room of our house—and I started reading fairly young. My parents both loved reading aloud to me, but I didn’t make it easy for them: I often interrupted and told them how I thought the story should go. I wrote stories about my toys and their adventures, but really began taking writing seriously when I was 14 years old. I’d read Susan B. Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising, which inspired me to write longer stories about more complicated imaginary topics. And then my wonderful English teacher Ms. Plourde, who had always encouraged my writing, told me that people my age sometimes wrote novels. I decided that it was time for me to write a novel. And so I did.
The Mad Wolf’s Daughter is set in the 13th-century Scottish headlands. What research did you do to get a feel for the setting?
I’m a bit obsessed with medieval history, and I read a lot of that for fun. For this book, I focused on Britain and Scotland: David Santiuste’s masterful The Hammer of the Scots: Edward I and the Scottish Wars of Independence, which gave me a great picture of medieval Scottish politics, identity, and ways of thinking; Danny Danziger and John Gillingham’s 1215: The Year of the Magna Carta and Danny Danziger and Robert Lacey’s The Year 1000 for a broad look at Britain, social mores, and daily life during those periods; and Frances and Joseph Gies’s Life in a Medieval Castle and Life in a Medieval Village for more in-depth details. Then for a closer look at specific topics: Ewart Oakeshott’s A Knight and His Armor and A Knight and His Weapons and Malcolm Hislop’s How to Read Castles. Those were some of the most helpful books of my text-based research.
I also took research trips to Scotland in 2016 and 2017 to explore the castles and abbeys of the Scottish Borders. Wandering around those historical sites gave me a taste of what it was really like to be in the world I was describing—as well as to show me specific details that I’d read about but never seen, such as murder holes, arrow loops, and those wonderful narrow stairs that make it difficult to siege a castle. Historic Scotland Environment’s in-depth tourist guides and friendly staff helped me put these properties into context.
Drest is a hero for modern times, a girl rising to the occasion and stepping into a role more often filled by boys. What female heroes, fictional or real, were on your mind when you conceived Drest?
Philip Pullman’s Lyra—especially as she is in The Golden Compass: an independent, brave, mischievous, and intensely loyal girl—has always been a character I’ve admired, and I’m sure those qualities influenced Drest.
Gwynna, of Philip Reeve’s Here Lies Arthur, has also been an important character in my consciousness. I love the way she lived with Arthur’s war-band as a full member of its younger people (though her gender was a secret), and how she responded to the gruesome aspects of battle, then eventually made her own decisions about who and what she would be.
Finally, Kelly Barnhill’s Áine from The Witch’s Boy: a strong girl with her own moral code, determined to do what was right for her purposes, gradually growing to understand, accept, and work toward a greater purpose.
Those three protagonists no doubt influenced Drest, but so did all the fiction I read growing up. As you say, boys nearly always filled the role of hero and had the exciting adventures. As a child, I wanted to be like them—to still be a girl, but to be the one with the quest, the one in the armor with the sword, to be just as strong and tough as they were.
This novel is full of heart pounding danger, deception and adventure. I loved the mystery elements and the fast pace! What came first for you – character or plot?
The character of Drest came first, along with a situation—that she was in a family of bloodthirsty villains, and was going to learn about who they really were once she was separated from them. The rest of the basic plot came after that, and I introduced other characters and began understanding them as I went on with the story. I rewrote the whole novel about three times, honing in more and more on the strongest parts of the plot, each time discovering possibilities for secrets (and going back and editing those in throughout). As I rewrote, I also refined the characters—including Drest.
Writing for middle grade readers can be a challenge. What about this age range/genre appeals to you?
I love how smart, eager, and inventive middle grade readers are. They love books, and they take stories seriously. And they appreciate humor, heart, and action—as do I, in a very similar way. I also know from my own experience at that age how much books can make a difference. Being a middle grader isn’t easy, and the right book can be a friend or an inspiration or an escape—or all three. It’s an honor to write for this age group and try to write that book that will make that difference for a reader.
Who are your favorite authors?
I love Susan Cooper, in particular for The Dark is Rising series, which is rich with lore and filled with shivery moments that dig deep inside the reader. Also Philip Pullman, Philip Reeve, and Kelly Barnhill, with every work they write. I’m a huge fan of Katherine Langrish and reread her Dark Angels (published in the U.S. as The Shadow Hunt) each year; her historically accurate yet legend-filled medieval Britain and lovely, lovely story is such a pleasure. And I am grateful to Paul Durham for the Luck Uglies series, which awakened me to the lure of middle grade. (When I read the first book, I’d been writing adult historical yet reading middle grade to keep up with my son, and Luck Uglies was such a pleasure that it inspired me to write my own fast-paced middle grade adventure.)
What is your favorite thing to do when not writing?
I love to read fiction and nonfiction, both for pleasure and research. Also, to go outside and wander the woods with my family. When I’m in a country that has them, I’m always visiting castles, abbeys, and other heritage sites, looking for one more detail, one more story, one more fascinating historical fact.
What are you working on right now? Will we see more of Drest in future books?
I’m in the editing stage for the sequel to The Mad Wolf’s Daughter. I’m also working on a third Scottish medieval adventure that’s not a Drest book. It takes place in a different historical period with a different kind of strong female protagonist (and that’s all I can say until I’m done with it).
How do you prefer readers get in touch with you?
Twitter is my favorite social media platform and readers can find me there at @dianemagras. I’m also on Instagram (@dianemagras) and have an author page on Facebook (@dianemagrasbooks). Readers may also visit my website, www.dianemagras.com, and contact me through my form or email.