authors, interviews

AL Tait on writing The Fire Star


AL Tait is the bestselling author of the middle-grade adventure series The Mapmaker Chronicles and the Ateban Cipher. Her latest novel is The Fire Star (A Maven & Reeve Mystery).

From the publisher:

A maid with a plan.
A squire with a secret.
A missing jewel.
A kingdom in turmoil.

Maven and Reeve have three days to solve the mystery of the Fire Star. If they don’t, they’ll lose everything.

The Fire Star is book 1 in an adventure mystery series set in Medieval times. How much research did you need to do before you began writing?

I have a strong interest in the Medieval period and I describe my novels as ’not quite history’ because they draw from that time but are then pivoted to create a whole new world. So I have a solid grounding in the flavour of the period, which allowed me to start writing The Fire Star, and then I research particular details as I go.

Sometimes, when I’m working on my first draft, I might even just put a note that says something like [insert description of Medieval kitchen here] and then go back later. That allows me to keep the story flowing. Story always comes first.

This is probably not the most efficient way to write a novel, but it works for me.

Characters’ names are an important part of their identity/personality. How do you choose the names of the main characters in your books?
Names are very important, particularly for the main characters, so I take my time to get them right. I look for names that are meaningful to the main traits of the character in question. So, as an example, I chose Reeve because it’s a Medieval word meaning ’sheriff’, which works really well for a mystery story! Maven, on the other hand, is a Hebrew name meaning ‘one who understands’, which describes Maven as a character perfectly.

If you found yourself living in Medieval times, what would your occupation/role in society be?
I like to imagine I’d be Queen of the land, but in reality I’d probably end up a peasant, running a small-holding with my husband and kids. That was the reality for most women, and it’s one of the reasons The Beech Circle exists in Cartreff, the world of my novel.

Do you have a tip (or a challenge) for kids who’d like to try writing an adventure mystery?
Writing a mystery story is a major challenge in itself. But I think my best tip is just to keep asking yourself ‘why?’. If this happens, why? If that happens, why? If you can get to the ‘why?’ of a mystery story it helps you to plot out the who, what, when and where of the crime.

So, in my novel, The Fire Star, a fabulously valuable and dazzling jewel goes missing. Instead of asking myself who took it, I looked at why someone might do it – and there were lots of reasons. So I chose the LEAST OBVIOUS answer and the story flowed from there.

Can you tell us a bit about your next project? 
I am writing a new Maven & Reeve Mystery and I am so thrilled to be back in Cartreff. The ‘why?’ of this one is a doozy!

The Fire Star is out now – ask for it at your local bookshop or library!

The Fire Star by AL TaitEXTRAS:

Click here to visit AL Tait’s resources page on kings, castles & secret societies.

Click here for Teachers’ Notes.

Read our 2015 interview with AL Tait.

Find out more about AL Tait and her books at her website.