A Conversation with Daniel Ingram-Brown

Daniel Ingram-Brown is the author of The Firebird Chronicles series for children aged 9-12, published by Our Street Books. He is the recipient of the Taner Baybars award for original fiction in the field of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Magical Realism, awarded by the Society of Authors Authors’ Foundation. Daniel is currently undertaking a PhD at Leeds Beckett University exploring adoption through creative writing and is also part of the university’s Storymakers Company, who seek to develop creative, artistic, child centred learning opportunities for young people through story making in educational and community settings.

Daniel is a First Story Writer-in-Residence for secondary schools in Yorkshire, he chaired the Leeds Big Bookend Festival from 2013-16 and is on the committee for the Society of Authors, Authors North. He is also a theatre director and playwright and is Artistic Director of Suitcase and Spectacles Children’s Theatre. Daniel has overseen a number of community writing projects, including The Leeds Story Cycle (2014) and Stories from the Forests of Leeds (2015/6), both of which resulted in the publication of a book of short stories. He lives in Yorkshire, UK. Daniel lives in a house built from the stones of a ruined castle with his wife, son, their bearded dragon and one-eyed cat!

The future can be rewritten.

Aimed at a young adult readership, Bea’s Witch is adoption fiction crossed with magical realism and historical fiction. On the eve of her twelfth birthday, Beatrice Crosse runs away from her adoptive home only to encounter the ghost of England’s most famous prophetess. The witchoffers her treasure, but can she be trusted? Bea must wrestle her past to discover the witch’s secret and find her way home.

A deft blending of historical, fantasy, contemporary and adoption fiction. I was genuinely transported. Dr Rachel Connor, Novelist and Dramatist.

It is an absolute pleasure to welcome Dan to the blog. I’d like to thank him for writing about his new novel Bea’s Witch – which I am sure will be a fantastic contribution to adoption and care experienced literature.

  • Tell us of your journey as a writer.

I grew up in a creative home, full of music and story – I remember my nan singing a lot! When we were little, my sisters, cousins and I used to write and perform plays and pantomimes – I particularly remember a version of Snow White we wrote on a canal boat holiday where Snow White was a feminist who refused to do the housework and the dwarfs were part of the miners’ strike! As I moved into my teens, I got involved in my parents’ amateur dramatics group, taking small parts (I played Tiny Tim in a Christmas Carol) and also working backstage. When I was seventeen, I directed my first play, Woman in Mind by Alan Ayckbourn, and after finishing school, decided to train as a Stage Manager, although I soon realised that I preferred creative rather than managerial roles. I studied philosophy at university but spent a lot of time directing plays as part of the Student Union Theatre Group, where I met a good group of friends. We took the play Accidental Death of An Anarchist by Dario Fo to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I re-worked the play, setting it in the London Docklands during John Major’s time as Prime Minister. After university, my friends and I decided to set up a theatre company. We lived together and wrote, acted and directed our own plays and performances. It was during this time I began to take my writing more seriously. I’ve been part of running small scale touring and community theatre companies ever since and have written and produced around twenty plays and two musicals. I particularly enjoyed running large scale community productions, which involved people of all ages and backgrounds working together to explore common themes. After about ten years working in touring theatre, I decided to turn my hand to writing a novel, partly because we were preparing to adopt, and I felt that writing would be more practical than theatre, which can be intense and demand working evenings and holidays. My first book, The Firebird Chronicles: Rise of the Shadow Stealers came out in 2013, followed by the next two books in that series. My new book, Bea’s Witch: A ghostly coming-of-age story is a standalone book that draws on my experience as an adoptive dad and is out in July 2021.

  • What made you choose to write about adoption?

Being an adoptive dad, I think it would have been hard to avoid. The process of adopting, learning about the challenges adopted and looked after children face, carrying my son’s own story with him, working through the responsibilities and ethics of becoming an adoptive father, are all such a core part of my life – it would have been hard for those themes not to flow into my work. I think we do ‘write what we know’ even if we’re not doing it consciously. I found certain themes around identity, parenthood and sonship spilling into The Firebird Chronicles, and so I decided to write about adoption more consciously in Bea’s Witch. I also wanted the book to raise awareness about some of the challenges adopted children can face and to grow empathy and understanding for those involved in the adoption system. And perhaps most importantly, I wanted to write the book as an act of love for my son, as a way of attempting to step into the shoes of an adoptee in order to understand that experience more fully.

  • Do you have any personal experience with the care system: adoption, fostering, children’s homes etc?

Yes, as I say, I’m an adoptive dad, which has involved training, working with foster carers, social workers and other professionals, meeting my son’s birth mother, keeping contact with his birth family, life story work, therapeutic parenting, working with schools and teachers, and, of course, growing together as a new family with all that entails.

  • Adopted children/adults, often feel stereotyped by their past. How aware of this were you whilst creating your characters?

Writing Bea’s Witch is part of my PhD, through which I’m mapping the construction of magical realist adoption fiction for young adults, so I was aware of some of the stereotypes and archetypes often found in adoption fiction, but I’ve definitely become more aware of common portrayals of adoptees through the process of writing and researching. One of the things I’ve learnt is that no one story can represent the adoption experience fully – they will all rely on certain recurring images and motifs, although these will be different for each story, and so honest representation can only be found through multiple voices and perspectives. I was aware of wanting the perspective I presented in Bea’s Witch to be authentic and truthful – I felt that responsibility. Through the process, I received feedback from adoptees and others involved in the adoption system to help me achieve that, and the reviews of the final book have been encouraging, although, as I say, one perspective will always be partial and limited.

  • What is the meaning of the title?

The story is about a girl called Beatrice – Bea – who encounters the ghost of the historical 15th/16th century prophetess – Mother Shipton – the witch of the title. Mother Shipton was accused of being a witch by Henry VIII’s right-hand man, Cardinal Wolsey. In the book, she reclaims that title, using it as part of her influence and power. It’s ‘Bea’s Witch’ because the reader is never quite sure whether the encounter is real or whether it’s something Bea is imagining. I was also playing with the word Bewitched, and so felt the title had a good ring to it.

  • What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

At the moment, I’m focusing on writing my PhD. As I mentioned, part of my research entailed writing Bea’s Witch. The second part of the research involved working with two secondary schools, using the book as a prompt for the students to write their own stories, exploring themes such as family, belonging, loss and hope. I’m now writing the final part of the PhD, which reflects upon that experience. I’m writing it as a narrative, which is fun. In it, the reader is taken on a tour of the town in which Bea’s Witch is set. Through this tour, the reader learns about my writing process, the theoretical influences I drew on and the practical work in schools. I have two years left to complete it, after that I’m not sure what I’ll write. I have a few ideas, including revisiting my nan’s story. Her mum was an orphan, brought up in a convent in India. She came to the UK with a Scottish soldier during the First World War. My nan lived through various tragedies, including seeing her brother burn to death because of the poor housing in London’s east end, being evicted due to racism and being bombed out in the Second World War, just after she married. She had a big influence over my childhood. I knew her as a woman who was always singing, loved a party, was active, walked, loved her garden. I didn’t discover much of her history until I was in my early 20s and have wanted to write about it ever since. But whether it will be my next book, I’m not sure.

  • What #diverse characters do you think are missing from literature?

One of the things I’ve become aware of in my research is that books about adoption tend to be dominated by female characters, which is something I’ve fallen unknowingly into with my own book, partly because I wanted to distance my main character from my son and making her a girl was a clear way to do that, and also because she encounters ‘Mother’ Shipton, which means the book focuses on the relationship between mothers and daughters. But boys and men are under-represented in adoption fiction. It would be great to see books that address that imbalance. As a male writer with a son, I’m particularly aware of that now.

  • If you could recommend one #diverse book for your readers, what would it be?

I think it would be Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories. It’s a magical realism book set in the fictional ‘Valley of K’ by the ‘Dull Lake’ which the appendix says is named after the Dal Lake in Kashmir. The main character is a child, Haroun, a boy with an absent mother and a father who is a professional storyteller but has lost the ability to tell stories and has fallen into depression. Haroun travels to the ‘Sea of Stories’ to try to restore his father’s imagination. Many of the book’s names – places and people – are related to storytelling, for instance the antagonist is called ‘Khattam-Shud,’ which means ‘the end’. I read the book when I started to take myself seriously as a writer and loved all the literary references. It had a big influence on my first series The Firebird Chronicles which is also set in a world that’s self-conscious of its own literary construction.

  • Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

The book I remember loving most as a child reader was called The Silver Pen. It was about a boy who leapt into other worlds with the aid of a magical pen. I don’t remember the name of the character, the author, or any of the details of the story! I’ve looked for the book but can’t find it! But I remember taking it out at the library, a feeling of excitement as I held it, loving the story, the atmosphere, and being enthralled by the possibility of being able to leap into alternate universes. It obviously made a big impression on me, as my job now entails leaping into other worlds with the aid of a pen! I think it must have also influenced my ideas too, as much of my writing revolves around the fluid boundaries between different worlds and the power of story. It would be lovely to find the book again one day.  

 

Bea’s Witch is due to be published by Lodestone Books 30th July 2021. Pre-order here.

Follow Daniel on: Facebook or Twitter

This entry was posted in Blog. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s