An Interview with Rhian Ivory

Congratulations on the publication of The Boy Who Drew the Future! What inspired you to write it?  
Thank you! I had a dream in which I saw the end of the book, much like the last scene in a film. I saw a boy who had drawn someone’s future and it wasn’t a good one. I had to work backwards uncovering Noah’s story until I reached the start of his journey. I’d also always wanted to write about witches but not in a stereotypical manner. I wanted to say something new.​
The book is set in the Essex village of Sible Hedingham. Why did you pick Sible Hedingham for the setting of this book? Was there a specific reason? 
I fell upon Sible Hedingham quite by chance. I was prowling Google Maps looking for an unusual village to set my story in. By this stage I’d written the first draft and wanted to anchor the story in a real place in the UK. Sible Hedingham jumped out of the map and into my story. I’d never heard of the village before or visited it but for some reason it suited my needs.
It was only after I’d finished the second draft and wanted to know a bit more about the village that I found out about the Sible Hedingham Witchcase. When I realised that there had been an old French man(known as Dummy because he was mute and deaf) accused of witchcraft and swum in the river I nearly fell off my chair. I thought I’d made Blaze up but there were many similarities between him and Dummy.
Whilst Noah lives in present day and doesn’t have this concern, Blaze is often accused of witchcraft because of his ability to draw the future, and must trade his drawings for safety. What’s the fascination with witchcraft in this book? 
When I left university I tried to get a job in publishing but failed as I didn’t live anywhere near London. Instead I got a job as a telesales executive (or cold caller) and met my first real witch. I found her fascinating mostly because she didn’t look like a witch (I’d been brought up on Grimm’s fairy tales and had a very clear idea about how a witch should look). She taught me a lot about paganism, festivals, white witches and healing powers and one day healed my back for me with just her hands.
I like the idea of moving away from stereotypes and looking at people who are considered different or other and what makes society view them with suspicion. Noah and Blaze are special, other and different and what fascinated me was that even though Noah lives in modern times he still suffers the same kind of suspicion that Blaze does back in 1865.
Noah and Blaze live in different time frames, set 100 years apart from each other. Was there a specific reason for this time gap?
I wanted to compare and contrast the way in which the boys are treated. I needed the different time periods to illustrate the dangers they both face and the lack of choice Blaze has in comparison to Noah.
The fear of the Workhouse for Blaze is very real and underlines all the decisions he makes whereas Noah has the freedom to keep moving on. In a sense both of them are running away from their abilities in the hope that they can escape even though they both know this is futile. Noah does learn from Blaze’s mistakes and there is a sense of hope at the end of each of their stories that perhaps things can change if they learn to take control.
Did you find writing the book with such a significant time gap difficult, or was it relatively simple to do? 
I’ve always wanted to write about a different time period in history but this book was going to be just Noah’s story but I kept dreaming about a hand in the river. One morning I sat down and wrote a scene from Blaze’s perspective, as a ghost following Noah along the river trying to warn him. I knew that this character had a story to tell too and on a writing retreat I heard his voice, as clearly as if he were sitting next to me at the kitchen table. Once I wrote my first Blaze chapter I knew there was no turning back. I did a lot of research to make sure that the information I presented in Blaze’s timeline would be accurate and it was interesting to compare Sible Hedingham of 1865 with Sible Hedingham in the present day.
Did you draw any of the inspiration for The Boy Who Drew the Future from parts of your own life?
There’s a deleted scene which is taken from my life in which I was pushed in the pond at school and this was going to be Noah’s first encounter with water and Eva but I later took it out. I wasn’t able to draw the future at school but I presented a problem for the school bully because I wouldn’t dance to her tune, hence the ducking in the pond. She managed to convince the rest of the class that I was different and other and should be avoided at all costs.
Has anything in the book actually happened to you before?  
Yes! The scene in the Workhouse tunnels towards the end of the book was based on real experience. Although I didn’t have to deal with what Noah and Beth do I had a frightening encounter in the tunnels at Calke Abbey which I and my children could not explain and still haunts me to this day. I’ve written about this at more length here –
How much research did you do to write The Boy Who Drew the Future? Was it a difficult book to write because of this?  
I used a wall planner and coloured post it’s to help map out the different chapters and themes and how they’d work together across the two timelines, there’s no way I could have held on to all the different threads without visual aids. I did a lot of research for the book but I find this enjoyable. I did studied History at college and have always found the past immensely appealing and a source of endless fascination. I’ve got another book planned set in 1944 which is a Rebecca (du Maurier) meets Downton Abbey with a bit of Agatha Christie thrown in. This involved copious amounts of research, in fact sometimes I have to stop myself and simply write the story rather than reading more sources and making more notes.
How do you write your books? Do you have a set process or a routine that you follow?  
Each book is different and needs a new method of planning and plotting. For example the book I’m currently editing, ‘Always, Hope’ began with an opening scene on a ferry crossing the Irish Sea. I didn’t know who the girl was or why she was on the ferry but I knew what she was about to do next. I simply started with that scene and the story grew as I found my way. The Boy who Drew the Future needed careful plotting once I had the bones of the story because of the two different timelines. I like making notes in a small notebook, then I type on my laptop, then I send my work to my Kindle and listen to it as if it is someone else’s audiobook. I then make notes and go back to the laptop and rewrite.
Have you always wanted to be a writer, or is it something that just occurred to you one day
Always wanted to be a writer, always. Once I realised that someone out there paid Roald Dahl to make up his stories I knew this was what I wanted to do too. Best job in the world.
What tips do you have for any aspiring writers who want to start writing but don’t know where to start?
Read widely, don’t stick to just one genre.
Write little and often.
Don’t set yourself impossible tasks which will make you feel inadequate when you fail to achieve them.
Read your writing out loud, makes the world of difference.
Listen to audiobooks, it will teach you lots about the rhythm and pace of dialogue amongst other things.
Be brave and let someone else read a bit of your work, they’ll annoy you with questions but later you’ll realise these were the questions you were avoiding because you didn’t yet know how to answer them.

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