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Interview with MG author Stephanie Burgis: creative process, childhood wonder and STOLEN MAGIC (Atheneum/Simon & Schuster Children’s)

Stephanie Burgis was born in Michigan, but now lives in Wales with her husband, fellow writer Patrick Samphire, and their children. Before becoming a fulltime writer, she studied music history as a Fulbright Scholar in Vienna, Austria and worked as a website editor for a British opera company. Her first novel, Kat, Incorrigible, won the Waverton Good Read Children’s Award in 2011 (under its UK title, A Most Improper Magick) for Best Début Children’s Novel by a British writer. It was followed by Renegade Magic and Stolen Magic. Cover art for the UK books was created by Anne-Yvonne Gilbert (first two books) and Will Steele (third book), while Annette Marnat did the U.S. covers.

To find out more, or to read the first three chapters of each of her books, please visit her website.

Synopsis of Stephanie’s Kat series:

*Magic, romance and adventure in Jane Austen’s Regency England!* Twelve-year-old Kat Stephenson may be the despair of her social-climbing Step-Mama, but she was born to be a magical Guardian and protector of Society–if she can ever find true acceptance in the secret Order that expelled her own mother.

She’s ready to turn the hidebound Order of the Guardians inside-out, whether the older members like it or not. And in a society where magic is the greatest scandal of all, Kat is determined to use all her powers to help her three older siblings–saintly Elissa, practicing-witch Angeline, and hopelessly foolish Charles–find their own true loves, even if she has to turn highwayman, battle wild magic, and confront real ghosts along the way!

Covers for U.S. edition, which was published by Atheneum/Simon & Schuster Children’s. Cover art by Annette Marnat.

Q. What was your writing process for the Kat trilogy? Did it change by the time you wrote the third in the series, STOLEN MAGIC?

When I wrote my first Kat book, Kat, Incorrigible, I had a really wonderful, luxurious and relaxed writing process. Every morning, I would brew a perfect cup of Earl Grey tea, drop a few squares of dark chocolate onto a plate, and spend at least ten or twenty minutes re-reading the collected letters of Jane Austen. Mmm. I love Austen’s letters! They’re funny and scathing and they give an amazing view into Regency society – especially what the women were up to every day! They were just perfect for putting me in that Regency-era headspace for my writing sessions. Austen’s sharp, acerbic and very adult voice was totally different from the voice of my twelve-year-old Kat, but by the end of each of those reading sessions, I always felt wonderfully re-absorbed into the Regency world, and absolutely ready to write in a “period” voice. I handwrote many scenes before typing them into the computer, and I even kept a figurine of Jane Austen sitting on my desk during my writing sessions!

Stephanie’s Kat notebook

But then…well, then I had my first child and – surprise, surprise! – life changed. A lot! Suddenly, I didn’t have all day to work on my book, on and off. I couldn’t just write until my energy wore out. (I have M.E./CFS, so this is a real issue for me.) Instead, I had…my baby’s nap times! In his first year of life, I couldn’t even set my baby down as he napped – I had to type (skipping the first handwriting step) while he lay sleeping on my lap, never moving my arms too much in case I woke him up.

But I also had deadlines – real, scary publishing deadlines that could not be missed. Suddenly, I had to get a WHOLE LOT more efficient with my writing time! I kept the dark chocolate as my writing fuel – no way could I ever give that up! – but alas, I had to abandon my lovely pre-writing routine of letter-reading! I no longer had time to sloooowly sink into the mood of my novel. I had to dive in and use every minute I had!

Since then, of course, he’s gotten older, life has changed again, and by the time he was two, we were hiring part-time childcare for him, which meant that I suddenly had (amazing! decadent!) two-hour writing sessions instead of scattered 45-minute sessions to help me finish Book 3, Stolen Magic. But by then, I’d actually figured out that I didn’t need the letter-reading or the handwriting anymore. Instead, I’d devised new ways of clicking quickly into the mood of my book.

From Stephanie: “Early in the process, I sat down to make a collage to help myself figure out what was going on: what really mattered in the book, how people’s stories and character arcs interacted with each other, and so on. Here’s the collage that I made that day.”

First of all, I got *really* serious about putting together musical playlists for each book, so that I could turn on that particular music and immediately clue in my subconscious: this is writing time! Get to work! The process felt pretty Pavlovian…and it honestly helped a LOT. I also made visual collages for each book, which I could prop in front of my desk (or nursing chair) to give me another strong visual cue to get me in the mood of my book.

(Since then, of course, Pinterest has been invented – woooot! I am addicted! – and my Pinterest inspiration boards there have replaced the paper-and cardboard collages I used to make. Nowadays, whenever I’m working on my new WIP, I have its Pinterest inspiration board open as my desktop wallpaper. But while I was writing the Kat books, my visual collaging process was still all about cardboard, magazines, and glue.)

Q. What advice do you have for aspiring middle grade writers?

One of the things I love most about writing MG fiction – especially MG fantasy – is the audience. MG readers are still so open to a sense of wonder, undisguised by any cynicism. Every time I visit a school, I get so charged up by my interactions with the kids there – their openness and their unhidden excitement. As an MG fantasy writer, I try to put myself back into that emotional place, too, tapping into that core sense of freshness and wonder.

MG readers are old enough to follow complex, twisting plots and to understand big concepts, but they’re also young enough to be excited by all the things they haven’t discovered yet. As an MG writer, my personal feeling is that it’s my job to write for these kids with emotional honesty, hope and respect – and never to the social rules I learned as a teenager and an adult (“Don’t get too excited in public! Don’t show your emotions too openly! Keep some cynicism as a protective shell!”) get in the way of writing with real enthusiasm and wonder.

ARCs for the UK version of KAT, INCORRIGIBLE

Q. What are you working on now? Any other upcoming events or other info you’d like to share?

Since writing Stolen Magic, the final book in my trilogy, I’ve actually drafted two new books! They’re each very different from each other…and they’re both going out on submission to editors this year! I honestly have no idea which one will be my next published book. Please wish them both luck! The one common ground they share is that they’re both MG fantasy adventures with strong, smart heroines and deeply important relationships between girls. One of them is set in 1930s America, with ghosts and gangsters; the other is a funny, contemporary family novel set in a magical house-between-worlds. I really hope to be able to share them both with readers in the next few years!

Where to find more info about Stephanie Burgis and her work:

Stephanie’s website – Twitter – Pinterest


MG author @stephanieburgis (STOLEN MAGIC @SimonKIDS) wrote while baby slept in her lap. More: (Tweet this)

MG author @stephanieburgis on writing process, childhood wonder and STOLEN MAGIC @SimonKIDS: (Tweet this)


For more insights from book creators, see my Inkygirl Interview Archives and Advice For Young Writers And Illustrators From Book Creators.

Cover art for the UK books was created by Anne-Yvonne Gilbert (first two books) and Will Steele (third book)