Author Clemency Crow was born in Orkney and wanted to be a mammoth when growing up. We chat to her about her new book Taking Wing, National Unicorn Day and why crows shouldn’t have a bad reputation…..
About Taking Wing
In Taking Wing we meet 12 year old Freya who is about to make a life changing discovery. Can you tell us a bit more about the book and what’s in store for Freya?
Taking Wing is about tribes of people who can turn into birds. They’re blessed with magical abilities and immortality, but when you live for so long, your wars last for centuries. The tribes understand that the help from a human is invaluable. Only a certain type of human can survive their company…that’s where Freya comes in.
From the moment Freya enters the tribal society, she is put in danger by the crows’ enemies. She needs to learn to defend herself…with her mind as well as her body. This puts her in even more danger, though, as she finds an uncontrollable power within her.
It does seem as though you have left the door open for another book, is there plans for a series?
Yes, there is. I love reading series because you are even more invested in the characters. Taking Wing is the first book in a trilogy which follows the same characters with an overarching story-line.
Early in the book Freya meets the Crow Tribe and I couldn’t help noticing your surname is also Crow. Was this connection deliberate?
In a roundabout way, yes it was. I’ve always been interested in crows because of my name, and I learned about them from a very young age. Crows were appreciated by the Norse, and revered by Native Americans, but in our society they are considered with suspicion and even persecuted. They are hugely intelligent birds (some even learn how to make and use tools) but they get such a raw deal out of literature.
“Oh, there are crows and ravens flying around that tower. This must be an evil place!”
“That woman has a pet crow. She must be a bad witch.”
See what I mean? It’s unfair, and I aim to change that.
Freya enjoys karate and is responsible enough to hold a part time job. Winnie is also one of the top fighters in the Crow Tribe. How important was it to you to have strong female leads in the book?
My family is mostly women. I have 4 sisters, and only 1 brother. I’ve often felt sorry for him and my Dad because they are so outnumbered! Growing up in a mostly-female household taught me that women are incredibly strong. That’s not to say they can’t accept help every now and then, but they should use their unique kind of strength to better themselves, and the world around them.
Winnie is my favourite character, and part of this is because of her strength. Strong and feminine. Many children have already formulated ideas about what is expected of boys and girls. As a teacher, it’s a nightmare to break through these barriers. The boys, and the girls, in Taking Wing are strong and vulnerable, and need to accept help from their friends if they want to survive, whether that friend is male or female. I believe that is a massive lesson kids should learn.
Most of Taking Wing takes place in a very different world to ours, how difficult was it to create a world from scratch? How much pre-planning did this take?
It’s often said that a professional writer should write even if they’re not feeling inspired. However, when I’m not inspired, my writing turns into dribble, so I’ve found a way out of this hole.
I plan, and I particularly love to plan worlds! The best part for me is creating maps which I prefer to do by hand but the programme ‘Campaign Cartographer’ is also helpful. What I love about world building is turning a crazy fantasy world into something that’s strangely believable. Okay, so we know that humans can’t really turn into birds, but it’s explained so (hopefully) convincingly in Taking Wing, you might start believing it.
The book is classed as young adult fantasy, is this your favourite genre to write? Is this a genre you read a lot?
My favourite books have always been middle grade or young adult. I just love that age group. “The Moon of Gomrath” by Alan Garner, “Wolf Notes” by Lari Don, “Children of Green Knowe” by Lucy Boston: they are all favourites, and all designed for younger audiences!
Now I’m a teacher and always on the lookout for new and exciting class novels which will get the children interested in reading. I realised that a great way of encouraging children to read was to write a story about them. I began writing a short story every Christmas for their present, and occasionally for the Summer Holiday. This got me into writing for children again, and I enjoy this genre so much that I have never looked back!
About Clemency Crow
Tell us a bit about your non writing background. Where were you born? Where do you live? Have you ever hiccupped continuously for more than 15 minutes….
I wanted to be a mammoth when I grew up. That’s the number 1 fact you need to know about me. Between mammoth aspirations, I wouldn’t have minded being a cat, a fox, a mermaid or a dentist. The last one is the weirdest aspiration for a 7 year old.
I was born in Orkney, in an old wrecker’s cottage on the cliffs. When I was little, we moved south to rural Lincolnshire. Nowadays, I live in Caithness which is still at the North of Scotland but is on the mainland. The sea plays a huge part in life in Caithness. The harbour is visible from our house, and most of the children I teach know somebody who works at the harbour or at sea. It’s a continuous respect and reliance on nature that has lasted for hundreds of years. That respect for nature has inspired me in my writing.
Tell us a bit about your writing background. Are you a full time writer? Is Taking Wing your first book? How did you start your writing journey?
My first novel was called “The Rule of the Unicorns” which I was writing when I was about 8 years old. It was cheesy with no plot or obvious baddy, and yet I’ve recently resurrected it to take advantage of the current unicorn trend! Due for publication next year, it will be sure to have a better plot and a very malicious baddy!
Writing is an on-the-side job for me now, as I’m a full-time Primary Teacher. My dream is to become a part-time teacher, so I have more time to pursue writing and publishing. Fingers crossed!! One day!!
Tell us a little about how you published the book. What one piece of advice would you give to people wishing to follow this route?
I knew as soon as I started writing Taking Wing that I wanted to go down the unconventional route. It was published through Crowvus – a small, independent publisher. The editor took control of it and discussions (inc. the occasional argument!) ensued. Finally, it was time to place Taking Wing in front of readers.
My advice would be to really consider going for a smaller publisher. Okay, so they don’t have as much clout, but they are generally more invested in your work and will do as much as they can to help you succeed. If opting for a small company, or self-publishing, make sure you put the publication date long after your book is ready. This gives you better chance of getting book reviews!
About the future
Lastly what is next for Clemency Crow?
Well, I’m loving the reception that Taking Wing is getting so I’ll continue to promote that and write the sequel.
I’ll also be publishing my unicorn book, hopefully in time for National Unicorn Day on the 9th April. However, that very much depends on me meeting my deadline! Currently, the plan is to have the book completely ready for reviews in December. It’s going to be a very hectic few months!
Grab the book
Thank you Clemency for taking the time to answer our questions. Taking Wing is available to purchase now from all good book shops. And keep an eye out for The Rule of Unicorns!
If you like a bit of magic with your young adult fiction then also try The Misfit Tribe, written by JK Rowling’s cousin no less!