Lucy Coats writes for children of all ages. Her first picture book was published in 1991, and in 2004 she was shortlisted for the Blue Peter Book Prize for Atticus the Storyteller’s 100 Greek Myths. Lucy read her first book of Greek myths at the age of seven, and has been hooked on stories of all kinds ever since. We persuaded her to tell us all about how she started writing, what she’s working on now, and her best advice for those who want to follow in her footsteps…
What’s the earliest story you remember writing?
I remember writing a story about snow and a robin redbreast when I was about 7, and being really surprised when the teacher gave me a big red tick and an A. I certainly didn’t see myself as a writer before that, but thinking back, it may have been the moment when I thought that perhaps I could be.
What’s your best advice for young would-be writers?
The story that stays in your head is not a story. So write it down. Getting words on a page makes them real. Also – ask the question ‘What if?’, and don’t be afraid to mix things up and turn the usual on its head. Don’t go for the obvious.
Are there any secrets to your writing routine you think would surprise readers?
It’s a strange career, being a writer, and quite lonely. You sit in a little room on your own, basically talking to characters in your own head and making stuff up. So it’s all too easy to get distracted by things like social media. I have a little app called Freedom, which switches everything like that off, and I turn it on before I start my writing day. It’s just me and the page, then, with no excuses for not writing. It saves me hours of procrastination! I also think Earl Grey tea (with milk) and strawberry shortcake are writing necessities for inspiration when the going gets tough.
You use myths and legends a lot in your writing: where did that interest come from, and do you have a favourite?
I guess the interest in Greek myths and legends started very young, when my Gran gave me two books that had belonged to her own mother. One was called The Heroes, by Charles Kingsley and the other was Tanglewood Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The copies I have are over 150 years old, and they showed me that the same stories can be told in two completely different ways.
My grandad gave me a book of Icelandic Fairy Tales too, so that set me off in a different mythological direction, and I began to explore the Norse myths as well. It’s fascinating to see the differences between the myth stories of different cultures – and the things that are the same. There’s always a trickster god somewhere around, shaking things up and causing mayhem and mischief! Hermes for the Greeks, Loki for the Norse – and of course Coyote for some of the Native American tales. It’s really hard to pick a favourite myth, because I like so many, but I the story of Nyx and the Fates is definitely one of my favourites.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m having huge fun working on Gods of the North – a Norse/Greek mash-up for the seventh book in my Beasts of Olympus series, and also contemplating the plot for my next novel, which is in the very early ‘composting’ stage of thinking where I throw a lot of ideas around in my brain, let them marinate, and see what finally bubbles to the top of the creative pot.
Dare to write: The Three Fates, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, are the daughters of Nyx, whose great dark cloak of stars makes up the midnight sky. The Fates sit round a huge loom, spinning, weaving and cutting the threads that determine the lives of all things on earth.
I dare you to write your own story or retelling about Nyx, the goddess of Night, and her three daughters, using this quote from my book, Atticus the Storyteller’s 100 Greek Myths, as your starting point:
“Deep inside Nyx grew three stars, and the stars became powerful and strong. Soon they were stronger than their mother, and they commanded that she should unwrap the universe and share it with Day…but as she unwrapped her cloak, the three stars fell to earth and changed into three tall women.”
Be bold, be brave and don’t forget to ask ‘What if?’. Good luck – I can’t wait to see what you do with it!