Where did the idea for Unicorn Riders spring from?
A healthy childhood obsession. I was, and still am, fascinated by unicorns. I used to collect all sorts of figurines. And I used to imagine that unicorns were real. Now, when I write my books, I can make them real!
How did you create Avamay, the Unicorn Riders’ kingdom?
I’ve always wanted to write a book that included a map, so I really enjoyed the process of creating Avamay. I found I could be as imaginative as I wanted to be.
I used maps from other books as a reference and just started drawing and adding in landmarks. Coming up with the place names was loads of fun. I really got a kick out creating places like the ‘Effervescent Falls’, the ‘Sea of Desperation’ and ‘Dove Mountain’.
Did you draw inspiration from your own world?
Many of the places in the Unicorn Riders are based on places I’ve travelled to such, as Istanbul (Turkey) and Delphi (Greece). Other Avamayan places have been inspired from places I’d like to visit like India and Cambodia. I used photos from my own album and from the internet to give me visual inspiration when creating these settings.
I do, and I often have these all around my desk to help keep me inspired and focused. Things like unicorn paintings and figurines, charm bracelets, amulets and other jewellery that might feature in stories. Photos, maps and character avatars are all useful, too.
What's your secret to writing strong and interesting girl characters?
I take little pieces of people I know or admire and build them into each character. Not to be direct clones or imitations, but rather to be a mixture of these people. I also make each character unique, giving her a complete history, a family background – things in the past that shape her personality, her actions and potentially her future. I try to make the girls are realistic as possible. And for the Unicorn Riders, I gave each of them a symbol that reflects their personality so readers can identify with them even more. For example, Quinn’s symbol is a butterfly which represents change and lightness. Over her short but dramatic life, Quinn has had to go through a lot of change and accept some big challenges that have been thrown at her!
How do you want to inspire your readers?
I want readers to enjoy my stories as fun, action adventures. I want them to enjoy the magic, beauty and mystique of the unicorns. But most importantly, I want readers to identify with the strong role models I’ve created in the Unicorn Riders’ characters and see that even if life throws challenges or hurdles at them, that with some inner fortitude and teamwork they can overcome them.
You have created some wonderful teacher resources and extension ideas for Unicorn Riders. Can you please tell us about them?
I can’t take the credit for the Teacher’s Notes, they were created by Leonie Jordan at Walker Books, the publisher of the Unicorn Riders series. I think they’re great! Not only do they give background information about me and Jill Brailsford, the illustrator for the series, they include some awesome activities, such as the Affirmations Game and the Make Your Own Riddle Game. There are a range of downloads and resources that teachers and children can find on my website, including Chapter Samplers, Colouring-in Pages, Character Profile Sheets and the Teacher’s Notes. The link is here:http://www.aleesahdarlison.com/resources__downloads
How did you come to get the series accepted for publication?
Right from the start, I wanted Unicorn Riders to be a series. I wrote a very detailed Series Proposal as well as a synopsis for each story. I also wrote the first book in the series. I sent the series proposal and the ms to a major Australian publisher (unsolicited). It received quite a bit of interest, but no final acceptance. Still, I held out hope because the concept seemed very strong. By this time, I’d secured an agent and she was one who submitted it to Walker Books where it was accepted. I can tell you, that was a very exciting day in my career!