The debut children’s novel Spellstoppers by Cat Gray is perfect reading for lovers of stories involving magic, adventure and fantasy. It is fun, exciting and full of imaginative characters and settings.
Max has an unfortunate power: if he touches anything electric, it explodes. As you can imagine, this makes life very difficult for Max and his mum, so in the hope of finding him a cure, she sends him to the seaside village of Yowling to stay with his grandfather, Bram. It is here that Max’s adventure begins as he discovers an enchanted world turned upside down. Yowling is a place where objects have magical powers, but the influence of the evil Leandra, the keeper of the castle (reminiscent of Narnia’s White Queen) results in chaos, and fear, amongst the residents of Yowling.
Max soon discovers that Bram and his assistant Kit, are spellstoppers who use their talents to fix objects whose magic has gone wrong: a sort of fantasy “Repair Shop” for twisted spells. One such, brought to the workshop, is an out-of-control kettle with a life of its own that escapes and speeds about town uncontrollably. Others are brought for “rebalancing”: a doll that was meant to sing Scottish songs, but instead has begun to vomit on every person who touches her; and a sapphire ring, that was meant to bring good luck, now squeezes the finger of the wearer. Inspired by Cat Gray’s imagination, readers young and old, may well find themselves looking at everyday objects and playfully wondering what their powers might be and how they may go wrong.
Populated by selkies (people that can turn into seals), a ghostly sea captain, sand witches, a half-fish, half-man with webbed feet who disappears into the sand and other imaginative and surreal characters, the town is full of shops selling incredible things: a bakery whose buns taste of a different thing with every bite – chocolate, lemon and strawberry; a food shop, selling alongside the usual flour, sweets and biscuits, jars of beetles and cages of mice.
Max slowly finds that he too has the power to stop spells, and it is this that leads him to his heroic task of saving his grandfather from the ominous castle on the island, when Leandra kidnapped him, and saving Yowling from her destructive power.
Keen-eyed readers might recognise a similarity between Yowling and Rye:
“Max peered at the houses curiously. No two of them were exactly the same. Some were crooked and half-timbered, with odd little windows and high brick chimneys. Others looked like a confused jumble, as if someone had kept adding extra bits onto them as an afterthought. And the very oldest ones were made from pale salt-bleached wood and looked rickety and exhausted, as if they were about to fall down the hill and into the sea.”
Here Cat Gray explains what has influenced her and what she hopes readers will get from reading her book.
Is Yowling and the castle based on a place that you know/have visited?
“A lot of the inspiration for Yowling came from Mermaid Street in Rye – I actually had a photograph of Mermaid Street as my computer background while I was writing Spellstoppers. Rye has such a special atmosphere.”
Leandra reminded me of the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis. Did this book influence you?
“I loved the Narnia books when I was growing up and I really wanted to create a glamorous female villain, so yes, she was one of the inspirations behind the character of Leandra.”
What were your favourite children’s books/authors?
“As I mentioned before, I loved the Narnia series and I was also a big Harry Potter fan when I was younger. I also love Diana Wynne Jones, but I didn’t actually come across her books until I was an adult.”
What would you say are the themes in the book?
“It’s about overcoming challenges and learning what you’re capable of – Max goes on a huge journey of self-discovery during the course of the book. It’s also about the importance of friendships and family and above all, being brave.”
It seems like you had fun coming up with the ideas and the characters – is that right?
“Yes, it was a really fun book to write, especially coming up with all the different magical characters and personalities.”
Are you writing more with Max and Kit?
“Not for the time being – the next book is another standalone title but set in the same magical world, this time in the middle of London. But I definitely wouldn’t rule out returning to Yowling in the future for another adventure.”
What would you like children to get from your book?
“Hopefully it’s a fun and entertaining read! But also, I hope that it shows the importance of tackling obstacles and challenges and how we become stronger as a result.”
It is and it does!
Spellstoppers by Cat Gray is published by Usborne Publishing. https://usborne.com/gb/spellstoppers-9781801310031
Image Credits: Usborne Publishing/David Dean .