An Interview with… Lindsay Galvin

Another blast from the past today. This time for my Writing for children slot in the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum when I interviewed Lindsay Galvin for the July 2021#234 issue about how she approaches writing her historical fiction.

Darwin’s Dragons is Lindsay’s second book, a historical adventure where Charles Darwin’s cabin boy, Syms Covington, is marooned on a Galapagos island and makes a (very) big discovery.

Lindsay told me originally, she wasn’t planning to write a historical story at allshe wanted to write about real, scientifically plausible dragons. She’d never written anything historical; even though she loves to read this genre as she was put off by the research. The book started life as The Fire Inside, a teen book set in the present day about a dragon sanctuary. Lindsay revealed her editor, Rachel, suggested it would be good to include a historical thread showing how dragons had been discovered.

Lindsay explained she started researching explorers and needed a remote place for dragons to have hidden out. Darwin and the Galapagos was perfect. When she discovered the cabin boy and fiddler Syms Covington became Darwin’s servant and was a bit of a mystery she got excited as there were three weeks when The Beagle was in the Galapagos, when there were no entries to his journal. Lindsay decided to fill those in for him with a survival story and his huge dragon discovery.

She said the historical thread flowed much more easily than the modern day story and became about half the book. She got stuck near the end after writing around 60,000 words and sent it all off to Rachel, who called her, along with Barry Cunningham (J K Rowling’s original editor).

“They said they thought I had a great voice for historical middle grade and asked if I’d consider cutting this book in half and making Syms’ story into the book. We agreed on the title Darwin’s Dragons in that same phone call. It was a surprise, but I didn’t hesitate because it felt right. I had a 30,000 word draft and needed to add about 15,000 words. Somehow I’d fallen into historical fiction.”

Lindsay Galvin

Lindsay told me to create fictional characters from real people is a big responsibility especially when they are as famous as Darwin and Queen Victoria. She started by reading Darwin’s and Syms Covington’s journals from The Beagle. As the style of writing is relatively formal so there was a space for her to create a fictional representation of a real man.

Darwin was also only a young man on The Beagle voyage and not particularly studious, so she was able to give him a multi-sided character. She knew a lot less about Syms which gave herfreedom to imagine him, and his voice developed as he told his story and interacted with events.

Lindsay divulged the most difficult thing about writing historical fiction is keeping it authentic, the research can be so time-consuming. She was aware of her responsibilities writing for a young audience and so shy avoided creating too much of an idealised world. Colonialism is ever present, and Lindsay felt it was important to acknowledge the way the world was explored at that time was hugely exploitative.

“For Darwin’s Dragons I made a trip to the Natural History Museum Spirit Collection, which contains some of the original specimens from The Beagle and Downe House where Darwin lived for most of his life. This helped with atmosphere and any location research can throw up little details that later become important to the story, for example I examined Darwin’s real homemade eyeglass and that became an important item in the story.”

Lindsay Galvin

Pace is essential in children’s books. Where an adult will read on if they are bored, most kids will not. I also like to include short chapters with lots of cliff-hangers in my middle grade books.

“There are so many things I love about writing for children. I love the creativity and scope, plus their flexibility as readers, young people have such honesty and imagination. I feel incredibly privileged to play a small part in their reading journey.”

Lindsay Galvin

Her tip on writing for children is to keep coming back to what your story is really about at its core — why it matters that it is told, never stray from that. Read. Read the children’s books that children currently love, study them and learn from them. Lastly, expect it to be a frustrating, long and sometimes painful journey if you are writing for publication. Write something you enjoy so much that the writing is an end in itself. Keep on, love the learning and… be curious.

You can follow Lindsay on Twitter @LindsayGalvin

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of July 2021#234 issue of Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Writing 4 Children or Research Secrets interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

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