Today is my stop on the Phyllo Cane and the Magical Menagerie by Sharn W. Hutton blog tour.
Sharn W. Hutton is the author of The Adventures of Phyllo Cane series, the first of which, Phyllo Cane and the Circus of Wonder, was hailed by the judging panel of The Booklife Prize to be ‘dizzyingly bewitching, articulate and intoxicating.’ The sequel, Phyllo Cane and the Magical Menagerie, was released on July 31st 2022.
In Magical Menagerie we Join Phyllo on his next apprenticeship with the Circus of Wonder – a brand new adventure with the fantastic beasts of the Magical Menagerie and a race against time to save their lonely dragon from destruction. But what if the fire-breathing dragon won’t come out of its pen to perform? What if the Ringmaster thinks it’s worth more in the apothecary chop-shop than as part of the troupe?
The Beast Whisperer of the Circus of Wonder must bring her beloved dragon back up to its performing peak fast, if she’s to save it, and she thinks she knows what to do. The unhappy creature needs a mate, but the male sand dragon is a rare beast indeed, and she’ll never be able to catch one alone. Time for Phyllo to become the Beast Whisperer’s apprentice…
Before venturing into the realms of upper middle grade/YA magical fantasy, Sharn wrote cosy mystery based around the irrepressible Angel Drake, in Angel Drake is Going Solo and the short story, Nothing Ventured. Her first novel, It’s Killing Jerry, was a standalone mystery.
Based in Bushey, Hertfordshire, Sharn works from home in the tiny office at the back of the house, which makes up for what it lacks in size and warmth with a rather nice view of the garden. When she isn’t hitting the keyboard (laptop, not piano) she does enjoy a trip to the theatre or cinema and pretends to use the very expensive exercise machine rusting in the summerhouse. One day she plans to also learn how to play the piano.
I have interviewed Sharn W. Hutton about her Phyllo Cane series for my stop of the blog tour. So let’s take a look at what Sharn had to say:
What inspired you to write a magical adventure series set in the circus?
I’ve always loved magical stories, Charlie N Holmberg, Pratchett, Gaiman and, of course, the Potters and when I decided that I wanted to create my own magical world, I knew I wanted it to be rich with detail. The circus is so full of possibilities. Death defying acts, incredible strength, impossible feats – it’s full of magic before you even get to any kind of wand waving.
I also knew that I wanted the Circus of Wonder to feel like it was from another time, travelling around today’s countryside, playing to charmed and ordinary audiences alike. That opens the stories up for all kinds of possibilities.
We live in such a ‘convenient’ world. Everything is available at the touch of a button. You can buy pretty much anything online and search the internet to find any information you need. The tradition of the circus pushes back against that. If you’re lucky enough to catch it, it comes to town once a year. You might get a ticket, if it’s not already sold out. The acts could be anything and they probably aren’t safe. I love how illusive, mysterious and dangerous it is.
Have you been on any literary pilgrimages and if so what were they?
I’m all about the research at the moment, plotting the next story, and have become a member of the British Library. Real life stories about the circus world are sometimes stranger than fiction and are an excellent source of ideas. I love books, really old ones and spanking new, you never know where what’s inside might lead you.
I bought a book about circus food which led me to discover Giffords Circus, which not only feeds the troupe in its restaurant tent, but a lucky few punters as well, if you can get yourself a seat. When I saw that Gifford’s route was going to come unbelievably close to where I live for the first time, what choice did I have but to book myself in for the show and some dinner?
Visiting Giffords felt a lot like visiting the Circus of Wonder. Small by the grand circus tent size terms we often see, but perfect to get enough people in the crowd for atmosphere in their themed and moodily lit big top. There were traditional acts where acrobats summersaulted on horseback and knife throwers terrified us with a crossbow. Then flyers who walked in the air above the crowd gripping silks, just like Ezio did in the Circus of Wonder. It was an incredible experience that felt totally real in a world of special effects and TV trickery.
The restaurant was a series of long plank tables with the only choice being vegetarian or not. Everyone had the same. People were served in groups, whether they knew each other or not and by the end of the evening we all felt like family. I’d go again in a heartbeat.
Perhaps a pilgrimage should take more effort – that particular one was a joy.
What are the underlying themes of your novel, Magical Menagerie?
In Magical Menagerie Phyllo learns about the impact of his society upon the natural world and about taking responsibility for his actions. I wanted to touch on this in a way that might inspire a reader to consider if the practises around them, considered to be the normal, are really worth their cost.
There are new characters introduced too, one of whom I am particularly enthusiastic about, Schlepper. He is Contraptionist (that’s an inventor of contraptions to you and me!) who, as a wheelchair user, invents leg alternatives for himself. He is a hugely positive and engaging character inspired by my father, who never once allowed his physical challenges to slow him down.
All this along-side a romping good adventure of course!
Do you think it is more difficult or easier to write a sequel?
I think that depends on your plan from the start. Before writing the ‘Adventures of Phyllo Cane’, I wrote a cosy mystery called ‘Angel Drake is Going Solo’. I fully intended for Angel Drake to be the star of a series of mysteries, but that first book was the entire story I had in my head at the time. Getting ready to write book two was difficult because I felt like I had to reinvent her.
With the ‘Adventures of Phyllo Cane’ it’s completely different. When I came up with the idea it formed as a series of stories, seven in total. When I finished book one, I knew that really the story was only just beginning. Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t have every single detail planned out, but I know broadly where we are heading and I’m excited to tell the next part of the story.
Now I’m plotting out the third and I don’t think that’s anywhere near as daunting as it might be otherwise.
What is the first book that made you cry?
I had to really think about this and honestly, I don’t read books that make me cry. I like to escape into my stories and if I think that place is going to be one of tears (or horror) then I’m not going.
Having said that, I did shed a tear when Phyllo completed his task with Tamer Venor and was flying home – it had all been such a struggle!
If you could meet your characters, what would you say to them?
I’d tell Phyllo not to give up or lose heart. He’s got a challenging road ahead.
I’d ask Tamer Venor to teach me how to meld with a dragon.
I’d ask Marvel to make me something in the Confectionary that brought back memories of rolling down grassy hills in the sunshine with my childhood friends.
What writing advice would you give to people aspiring to be a children’s book writer?
Know you audience and how they consume stories. I specifically sought out an editor with lots of experience in the area I wanted to write in. Their advice was invaluable.
Is there anything else you would like to tell readers about your books and writing for children?
Phyllo Cane is an imperfect hero. He’s struggling to meet the expectations of his troupe, but will never give up. He’s got kindness at his core and in the end that will be the making of him. The Adventures of Phyllo Cane are tales of growth, discovery, magic and adventure and I hope that they will resonate with young and older readers alike. They are suitable for children, yes, but I like to think of them as fantasy with a PG rating, rather than being babyish in anyway.
Thank you Sharn for agreeing to be interviewed on my blog today as part of your tour.
Thanks very much for taking an interest in my stories about Phyllo Cane. I really hope you enjoy them. Best, Sharn.
The Adventures of Phyllo Cane are available as ebook for Kindle and are included in Kindle Unlimited. Paperbacks are available for order from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Waterstones. Most book stores will be able to order it in. If you visit the Amazon pages you will be able to see full descriptions and the possibility of downloading a free sample for kindle. The international book link to the series is: mybook.to/PhylloCane
You can find out more about Sharn W Hutton and her book Phyllo Cane and the Magical Menagerie on her website: www.sharnhutton.com, Facebook: @SharnHuttonAuthor and Instagram: @sharnious
I would also like to thank Anne Cater from Random Things Through My Letterbox for organising this blog tour and inviting me to take part. Thank you.
You can visit the rest of the blog tour here:
My book review of Phyllo Cane and the Magical Menagerie by Sharn W. Hutton is scheduled to appear next month, on Wednesday 26th October, so please keep an eye out for it.