Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret by D. D. Everest takes you into a world where bookshelves are enchanted, librarians have magical powers, and spells aren’t just something to read about in dusty tomes. It’s ideal for kids around the age of 10 who perhaps enjoyed the magic of Harry Potter, but it can also can be enjoyed as a family read with younger children who’ll be excited by mysterious apparitions and strange goings-on.
Archie Greene receives a curious birthday present; an old wooden box containing a book written in a language he can’t read, along with the command to return this book to its rightful place on the shelves in the Secret Library. This is the first step on Archie’s journey to meet the family he never knew he had and a band of people dedicated to finding and saving magic books.
Atmospheric and exciting, I enjoyed this book so much I’ve since recommended it to several children in my 8-12 bookgroup. With a paperback edition hitting bookshelves early in June I took the opportunity to interview D.D. Everest about this book.
Playing by the book: Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret is a wonderful fantasy novel. What is it about fantasy as a genre that appeals to you? I’m especially curious because of your background as a journalist and non-fiction writer, both of which seem to be about as distant as you can get from fantasy… which is maybe part of the answer?
D. D. Everest: You’re right. One of the (many) reasons I love the fantasy genre is that it is so far removed from my other work as a journalist. When you deal with dry facts all day it is such a treat to escape to another world of magic and adventure.
But I have always loved magical fantasy. My favourite books growing up were the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. What I love most about those books is the depth and detail that Tolkien gives to the world he creates, the layering of the stories and the myths and the cultures that he describes.
Playing by the book: I love books where true facts coincide with the story and this very much happens in Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret; John Dee really did exist and was Elizabeth 1’s adviser, and there was indeed a Library of Alexandria which was destroyed by fire. What other truths have you smuggled in to your story? (What other truths did you discover during your research which you would like to have included in your story)
D. D. Everest: I think including real facts and places grounds a story. It connects it to the real world so it feels like you can almost touch it. It’s something I really wanted to do with the Archie books. Using history is a great way to give the story some of that depth that I mentioned before.
John Dee, who is in the first Archie book, was a real person. He was described as Queen Elizabeth I’s court magician. He really did collect books about magic and he did think he could talk to angels. The Great Library of Alexandria is also historically accurate, although the part about Alexander the Great’s magical book collection being kept there is just wishful thinking!
Another historical detail I included in the book is the Great Fire of London. In Archie’s world, the fire was started by a magical experiment that went wrong. That plays a big part in the second book Archie Greene and the Alchemists’ Secret.
Playing by the book: With another hat on you’ve written several non-fiction books. How has writing fiction compared? What’s been more difficult about writing fiction? And what has been more enjoyable? Do you still write non-fiction?
D. D. Everest: Writing fiction is much harder, especially fantasy because you are creating a whole world from your imagination. That world has to be plausible enough for people to believe in it and exciting enough for them to want to read about it.
Writing children’s books is the most challenging of all. Having said that, I don’t write for children as such. I write what I’d like to read. But I hope children will enjoy it.
The best thing about writing for children is that they have such rich imaginations that you have lots of licence to be creative. So, you have a big canvas. But the other side of that is they have very high expectations. They question everything in a way that adults don’t, which means they could get ahead of the plot or find holes in the logic. So you have to work really hard at that.
Playing by the book: Can you share a little of the research you did for Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret – I imagine you spent time exploring the back streets of Oxford and visiting atmospheric libraries, perhaps even learning some bookbinding skills?
D. D. Everest: Luckily, I was doing some work at the university when I was writing the first book so I was in Oxford quite a lot. I wandered around at night taking lots of photos with my phone. I sometimes show the pictures when I do school events. Again, it grounds the story and makes it feel real.
For example, there is a description of when Archie first goes to the magical bookshop and he crosses a cobbled square and goes into some narrow lanes. If you go to Oxford it is very easy to find that cobbled square!
Playing by the book: Libraries play an important role in Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret. Can you share a memory/experience of libraries and the role they’ve played in your life?
D. D. Everest: Most of my memories of libraries are of being told to be quiet because I was talking too loudly! That’s probably why I wanted the Museum of Magical Miscellany to be a noisy place, full of children laughing. Books should be exciting and fun. And magical books should be even more exciting and fun, so that’s how I imagined the Museum.
I have been lucky to see some famous libraries like the British Library, which are fabulous places. I’ve always wanted to have my own library – with revolving bookcases and secret passages. Perhaps I will one day!
Playing by the book: Did you always want to be a writer? If you weren’t a writer, would you rather be? (A professional football coach, perhaps?)
D. D. Everest: I have always wanted to be a writer ever since I was very young. I didn’t really know it at the time but looking back I can see it now. I was the kid who wrote pages and pages when the teacher asked us to write a story. My stories were always too long and complicated to finish in the lesson time. I still do that!
When I’m not writing I manage a junior football team. Most of them have been with me since they were about six – they are now 17. They are a great bunch. I’m not sure how good a manager I would be but I do enjoy it, especially on match days.
Playing by the book: What’s the most magical (in any sense) book you’ve read recently?
D. D. Everest: I really enjoyed Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell. It is very imaginative and beautifully written. The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman, is so original. The other really clever book I’ve just read is Lockwood & Co. The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud. He’s a great writer – I loved his Bartimaeus series.
Playing by the book: What magic trick would you most like to be able to perform?
D. D. Everest: I’d like to be able to vanish, so I could avoid people I don’t want to talk to. I’d love to have a permission wall around my study, too, like the one that protects the Museum of Magical Miscellany so that only people with the secret mark could come in. But best of all I’d love to be able to talk to magical books like Archie!
Playing by the book: Oh, yes I’m with you on that one! Here’s keeping our fingers crossed that such magic comes our way!