What is a monster, anyway? A guest post by Lari Don

posted in: Lari Don, Nataša Ilinčić | 1

“I love writing about monsters!

Usually when I write about monsters, they are baddies trying to defeat (or even devour) my main characters. But sometimes when we say ‘monster’, we don’t mean ‘baddie’ or ‘evil’ or ‘villain’ or even ‘scary’. Sometimes we just mean ‘BIG’ …

Because the most famous monster in Scotland (possibly the most famous monster in the world) is not really monstrous at all.

The Loch Ness Monster has a friendly nickname, and a well-behaved reputation, for the last few centuries anyway. (The very first story about a large beast in the loch is about a saint on a sightseeing tour of Scotland banishing a beast, which was snacking on the locals, but I’m sure that must have been one of Nessie’s less-friendly ancestors.)

We love Nessie. We cuddle soft, green, tartan-bonneted Nessies to help us get to sleep. We stare at the loch, cameras at the ready, in case we catch sight of her. We debate her existence, and wonder what kind of creature she might be.

But we’re not scared of her.

So, what makes her a monster? Is it her size? Is it the mystery surrounding her? Is it the fact that she doesn’t look like any other ‘real’ animal? Is it just the word ‘monster’ in her name?

The Loch Ness Monster is certainly unlike any other monster I’ve ever written about. And that made her a real challenge for me as a writer.

If a monster is the baddie, then that monster has a nice clear obvious role in the story: to be defeated. But if a monster isn’t a baddie, if a monster isn’t trying to eat your character or block their path, then what is their role in the story?

There are lots of questions about Nessie, and the unanswerable nature of them is part of her charm. But I had to answer a Nessie question last year when I was drafting my new picture book: what does Nessie DO in this story?

I didn’t want to make Nessie a baddie. I also didn’t want her to be a mystery, something whose existence my characters were trying to prove or disprove. So it was really hard to work out what role to give her.

Then I realised that I wanted her to be like one of my human characters, with something she wanted, something she would make an effort to find….

Therefore, on Nessie’s behalf, I went on a quest of my own through local Loch Ness folklore, and I discovered an old story about two doors under the castle on the shores of the loch: hidden behind one door there was treasure, and hidden behind the other door there was poison.

As soon as I found that piece of lore, I wondered, “what if Nessie cared about what was behind those doors?”

That’s when she became more than a monster to me; that’s when she became a character I could write about. That’s when I realised what Nessie’s role would be in my story.

And if you want to know whether Nessie gets what she’s looking for, you can find out in The Treasure of the Loch Ness Monster, wonderfully illustrated by the fabulous Nataša Ilinčić.

And now, I’m looking for the next monster to write about. Because all monsters are fascinating, whether they are goodies or baddies…”


Lari Don grew up in the north-east of Scotland, and lives in Edinburgh. She has worked in politics and broadcasting, but is now a full-time writer and storyteller. Lari is the author of more than 30 books for children of all ages, including The Fabled Beast Chronicles and Spellchasers trilogy for middle grade readers, Mind Blind for young teens, and picture books The Tale of Tam Linn and The Secret of the Kelpie, and she regularly visits schools and libraries to share her stories. Almost all her books are inspired by her love of traditional tales, and absolutely all her manuscripts are covered in muddy paw prints from her helpful cats. 
More info: www.laridon.co.uk Twitter: @LariDonWriter

Nataša Ilinčić is an artist and illustrator originally from Croatia, now living and working in Edinburgh. Nataša was brought up on the foot of the Italian Alps where she spent much of her childhood befriending ancient trees and exploring ruins. Following her academic studies in Archaeology and Cultural Anthropology, she moved to Edinburgh to pursue a career in art and illustration, drawing inspiration from mythology and folklore. Her work has been shortlisted for the Folio Society Book Illustration Competition 2017, and has been exhibited in various galleries, including the London House of Illustration.
More info: natasailincic.com Twitter: @NatasaIlincic


The Discover Kelpies team are looking for young monster spotters to enter their Map My Monster art competition. To enter the competition for a chance to win a bundle of signed books by Lari Don just draw a picture of your local mythical monster on their special Map My Monster sheet. Don’t worry if you don’t have a local monster – you can borrow one from another place, or create your own! For more details visit

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