I absolutely loved Aisha’s debut middle grade novel, ‘A Pocketful of Stars,’ so was very excited to see what she would write next. The magical ‘Moonchild: Voyage of the Lost and Found’ was the answer! (You can listen to Aisha on my podcast HERE.) I also had the opportunity ask Aisha some questions about the creation and themes of ‘Moonchild.’
Amira and her sea-witch mothers spend most of their time on the ocean aboard their dhow, only visiting land to stock up on supplies or sell their tonics and tapestries at the markets. Magic has always been a part of Amira’s life but folks on the mainland seem to fear and disapprove of it.
When a fierce storm starts to rage, Amira’s sure she can see the mystical Stormbird in the horizon, flapping its wings in fury and shooting off bolts of lightning. It’s only when her jinn, a magical cat called Namur, begins behaving strangely and is snatched away from her that she releases the time has come to set sail and have a life-changing adventure of her own.
This was a wonderfully evocative read, infused with an intoxicating blend of magic, myth and discovery. I was completely spell-bound by the magical sights and sounds conjured up by Amira in this enthralling novel. The atmosphere was only added to by Rachael Dean’s beautiful illustrations – I love a middle grade title with gorgeous pictures to accompany the text.
There were many interesting relationships explored within the book too – that of Amira with her two mothers in whom she could see herself quite clearly. The air of mystery surrounding her father and how her mothers had come to find her. And that of Leo, the land boy who always carried his goldfish in a bowl.
Luckily, I had the chance to ask Aisha some questions about themes and ideas which had appeared in the opening few chapters to get a rounder picture of the creation of this Arabian Nights-inspired tale.
1. Did you feel more pressure writing Moonchild following the success of A Pocketful of Stars?
Thank you for saying A Pocketful of Stars was a success! I am not sure how to measure success, but I did feel pressure writing a book that was a bit of a departure, and the start of a series.
2. Moonchild is inspired by the tales of The Arabian Nights. Is there one story in particular which captures your imagination?
What captured my imagination the most was actually the narrative device – that’s what really kicked off Moonchild for me. I love the way the short stories weave together to create a whole, which is what I tried to do.
3. In this adventure, Amira has two sea witch mothers – it’s great to see diverse families represented. Why was this important to you?
Amira’s mothers were the first two characters who sprung to mind for me, and Amira came next, fitting into their world. It’s so important that we see stories that reflect all sorts of realities.
4. Amira has a jinn (spirit companion) in cat form. What form would your jinn take and why?
I’m slightly embarrassed to admit I put some of myself in Amira, so mine would be a cat too, and I’m not sure what my predominant emotion would be. Either anger or worry.
5. I loved Amira’s power of detecting people’s emotions through smells and thought it was interesting that her own anger smelt like roses and smoke. Are the smells symbolic of deeper meanings personal to each individual?
Roses and smoke was actually an easter egg for A Pocketful of Stars. I wanted to bring over some influences from that book (the name of the dhow, the bakhoor pot).
I didn’t go too deep with the emotion descriptions, but I do try to relate smells to the individual – their personality and experiences.
6. Was the magical Sahar Peninsula inspired by any real places you’ve visited or read about?
In 2017 I visited Boscastle in Cornwall and discovered the local witch folklore there. I was told a story about sea witches with cats who used to sail into port, and sell goods to sailors. One such item was a rope tied into knots. Using their cat’s ability to sense the weather, the witches told the sailors who bought the rope that each time they unknotted it, it would bring them good weather. I might be misremembering some of these details, but I think you can probably see some of these fundamental influences in the opening chapters of the story.
I went away and I knew I wanted to bring this concept into a middle eastern setting, particularly because Kuwait, which features heavily in A Pocketful of Stars was originally a trade port.
I love all the cross-references made back to objects and ideas in ‘A Pocketful of Stars,’ I shall have to go back through the story again and see how I can spot.
*Many thanks to Egmont for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour. Make sure you visit the other stops too*