An Interview with Author SherMay Loh at the Launch of ‘Archibald and the Black Knight's Ring’
Tell us a bit about your new book, Archibald and the Black Knight’s Ring. What is your inspiration for the book?
Archie grows up in this second book and gets swept off his feet on a new adventure! His brother Alexander is framed for a theft that he did not commit, and Archie must help to clear his brother’s name and find the real thief. As Archie investigates, he and his friends get caught up in an even bigger mystery surrounding the death of a Black Knight seven years ago.
The Black Knights were introduced in the first book, and as you can see from the title, they are central to this second novel. I was inspired to further explore the life and culture of the Black Knights because, in the context of this story, they’re like a 19th Century version of the CIA or MI-5––they get sent on all kinds of classified secret assignments and even the location of their headquarters is a mystery. It’s good old-fashioned spy stuff, and Archie gets to be an amateur sleuth again.
Most local writers tend to focus on local content, why did you decide to write a book about 19th century England?
There’s a richer sense of adventure and intrigue when your characters fight with swords instead of guns and ride horses instead of cars. I grew up reading and enjoying stories about knights and castles and legends, so naturally my story was set in 19th-century England. In fact, I wrote a chapter of this novel while I was in holiday in England last June!
One of these days, though, I would like to try writing a local story set in Singapore.
How did you do research for Archibald and the Black Knight’s Ring?
The Internet is an amazing repository of information. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t speak Latin, but I could translate what I needed for the story. Also, I wanted the vocabulary to fit the setting of the book, that is, the 1800s––and certain words such as “sabotage” didn’t come into use until 1910, so I couldn’t include them in my story.
Research is great because you can pick up all kinds of interesting nuggets of information. For instance, while researching about food in 19th-century England, I learned that poor folk in London would catch eels from the Thames River, since eels were one of the few creatures that could survive in the heavily polluted river. Eel became staple diet of the working class and eat them in a variety of ways: eel pie, jellied eel, stewed eel. Disgusting, yes! But this was a fascinating nugget of information, which I used in the story.
Was it easier or more difficult to write the second instalment of Archibald? Why?
It was more challenging and took longer to write––about four months.
Firstly, because the first book was well received, I wanted to make sure the second book lived up to the standard set by its predecessor.
Secondly, Black Knight’s Ring was like a bigger budget movie – the first book was set mainly in Wyndsor, the boarding school that Archie and his friends attend. However, this book has many different locations, which required more time and research to write.
However, because the first book had already established the characters and their interactions, it was easier to dive straight into the action. I could focus on continuity and character growth, as well as developing the new characters in the story.
The first book, Archibald & The Blue Blood Conspiracy, won the Bronze Award for the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award. How did you feel about this win?
Surprised and very flattered! The Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards is a US-based contest, with entries from all over the world. So it felt great to know that Archibald could compete with all these entries and still impress the judges. It reaffirms my belief that Archibald has international appeal, and some publishers in Europe and Canada have expressed interest in acquiring overseas rights to the Archibald books.
You have a growing readership with young and adult readers. What do you think is the appeal of your series of books?
Archibald is a character that all of us––young and not-so-young––can all relate to, because he’s just a normal person finding his place in the world. He’s not fearless, he’s not perfect, but that’s what makes him real. His loyalty and empathy, in particular, are his strengths, and these help him to overcome his doubts and fears as he deals with problems and challenges along the way.
Additionally, the story has a strong and colourful supporting cast, such as Alexander, Archie’s older brother, as well as other interesting characters. Both kids and adults enjoy the twists and turns in the plot – I’ve been told by readers that the last four or five chapters of both books HAVE to be read all in one sitting. They couldn’t put the book down!
What was involved in publishing this book? Are you already writing the next book?
Not yet! It has been a whirlwind getting this second book ready for publication. A great deal of work went on behind the scenes. In a nutshell: there were several rounds of editing, done by me and my editor. The designer laid out the book pages and a professional illustrator from Imaginary Friends Studios created the cover and nine awesome interior illustrations. We also printed a small number of review copies that were sent to advance reviewers, who gave a blurb (short review) for the back cover of the final book. There’s also the marketing side of things, where we prepared for the book launch and planned marketing and promotion initiatives (such as contest tie-ups with bookstores to feature the book).
What is your advice for budding young writers?
This may sound counter-intuitive, but don’t start writing to be published. Don’t write what you think people want to read. Write what’s fun for you. Because what you write when you’re just starting out should be just for practice and for fun. And more importantly, this process will help you develop and improve your unique writing style, which is the foundation of writing for publication in the future.