Children’s fantasy book author Angie Sage talks about the success of her book series Septimus Heap, the women in it and why she thinks characters are more important than plot.
“I think I got a phone call at midnight from Katherine, my publisher and editor, saying you’re number one on The New York Times children’s hardback section,” Angie Sage, author of the book series Septimus Heap, recalls.
Septimus Heap is a seven-part children’s fantasy book series written by British author Angie Sage. The story is set in the far future in an imagined Northern Europe with wizards, castles, dragons, alchemy and much more. The first book Magyk was published in 2005 and the last one Fyre in 2013. Looking back at that time Angie remembers it being hectic, with a contract to publish one book a year and touring around the US, but she is mostly grateful.
“I remember once being in a school library and kids came in. They were arguing about what Jenna would do. They were arguing about characters I’ve written like they were their friends and I just thought ‘Wow. This is unreal.’”
"I wanted it to be something girls could read and see themselves in in a good light."
Growing up Angie recalls not having many girl heroes in literature to look up to.
“There were one or two. But they were always very girly and sort of fighting against constraints of being a girl. I don’t recall reading any female heroes who were completely free just to be there.”
For the world of Septimus Heap Angie made the deliberate choice to include many women in power. The most prominent one being Marcia Overstrand, the extraordinary wizard. For people who have not read the books you could probably describe her as the wizard boss.
“I felt a bit bad that my title character was a boy. But there you are. I like the name and I thought it sounded good. I was determined to make up the balance. I think it’s probably a fairly evenly balanced book, but we just notice it because of that.”
“I wanted it to be something girls could read and see themselves in in a good light. Not always having to do this double thing that I always had to do of putting yourself into the shoes of a boy.”
Characters before plot
Angie didn’t feel she had the tools to write when she was younger. As a more of a visual person plotting was never something she enjoyed.
“I remember when I was at school and all the essays we had to write always had to have a plan and I hated it. There was no sense of adventure.“
Rather she is guided by the characters and their personalities. For new writers she advices to just start writing, even if you don’t know exactly what is going to happen.
“If you’ve got a really strong image and a really strong feeling just start with that image and see who comes along and see what happens.”
For Angie character study is important. You can’t decide for the characters but rather be in the situation with them and let them interact on their own.
“There have been times when I was writing Septimus that I was surprised by them. I remember, my big surprise was in book four when Beetle suddenly gets fired. I didn’t see that coming. I hadn’t planned that at all. I felt as shocked as Beetle felt.”
"I'm still getting people tweet me their ideal cast lists and stuff."
In 2007 it was announced that the film studio Warner Brothers had bought the film rights for the first Septimus book. To the public details were revealed such as choice of director, producer and set designer. To the outside eye it seemed as Magyk the film would happen sooner or later – but silence followed. At some point the film had been shelved. Angie still wishes to see Septimus on screen, but rather in the format of a tv-series. She still feels hopeful.
“I’m still getting people tweet me their ideal cast lists and stuff. It’s still very much in people’s mind.”
No more children’s books
Angie Sage has written plenty of children’s books such as the spinoff-Septimus Heap trilogy TodHunter Moon, Araminta Spook(ie) books and the Enchanter’s Child duology. Now Angie wishes to write for an older audience, as it allows her more freedom to write about what comes into her head.
In the future we might see an adult novel set in Cornwell or a YA fantasy novel following two girls in an egalitarian society. But what fans of Septimus Heap might be most excited about is the possibility of a novel about a familiar character; Marcia Overstrand.
“It’s just sitting there on my computer. What I did was her at age 16 growing up with little flashbacks and then we see her orphaned at the castle in a real state. It’s turning out to be quite long, proper book length. And that’s just for the readers; a present.”