At the same time he started reading, he began to write because, he says, he wanted to make people feel the way he had felt on hearing The Witches. His passion for stories is undimmed and he finds the best of them more real than life. He is, he says, informed and influenced by what he reads. As a teenager he discovered Terry Pratchett’s books and tried to write like him ‘so hard that it hurt’. These days he’s an eclectic reader and although all his own books could be described as fantasies that is only because they are the stories that have shouted loudest in his head and made the biggest claims on his imagination. Other and different tales are waiting their turn.

publisher. At that point, Ross had completed none of his projects, but he knew he wanted to write. He and Aileen shook on the deal and one year on Zac and the Dream Pirates was on its way to Chicken House to be retrieved later from the slush pile by Barry Cunningham.

Evernight is such an accomplished piece of writing that it is difficult to believe that it is only Ross’s fifth book. Between The Nowhere Emporium and its sequel The Elsewhere Emporium, Floris published Shadowsmith, a stand-alone novel featuring a boy whose family is being torn apart, a weird girl in a yellow raincoat and some ancient malevolent spirits. Evernight builds on the themes explored in these earlier works but its world and characters are totally unique. Mrs Hester’s ambitions and cruelty know no bounds; she will achieve world domination no matter the cost to other people – even if it means unleashing the Evernight Spell. The White Witches are enslaved by the removing of their souls, the Westerly Witches are clinging on precariously to the small amount of land left to them and the members of the Doomsday Coven, guardians of all that is good, have perished at the hands of the mysterious Shadow Jack.

While inhabiting our world, rather than some fantastical place of his imagination, Ross MacKenzie lives in Renfrew, a sometime shipbuilding town on the banks of the rivers Clyde and Cart. He’s a Renfrew man born and bred and has happy memories of his childhood there. He spent his time creating comics and picture books until a single event turned him into a reader at the age of nine. His teacher that year was Miss McLean who, in common with good teachers everywhere, read aloud to the class. Her rendition of The Witches by Roald Dahl flicked the reading switch for Ross. Suddenly he was devouring books, mostly borrowed from his local library where his Dad took him every week. He still remembers those trips to the library fondly, the walk there full of anticipation and excitement. He’s reminded of it as he takes his daughters Selina and Mollie to the same library to allow them to explore other worlds for themselves.

Some of the characters in Evernight appeared fully formed in his mind. Ross knew right from the start, for example, that Larabelle Fox, the strong female lead, was black and is keen to refute any suggestions of tokenism. Her mixed-race heritage, he tells me, will be a significant plot line in the next book. Joe, the young tosher she befriends and tries to protect, sprang out of his head already destined to develop and play a significant role. More worryingly the terrifyingly evil Mrs Hester also walked straight onto the page in the company of Shadow Jack.

Evernight is a classic example of the good versus evil school of story. But it is more complicated than that. Shadow Jack for example presents the reader with a dilemma, and it is easy to empathise with Joe’s positive response to him. And, although the Westerly Witches fall fully on the side of good, they are far from perfect. Though a fantasy story, Evernight could also be read as an allegory on social history or politics. Above all though, it is brimming with adventure, mystery and discovery, and full of characters with complex motivations and emotions. As for Ross, he hopes it will be a story that carries its readers to another time and place, and stays with them long after the book has been closed. And I feel sure that it will.

Books mentioned Evernight, Andersen Press, 978-1783448319, £7.99 pbk The Elsewhere Emporium, Kelpies, 978-1782505198, £6.99 pbk The Nowhere Emporium, 978-1782501251, Kelpies, £7.99 pbk Shadowsmith, Kelpies, 978-1782503040, £6.99 pbk Zac and the Dream Pirates, Chicken House, O/P

Jane E Sandell is a children’s book specialist, reviewing, writing and enthusing about books and authors.

Books for Keeps No.240 January 2020 11

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