Video transcript
NSW Premier's Reading Challenge 2023 - SWF author interview (primary) - 01. A. F. Steadman

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[intro music]

ZAREEN: Hi. My name is Zareen, and I'm a student from Epping Public School. I'm here today on Cammeraygal land in The Concourse in Chatswood as part of the Sydney Writers' Festival Primary Schools Day, and I'm so excited to be interviewing Annabel Steadman for the NSW Premier's Reading Challenge. Hi, Annabel. How are you today?

ANNABEL STEADMAN: Hi. I'm great. It's so good to be here.

ZAREEN: What made you want to become a children's writer?

ANNABEL STEADMAN: I think when I was growing up, I loved reading. I used to borrow books from the library all the time. I think that it was-- the fantasy books were the ones that I liked the most. And sometimes, when you're having-- you're reading a book, and you have an idea for a story as well, and you're not reading that, but you want to read it. And I think that feeling stayed with me from the time that I realised that authors were real people, that you could do that as a job. Definitely, yeah.

ZAREEN: I noticed that in your series, 'Skandar and the Unicorn Thief', that you show a different type of idea of unicorns, as more dark and sinister. What inspired you to do this?

ANNABEL STEADMAN: The truth is, I don't really like unicorns very much. Which is funny to say, given that my series is about unicorns. But I more like dragons and phoenixes and things like that. And then one day, I was walking along the road and I had this image come into my head of a boy riding this creature.

And I was like, oh, it's not a dragon. It's not a phoenix. But it kind of looks like a unicorn, but it looks a bit different to what I was expecting it to look like. In the shops, there are all the fluffy unicorns with rainbows. And I was like, 'Maybe we should change them. Maybe I could imagine them differently.' So that's where the idea for the book started.

ZAREEN: Amazing. You've created a map of the island for your book. Did you create it before or after you started writing?

ANNABEL STEADMAN: That's a great question. I created it afterwards, because my publisher, Simon and Schuster, asked me to draw the map, and I'm terrible at drawing. I'm so bad at drawing. So I drew them this very rough thing, but it showed where each of the main locations are. So there's the Hatchery, where the unicorn eggs are, and there's the Arena, where the unicorn race starts. And so I sort of knew where they would be, but the drawing itself was terrible. So someone else then made the map much better after that. [laughs]

ZAREEN: Normally, you see books that are set in an entirely different fantasy world. But you seem to combine the real world and the fantasy world. What made you want to do this?

ANNABEL STEADMAN: I always like those stories where you can imagine yourself in the story. The whole idea behind Skandar is anyone can become a unicorn rider. And so it was fun to think, 'What if we actually found out that unicorns were real and deadly, and they lived on an island? What would we do right now?' Because the first book is set in 2022.

And so I love those stories where you might think, 'Oh, I'm going to go through the wardrobe into Narnia.' Or those stories where you could just think, 'Maybe it is real. Maybe someone's going to knock on my door at midnight, and then I am actually going to be able to become a unicorn rider.' So I wanted to try and recreate that for readers now.

ZAREEN: Is there any type of impact you want for your audience, when they read your books? For example, inspiring them to do something?

ANNABEL STEADMAN: Yeah. I think one of the things about Skandar-- Skandar Smith is the main character. He's not really that heroic. He needs his friends, and working together in order to actually change things and save the world. So I think one of the things I would like people to get from it is that when we work together, we're stronger, and we can achieve great things. Alone, that's not so good, and I think Skandar is a kind character as well, and I think kindness makes you heroic in a different way. Yeah.

ZAREEN: You've written fantasy stories, but would you ever consider writing other genres?

ANNABEL STEADMAN: I think I would. I think I would. There's 5 books in the 'Skandar' series. They're not written yet, but I have to write those first. But when I've done that, I would consider it. I do love fantasy, though, so I think-- but I quite like time travel. I'd be quite interested in doing something about that. I don't know. But I have lots of ideas. It's just which one I'm going to do first. [laughs]

ZAREEN: Do you ever see a little bit of yourself in your characters?

ANNABEL STEADMAN: I think so. I think so. Me and Skandar are from the same place in the UK. So I've used some of his experiences, and from school, and from my brothers as well. I think all my characters have bits of me. I'm quite similar to Flo, who's another one of the main characters. She's kind of introverted, and she'd rather stay in with a book than go out to parties, which is definitely me.

And I think it's fun to pick those things from yourself. But also people you know, so your friends. There's Amber, who is a character who's a little bit mean, and she's made up of people that maybe I came across at school who weren't so nice. And so they're made up of everyone that I know, and people that I meet, and new people, and older people. Yeah. So it's a fun way to build characters.

ZAREEN: What is it like knowing you are a bestselling author internationally?

ANNABEL STEADMAN: [laughs] I still can't really believe it, you know? It's only been a year since the first Skandar book came out. So I'm not really used to it. And it's amazing to come to Australia and see my book in the shops. I just can't-- because I wrote it so many thousands of miles away, and so to come here and see that is just absolutely amazing.

ZAREEN: What is your favourite book?

ANNABEL STEADMAN: Good question. A hard question for someone who really likes books. But one of my favourites is called 'A Wizard of Earthsea' by Ursula Le Guin, and it has dragons, it has magic, it has islands. So you can see why I like it. But the main character goes on a big journey, and the magic in it is amazing. That's probably one of my favourites, and I reread it quite a lot.

ZAREEN: Nice. What advice would you give to students who are hoping to write their own books in the future?

ANNABEL STEADMAN: I think I would say that you shouldn't give up if you think you have a good idea. Because with 'Skandar', I wasn't sure whether it was a terrible idea or a good idea to have ferocious unicorns, and it sat on my computer for a little while before I had the confidence to send it anywhere, for anyone to read it.

So I think if you really believe in an idea that you have, it doesn't matter what age you are. You can definitely start writing it. I wrote my first book when I was 13. It was not published, but it was great practice, and lots of the ideas I had then about characters, I still use them now. So keep a notebook and believe in your ideas.

ZAREEN: Thank you so much for letting me interview you today, Annabel Steadman. It's been incredible that I got an opportunity to talk with you. Your book series has been so intriguing to read. I hope everyone watching out there today enjoys reading your amazing novels as much as I did, while they strive to complete the Premier's Reading Challenge.

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