Thursday, May 6, 2021

Q&A with Maddy Mara


Meredith Badger, photo by Larissa Siebicke


Maddy Mara (the pen name for writers Meredith Badger and Hilary Rogers) is the author of the new kids' book series Dragon Girls. The first book in the series is Azmina the Gold Glitter Dragon. Hilary Rogers lives in Australia and Meredith Badger lives in Germany. 


Q: How did you come up with the idea for the Dragon Girls series?


MEREDITH: Hilary and I had been playing with the idea of a fantasy series for girls. Hil had the idea of setting it in a magical forest inhabited by human-animal hybrids. We thought about various combinations – deer-girls, fox-girls, eagle-girls. 


Then my daughter Madeleine suggested dragon-girls, which Hil and I immediately liked. Dragons are like fairies in that they are part of the magical world and can fly. But in our opinion dragons are even better than fairies because they are also awe-inspiring and strong. 

Hilary Rogers, by Les Hallack

We both recognized that dragon-girls are the kind of characters that would be great role-models for girls growing up today. Our dragon-girls are fun, loyal and friendly – but they are also determined problem-solvers and utterly in control of their destinies. 


Remember, if you try to trick or stop a dragon girl while she is mid-way through a mission, she is going to blast you with her roar!  


Q: What inspired the plot of this first book, about Azmina? 


A: We wanted the first book in the series to shine as much as possible – so a glittery gold dragon-girl was the perfect start! Azmina is also warm and relatable; the ideal girl to take us on our first adventure. 


Azmina leads us into the Magic Forest and introduces us to some of the main characters there, such as the magnificent and wise Tree Queen, and the mischievous Shadow Sprites. 


At the heart of the story is a mission to help the Tree Queen save the forest, and this involves making a very special magical potion (with ingredients such as Glow Honey and a flying spark from a volcano). 


But we’ve also weaved real-world elements into the story, too. Azmina is new in town and hasn’t made any proper friends yet, which is something many kids can relate to. 


Another important element in this book – and in fact, in all of the Dragon Girls books – is Azmina finding her “roar.” This is Azmina discovering her voice, and learning how to use it to stand up for herself and for what she believes in. Never underestimate a determined girl!  


Q: How did the two of you start writing together, and how do you collaborate on your books? 


MEREDITH: Hil and I have worked together for many years. I was one of the authors on a couple of series that Hil developed that were very popular in Australia (where we are both originally from). One was called Go Girl! and the other was Zac Power


Since then we have published many books together and quite seriously, collaborating with Hil is one of my favourite things in the world to do. 


We generally start by discussing various ideas and then at some point one of us gets terribly excited and starts writing and then passes it on to the other one who either does some editing or adds extra elements. I find by the end that it’s hard to tell who did what. 


It’s hard to express exactly how much joy our joint projects give me and through the pandemic it has been such a positive – and wonderfully distracting – collaboration. 


The added bonus is that we are both almost obsessively prompt on getting things done so there is no waiting around for the other to finish their “bit.” 


HILARY: It’s so great that Meredith likes working with me because I find our collaboration a total drag. Jokes! I am utterly smitten with our creative partnership too, and never want it to end. 


Being a writer can be a lonely business, and it’s easy to lose perspective and momentum when publishers are busy or delayed in getting back to you. 


But working as a team, we always have each other to bounce ideas off, and to pep each other up. Meredith is more of a pessimist, so sometimes needs reassuring that she’s fabulous; I’m a relentless optimist, so I sometimes need grounding. 


Meredith has the most amazing (and hilarious) brain, and we just spark off each other when workshopping. Meredith’s instinct is to write (she is fantastic at just jumping in and writing), and I am a longtime editor so I love nothing more than getting my teeth into something that needs my wrangling. 


But as Meredith says, by the end of our process of sending the manuscript back and forth, we can never remember who did what. I’m convinced all my favorite lines are hers, and vice versa. (But I’m right – the most glorious bits are Meredith’s!)  


Q: What do you hope kids take away from Azmina the Gold Glitter Dragon


A: Primarily, we’re hoping that our readers will be caught up in the story, the adventure and the magic of the forest. 


Escaping the real world, by diving into a novel, is so important for kids. It’s a break from screens, a break from reality, and so good for the nervous system and the imagination. 


We’ve worked hard to create a rich, lush realm filled with quirky and appealing characters (such as Glow Bees who hate bee jokes and don’t have a Queen; they have a democratically elected president) – and to keep the story fast-paced and full of excitement. 


But there is also another very important focus for the series: encouraging girls to trust their instincts, to feel able speak up, and to insist on being heard. Girls working as a team and supporting each other is another key element we’re hoping readers will get from the series.  


Q: What are you working on now? 


A: We always have things bubbling away! We’ve written a picture book called The Greatest Mistakes That Went Right, which is coming out later this year in Australia. 


It’s all about the happy accidents or mistakes that have led to wonderful and important inventions. We cover all sorts of discoveries, from penicillin to PlayDoh, and we do it in rhyme so it’s great fun. 


We wanted to remind kids that they need not fear messing up, and that even the most successful people in history have messed up along the way. As we say in the book, “Be scared of big snakes but not silly mistakes,” which is a line that’s particularly relevant here in Australia! 


We also have a series for younger readers coming out early 2022 about a tiny and very determined kitten who is convinced she’s as fierce as a tiger. We can tell you more about this in a few months!  


Q: Anything else we should know? 


HILARY: Yes! Two things: 


Firstly, because we live on opposite sides of the world (Mere lives in Germany and I live in Australia), there’s always someone working on our projects. It’s like having a 24-hour team beavering away! 


This means when we wake up in the morning we get to see what the other has written overnight. It’s like the elves coming overnight and making us snazzy red boots. 


Secondly, our pen name Maddy Mara is the combination of our daughters’ nicknames – Meredith’s Madeleine and my Asmara. We wanted our pen name to have meaning, and our girls are a great reminder of how important our writing is. 


We want to send strong and empowering messages to all our readers, but we strive to wrap our messages up in good stories so you can’t even tell! 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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