Vashti Hardy on writing her new standalone, Serpent of the Sands
Vashti Hardy returns to the Brightstorm Chronicles universe with a brand new standalone, Serpent of the Sands.
Vashti Hardy returns to the Brightstorm Chronicles universe with a brand new standalone, Serpent of the Sands. Serpent of the Sands follows Princess Gan (who is a fan favourite from the Brightstorm Chronicles trilogy) as she sneaks out of the Citadel to find a powerful cure for her gravely ill uncle. The cure is said to be guarded by the serpent but is it only a story? Is she chasing false hope? The further Gan travels, the more secrets are revealed – and the more she questions everything she believes…
We are honoured to have her here today to chat about the reasons and challenges of writing Serpents of the Sands.
There are already 3 books in the Brightstorm Chronicles, and with so many characters and such a great magical world, was it difficult to ensure new readers can connect with and understand the story?
It’s definitely a challenge to handle as a storyteller because each book is an adventure in its own right so has an individual arc, then there is the arc of the Brightstorm twins and Eudora Vane over the first three ‘trilogy’ books, and then Serpent of the Sands as the fourth in the series is threefold in that it has its own adventure arc, plus picks up where the Brightstorms left off, and is also part of the wider sapient versus the Human Authority Collective arc which has been bubbling away since the beginning. I love a challenge so while it’s difficult, it’s great to roll my sleeves up and make it work. I hope I’ve been successful and that new readers will read Serpent as a standalone and enjoy the thrills of the individual adventure and characters, while glimpsing the wider picture and perhaps wanting to go back and read the first three books, as well as being enticed by what’s to come.
And given that Serpent of the Sands is a standalone instead of one book in a series, how did it change your usual writing/planning process?
I had to ensure the story of Serpent was strong in its entirety, and be mindful not to confuse new readers with too much information that might detract from the core adventure, while providing the backstory context so that everything makes sense. In a way, every fantasy adventure is a snapshot into a particular world and the reader is only seeing one path through that world in a time and place during one book, so it’s always a challenge. I like to think the Brightstorm Chronicles is about connecting paths, and that in the end they all converge in a glorious finale.
When did you realise you wanted to tell the story of Princess Gan?
Gan was such a fun character to write into Firesong. Her personality felt so clear to me — she was almost begging to take the lead in the next adventure! My favourite fantasy series’ always have a mix of strong characters in the children and adults of the world, in that way anyone could take the lead in a particular story. Gan’s a great protagonist to throw into the current struggles of the Wide because she’s at an age where she’s becoming more aware of the realities of what some of the adults are doing. She’s young and has the ambition to try and make a change. Her struggles with duty and identity are such relatable themes for children. What we’re born into and how that forms a part of our identity, alongside the discovery of who you are as an individual and how you want to live your life, are eternal themes in growing up. Having Gan as a lead is also a great way for me to keep the original characters present, for example, Maudie and Arthur exchange letters with her which are featured in the story, and there may be an appearance from an old friend at the end.
Gan is obviously a great role model to have but what don’t you want children to learn from Gan?
Gan is overly gung-ho and a huge risk taker at points, which obviously has its pros but some big cons too! Sometimes she crosses the line into danger looking for an escape when really she needs to face her truths and find solutions. The character Thorn, a boy she meets early on in the story, is more measured, so they end up learning from each other. I hope children can take whatever they need from Gan, whatever is personal to them: so perhaps they might come away feeling inspired to be more tenacious, a little braver in some situations, to follow their dreams, or perhaps, like Gan, they learn that patience is a strength too, just as she learns in the House of Chimes.
Serpent of the Sands is set in Nadvaaryn and the map looks lovely. In fact, looking at all the maps in the previous books, you are building upon and enriching the previous maps without affecting the consistency. Can you tell us how you planned the layout of the map?
One of the first things I do when I’m creating a new fantasy world is to draw a map. It’s important that the place feels absolutely real for the reader, so the act of creating it through a map starts to bring it to life. Brightstorm started with the map directly related to the first expedition to South Polaris, including all the places they mention and travel through in that book, then I purposefully added some unknown areas, knowing I had a plan to extend the adventures and build the overarching plot. With each new story in the Chronicles I start with the original map and build on from there, or add more depth to existing areas. As each story has an expedition at the heart it gives a certain structure and shape to the series, and the maps works alongside it. I like the way that it feels the readers are opening up and exploring the world alongside the explorers in the books.
And obviously, we love the maps you have sketched for this world but one thing we need to know, especially given you must have seen many readers’ creations throughout the years, what would your dream sky ship look like?
I would love a sky-ship that fuses a wonderful old fashioned pirate ship style with modern technology. Great sails and wings like a dragon, an eco-friendly engine, of course, and perhaps a fabulous figurehead of a wolf. I’ve seen some great designs from children over the years and always love seeing more!
We learn more about the sapient creatures here and we adore Slink the gerbil. What sapient animal would you want around you?
I’m so glad you like Slink! It’s fun writing the smaller sapients as well as the grand talking kind. I would love to hang out with the thought-wolves and ride through the snowy forests with them, but perhaps a giant eagle would be even more spectacular. A giant eagle would be excellent at spying and surveying and I could ride on its back and we could discover new areas of the Wide together. There are six of the fabled eight super sapients found by the end of Serpent of the Sands. I’d love to know what readers think the other two might be…