Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books: Interview With Author Amy Ephron - The Castle In the Mist

Welcome, Amy Ephron, to Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books. Amy is an American author and her first novel for children The Castle in the Mist was published back in February 2017 by Philomel, Penguin Kids. The international bestselling author has kindly taken the time to answer some questions about her first children's novel and her writing. Castle in the Mist is an enchanting book that takes you on a fantastical journey into the realms of magic and beyond. Come and have a read to find out what it's all about and to inspire you to pick up a copy and give it a read. 

How would you sum up The Castle in the Mist to potential readers? 

I call “The Castle in the Mist” a modern-day mash-up of an old-fashioned children’s novel. It has one foot in the real world and another foot in… 
Call it magic or fantasy (or might they have imagined it, after all?) When I was little, I thought of books as magical places I could get lost in and I also thought that the characters and the places were real. (I still do sort of think this.)

I wanted to try to do a modern-day version, like Oz or Half Magic, all of which mix the real world with one that may be magical or fantastic two American kids, Tess & Max are sent to stay with their Aunt Evie in Hampshire, England. Tess discovers a key that lets her into the garden of a castle where she meets a young boy, just her age, also eleven, who is just as lonely as she is. 

A lot of magical things happen at the castle. Wishes sometimes do come true. And William warns her, and rightly so, to stay away from the hawthorn trees. And, also, tells her to keep the key because you never know when you might need it. 

One magical night, when there’s a blue moon, a blood moon, and a super moon all at once, strange things start to happen in the sky. Tess’s brother Max is mesmerised by the eclipse of the full moon and, by mistake, he steps into the hawthorn trees and simply disappears. And William runs after him, and he, too, disappears, and Tess has to figure out how to save them as the castle starts to disappear in the mist…. 

And I can’t tell you what happens after that… 

What would the main character in your book have to say about you? 

I would hope that Tess would want me to invite her to stay with me for the summer!! And that she would think that magical things might happen. 

What is important to you, when you write a good story? 

Place, tone, character, voice, that all of them seem real. I do believe that some of the books I love are real, the Oz really exists, that The Secret Garden is almost a work of non-fiction, that Mary Poppins was real and the Banks’ kids never grew up. 
I think the most important thing to me though is voice – how you choose to tell a story. “The Castle in the Mist” is told by a narrator, third person omniscient, which means that the narrator can sometimes see into the character’s heads. It, too, is a little old-fashioned. But some of my favorite books, like Stendahl’s The Red and the Black, are told by a third person narrator. And in the case of “The Castle in the Mist,” it allows for an amazing overview of all of the character’s lives, fears, strengths, and points of view. 

What does magic look like to you? 

Wishing for something and having it come true; coincidences that cannot be easily explained; the mere existence of love; a classroom of kids excited about learning and reading. I think it’s also a magical fact that Mr. Ripley, who I believe lives in England, thinks that I could successfully construct and craft a book set in England. (I have been to England and Hampshire a number of times though and it is a somewhat magical place.) I think Mr. Ripley believes in magic, too.

Does your book have a lesson or a moral behind it? 

Many. Believing in yourself; believing wishes can come true; trusting your instincts; paying attention to past lessons you might have learned (from your parents, teachers, your own experience) and realizing that those lessons can help you/guide you when you may have a problem. Also, believing that the best results occur when we work together. And a funny mantra for me, hash-tagged for modernity 

What did you edit out of this book? 
There were a few flashbacks to Tess and Max’s) earlier semester at boarding school in Switzerland. My editor, Jill Santopolo, and publisher, Michael Green, both felt that the book read better, adventured better, without them. I do deeply miss Mr. Matheson, Tess’s history teacher in Switzerland, and am trying to figure out if he can make a guest appearance if I ever were to write another one… 

Have you written any other books that have not been published? 

I have written a number of novels that have been published – “A Cup of Tea,” based on a Katherine Mansfield short story (which I bought the rights to.); White Rose/una rosa blanca, set in Cuba in 1897, a novel based on a true story; One Sunday Morning, also period, set in New York City in the twenties; a book of essays, “Loose Diamonds,” some of which originally appeared in The New York Times’ and Vogue. I do have a couple of unfinished, not quite half-done manuscripts that may or may not ever go back to. I have a secret book of poetry that I’ve never shown anyone, at all. 

Do you think that the cover plays an important part in the buying process? 

I can’t really speak to that. I know when a cover is just perfect for a book. “A Wrinkle in Time” comes to mind. For me, the hard copy cover of “A Cup of Tea” was simply gorgeous and perfect. I love the cover of “The Castle in the Mist” and the interior maps. I was incredibly touched – I had to do a mock-up of the map for the artist and I hand-lettered it, so he could see the castle was a castle, Aunt Evie’s house was Aunt Evie’s house, the invisible wall, the hawthorn trees... And he liked my handwriting so much that he recreated it for the map. And then Philomel created a downloadable font so that’s actually my handwriting in the chapter headings in the book, which I think is very fun and I’m very touched by it! 

What are you working on at the moment? 

That’s a secret. But I promise you, as soon as I can tell, I will!