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Manic Monday Welcomes Anne Johnson

I’m excited to welcome author Anne Johnson to the blog today. Due to a major failure on my part (I’m so sorry, Anne!) she was gracious enough to interview herself. I loved it and hope you will too!

Trouble at the Scriptorium. An interview with Anne E. Johnson

1. Tell us a little about your book?

Trouble at the Scriptorium is a historical adventure novel for kids aged 9-12. It takes place in the Middle Ages, specifically in a fiefdom north of London in the early thirteenth century.

Harley is a twelve-year-old servant boy, and Lady Margaret, also twelve, is the daughter of the castle’s lord. Together they discover and decode a message hidden in a book of Gregorian chant. There’s definitely something shifty going on at the scriptorium where the book was crafted!

2. What kind of research did you do for Trouble at the Scriptorium?

I have a master’s in musicology, with an emphasis on medieval music, so I already had a lot of background in the topics of Gregorian chant and the crafting of books in the Middle Ages.

I did do some reading about the feudal system (which is much more complex than they normally teach you in fifth grade!), the geography of the area, types of castles in use at the time, harvesting crops, and other subjects that came up as I wrote.

3. How did you approach making this complex material digestible for kids?

Seems to me that the best historical fiction blends the history seamlessly with the fiction. So I tried to concentrate on story and characters above all else. Any detail I gave had to pass one of two requirements: 1) It moves the plot forward or 2) It contributes to the reader’s AND the characters’ perception of the action. Absolutely no historical details should be listed just for their own sake.

In a way, the act of describing the world of a historical setting is a lot like world-building in science fiction (which I also write). You have to let the sights, sounds, scents, textures, culture, and atmosphere seep into your prose. The trick is to let the reader know where he is without making him stop to think about it.

4. Who are your favorite characters in this book?

I like all my characters, but I really relate to Lady Margaret as the brainy, quiet girl who constantly surprises people by figuring things out. She’s also going through a bit of an identity crisis, since she’s getting older and realizes she can’t just hang out with servants and call them her friends.

My favorite adult character is probably Jabir Al-Zarkali. He’s a scholar and physician whom Lady Margaret’s father, Sir William, met in Spain and hired to take care of Berkhamsted Castle when Sir William is away. Professor Al-Zarkali helps the kids unravel the mystery, both by being knowledgeable and by being wise (two very different things).

5. Which was the most challenging scene to write?

The two fight scenes were the hardest. One takes place in a forest, the other in a field. It was very challenging (but fun!) to imagine the weight of the armor and weapons, the relative height of those on horseback versus those on foot, the darkness under the trees, and the fear of a kid watching a battle take place around him.

6. What other novels do you have available?

I also have a paranormal mystery for tweens (Ebenezer’s Locker, from MuseItUp Publishing) and a humorous science fiction novel for adults. (Green Light Delivery, from Candlemark & Gleam).

7. What’s next for Harley and Lady Margaret?

I’ve just signed a contract with Royal Fireworks Press for the sequel to Trouble at the Scriptorium. The new book is called The London Hurdy Gurdy (a hurdy gurdy was a popular stringed instrument), which takes Harley and Lady Margaret to the exciting and mysterious city of London.

8. Where can readers buy your book and learn more about you?

Trouble at the Scriptorium can be purchased directly from the publisher, Royal Fireworks Press:

You can learn more about me at my website.

For updates on my publications and appearances, “like” my Facebook author page.

Thanks again to Anne for the great interview, and please leave her some love in the comments!

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