They stared each other down,
eye-to -eye, flesh-to-fur, waiting
for the magic to begin.
What really drew me to Cathy Farr was not only her books and the fellhounds, but her decision to write different versions of her books for struggling readers. As a former English teacher, I have worked with struggling readers across all grade levels, from middle school to college level. I admire writers who want to create stories that can be read and understood by all of their readers.
Cathy Farr, Author of MOON CHASE, MOON CROSSING, & THE BRIDGE READERS
Cathy Farr has always loved stories; listening to them, reading them and writing them. She lives in South Wales with her husband and her Irish Wolfhound, Mojo. It was Cathy’s first Wolfhound, Finn who inspired the magnificent Fellhounds of her books. Nine foot long nose to tail, Finn weighed almost fifteen stone and Mojo, now only 18 months is almost that big already; Cathy is 5ft 7inches but her weight remains a closely guarded secret.
How did you come up with the idea to write MOON CHASE & MOON CROSSING?
The original idea came to me when I was working in Scotland about 30 years ago. That was where I saw my first Irish Wolfhound. I came home and asked my mum if we could have one but she said no (too big, she said!) so I started to write a story about massive hounds that I called Fellhounds. But it was only after I got my first wolfhound Finn, six years ago, that I really started to get a feel for what the fellhounds might be like, and walking with the dog in the gorgeous countryside around my village gave me lots of inspiration for the land of Thesk and the adventures the hounds have there.
How did you come up with the character of Wil? How do you flesh out your characters? Do you write character sketches, or do they tell you whom they are?
Wil evolved from the original idea I had all those years ago. Back then he was older and had a different name but the more I thought of him as a teenager the stronger he got in my mind’s eye. His basic traits are based on my best friend’s son who is kind, helpful, a bit clumsy and tries but doesn’t always succeed. I used that as my base and developed Wil from there.
I decided early on that he wasn’t going to be some super-hero; I like the fact that he acts before he thinks and gets himself into some really sticky situations because of it. I also like the fact that he missed his mum so much and he isn’t afraid to cry – he’s human, after all.
All my characters tell me who they are. When I’m writing dialogue I always ask myself, ‘Would they really say that, and in that way?’ When I was working on Moon Crossing I re-wrote a whole scene in the middle of the book when they get attached by eagards (huge birds of prey) because Mortimer just didn’t sound right at all.
I spend a lot of my time walking the dog with my characters in my head – I think I know them pretty well now, but they still surprise me every now and then!
What are fellhounds, and why should young adults be interested in them?
Fellhounds are just like Irish Wolfhounds but they are much bigger. An Irish wolfhound stands eye-height to a child but fellhounds stand eye-height to an adult. They are brave and loyal but they don’t have human characteristics – they are animals and, largely, behave like animals. When I visit schools I take my wolfhound with me so that the children can have an idea of what fellhounds might be like. They have the most beautiful amber eyes that have a way of looking at you like they really do know what you’re saying. I love that – and so do the children. They are just awesome, beautiful animals that command respect – you just want to know more about them.
How can teen boys relate to Wil’s story?
Wil’s problem in Moon Chase is that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and is accused of something he didn’t do. He could run away, go home and hope he never gets caught but he knows he will always be looking over his shoulder; then, during the Moon Chase itself he realizes he actually cares about his companions, especially Gisella. He cares about his mother, too, has no idea what happened to his father when he was taken away by Lord Rexmoore and he worries about what people think about him; he doubts himself, too, and as I said before, he’s also not afraid to cry – so in many ways he’s not unlike a lot of teen boys today.
What YA genre best describes MOON CHASE & MOON CROSSING? Which features of this genre draw teen readers in the most?
They are fantasy adventures but I’ve been careful to avoid any overt magic; it’s all very subtle, so you think – was that magic or could that really happen? Both books are also very fast paced. I always worry about boring people – the same goes for my writing. I firmly believe something has to happen on every page, otherwise people might get bored and stop reading. One reviewer described the pace of Moon Chase as being like ‘a hare on roller skates’! He loved it.
How do the fellhounds compare to THE HOUND OF BASKERVILLES? Would you pair your book with Doyle’s work in a thematic study? If you could pair your books with a classic or contemporary book, which book would you choose?
I was walking with Mojo in the fog a while ago, out in the middle of a field. He was up ahead of me and stopped to see where I was; as he looked around I did think he really did look like the Hound of the Baskervilles. But in reality, no, the fellhounds are not the same. The hound in Doyle’s story was a victim; an animal that had been brutalized by neglect and bad treatment. The myth was far scarier than the reality, and of course, the Baskervilles hound didn’t appear until almost the very end of the tale. My fellhounds are part of the lives of the people of Thesk, just like Irish wolfhounds. They were originally bred for hunting wolves, bears and wild boar; they were kings’ dogs and were also used in battle to get men off horses and out of chariots – that’s why they’re so big. That was what I used as my inspiration for the brave and powerful beasts of my books.
As for pairing my books, I’m not sure: I think there are echoes of Wuthering Heights particularly in the second book, and some people talk about The Hobbit, but really only because Thesk is a made up land and the map in the book reminds people of the Shire, I think.
Tell me more about the idea behind and the concept of THE BRIDGE READERS.
At a book signing event last summer a young girl sidled up to my table, picked up a book and read the first page. Then she looked at me.
‘I just don’t get it,’ she said, her eyes full of genuine concern. ‘I can read the words, you know. It’s not like I can’t, you know, read. But I don’t know what they’re saying.’ She read the page again then looked at me and shrugged.
‘I just don’t get them,’ she said, put the book down and walked away. But that young lady stayed in my head and I decided to write a book she could read.
Now, the original version of Moon Chase is some 82,000 words and tells of a boy who, wrongly accused of a crime, sets out to prove his innocence helped by huge hounds called fellhounds; it is enjoyed by confident 7 years olds and octogenarians alike.
So how to go about re-writing a story that, as the reviewer described it, has a pace as fast as a hare on roller skates?
My mission was to keep that pace using vocabulary and grammar accessible to weaker readers while not being boring – or worse, patronising. Passive sentences and idioms were also a big no no because children struggling with language just don’t get them. The key was using words that would keep a struggling reader engaged while also giving them small hurdles to build confidence with the turn of each page.
What inspires you to write?
I’ve made up stories since I was very little. As a young child I had an imaginary friend called Stingray and I used to lie in bed at night telling him stories until I fell asleep. I love seeing a story evolve. I don’t write to a plan, I just start. I ask myself questions as I’m going: What could happen next? What if this happened? What would she do if he did this? I heard a writer say once that he wrote stories to find out what happens in the end – that’s why I write.
If someone were to write a fantasy or myth about you, what would your character be like and what unique qualities would the myth reveal to your readers?
I think I’d be like Lady Élanor in my books: she is mysterious and can read minds. I love her calm competence. But she is vulnerable, too, and can’t solve everyone’s problems – if she could there’d be no story as she could just sort it all out!
Today’s world can sometimes be scarier than the fictional world of your books. What advice would you give to adolescents?
Never forget you’re not the only one in the world. There are people all around you who have feelings, too; who get hurt, who are happy, sad, hungry, in pain. There is always somewhere in the world where someone is having a far better time than you …and somewhere else where they are having a much, much worse time. So think about others. There’s not nearly enough empathy in today’s world.
It seems like Wil undergoes a journey in each book in which he discovers something new about himself and about life in general. When you were around Wil’s age, what lessons did you learn on your journey of growing up?
When I was Wil’s age, my mum said to me one day, ‘Well, Cathy, there are pretty girls in this world, and there are ones with lovely personalities, so you’re just going to have to develop your personality.’ Harsh, yes, but at that age I just thought she was right and did my best to be interesting, caring and nice to be with – and I like to think that I did OK in the end.
Many writers want to leave their mark on the world. How do you want your work to be remembered?
I would love it if my books helped just one person to read and become interested in reading more. Books are so important; they hold the key to all that has made us who we are today. It would be a disaster for mankind if books were forgotten.
Excerpt from MOON CHASE
Behind him, up on the Fell, deep, resounding barks echoed around the black hills, Fellmen shouted and horses snorted – the Moon Chase was now at full tilt.
Below, the wolf in the hollow had stopped. It took no notice of the noise from the Chase; it was concentrating all of its attention on the narrowing gully. Wil crouched. He could see that the beast was getting ready to spring – and right in the line of its gaze was the athletic shape of Gisella, picking her way down the edge of the rocks towards the wolf. Wil didn’t need to read the wolf’s mind; he could see clearly that it was watching the girl – what Wil didn’t know was if she could see the wolf!
There was no time to try to get back to get the others so Wil half-climbed, half-fell down onto the path and ducked behind the remains of a rotting tree. He listened and prayed that the wolf wouldn’t hear his pounding heart. Its throaty growl instantly brought back memories of the snarling heads mounted in the Great Hall – including the two sets of deadly-sharp teeth!
He counted to three, took a deep breath and quickly popped his head around the decaying stump. What he saw rooted him to the spot.
Gisella was standing at the end of the gully; once again, eyes fixed, feet apart and her shoulders square. But this time her crossbow was aimed directly at the body of a massive, snarling wolf that was getting ready to spring. Its hackles were standing in a ridge along its back from its ears to the base of its great black tail, which it was wagging in slow, deliberate sweeps across the ground.
But Wil’s sudden movement made Gisella look up – the wolf sprang.
Wil screamed, ‘GISELLA!’ and pelted forward.
Gisella opened her mouth to speak but another coughing fit robbed her of any words. She sat back, defeated, and by the look in her eyes Wil could see she was also frightened.
‘I’ll get you home, Giz,’ he said. ‘Trust me.’
She bit her lip and spoke again in a voice broken by her battle for air.
‘Have you got any of that… potion we gave… Mortimer…You know… the stuff for… blood loss?’
Wil looked down at Gisella’s blood-stained cloak and tried to fix his face into an expression that didn’t betray his alarm.
‘You’re not… are you… is it–’
Gisella gave a weak smile.
‘For Phinn,’ she said.
‘Oh, yes! I… of course. For a moment then–’
‘Wil! Give Phinn some of that… potion! If he’s going to get us home… he’s going to… need it.’
Then she sank back against a wooden plank that ran as a seat across the centre of the boat – behind the seat the boat no longer existed.
‘Oh, right. Yes. I’ll do that now. I’ve got it here somewhere,’ Wil lied. How could he tell Gisella he’d given her the remains of the potion back at the castle?
After a little searching, he found the little silk bag. It had been wedged up under the transom – during the landing, Wil guessed. He moved away before he sought out the bottle that he knew was empty; although he needn’t have worried – when he looked back Gisella’s eyes were closed.
‘Don’t die,’ he whispered and turned away.
From behind him, almost lost in the wind, he just caught her weak reply.
‘I’ll try not to.’
Book Blurb about THE BRIDGE READERS
Cathy adapted Moon Chase as a Bridge Reader after working with ESL children in local schools and with the charity Afasic Cymru*. Bridge Readers help improving readers to develop their reading skills as they move towards Young Adult and Adult fiction. Ideal for weaker and improving readers and those learning English as a second language, they contain no bad language and no sexual content – they’re just really great reads.
Bridge Readers: bridging the gap between learning to read and reading for pleasure.
*Afasic is a parent led organisation representing children and young people with specific language impairment (SLI) and speech, language and communication needs (SLCN); their work has helped open the world of words to many who would otherwise still find that door firmly closed.
A boy and his dog has always been a common theme in literature. Teachers can use Farr’s books in any grade level, 6-12, to explore this theme. Students can examine how the relationship dynamics between animals and humans in each book. A playful twist on the MTV reality show, Parental Control, can be having different characters from different books being interviewed by one of the dog characters. The pet could be looking for a new owner or it may decide to stay with his current one. Each owner or character from the books would have to tell how they treated their pet in the novel. Each contestant could also make a diorama or 3D model of their setting from the novel to aid the pet in its decision. The pet could also ask different questions. It allows students to use role play and their imaginations to connect with the literature.
- Books That Feature Dogs/Wolves
12th grade is usually the time that students explore British literature in depth. MOON CHASE & MOON CROSSING would make great thematic connections. Fantasy and Gothic genres are very compatible when pairing Farr’s works with Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, or even The Hound of the Baskervilles. But the British invasion of the literature classroom can branch out from the classics and include YA literature by British authors.
- Books by British YA authors
Connect with Cathy Farr!
People can buy signed copies of my books from my website www.fellhounds.co.uk
OR they can get copies from Waterstones, The Times books on line, Amazon, or they can get their local bookshop to order it from their distributor (UK only).