Here is our second post in this series of interviews with our published members. Please give a very warm welcome to Helle S. Norup.
Helle Norup's debut novel, a middle grade fantasy story, was published in October 2018! Congratulations! Here she is to tell us more about it.
Tell us about your new book.
THE MISSING BARBEGAZI is the story of an eleven-year-old ski-racing girl, Tessa, who gets embroiled in an adventure to save one of the last barbegazi, all while the health of her grandmother deteriorates. It’s also the story of Gawion, a 154-year-old barbegazi teenager, who must overcome his fear of humans to help Tessa rescue his sister. It’s a book about trust, friendship, the power of hope and the magical bonds of family.
What inspired you when working on this project?
When I had the idea for the book, my two sons were on a ski racing team, and we spent every winter weekend on skis. I love snow and have always been fascinated by mountains, perhaps because I grew up by the sea in a flat country. My admiration for the ski club kids, who show up for training in sub-zero temperatures and band together despite internal competition, was my starting point for the story about Tessa and her struggles to win a ski race. It was supposed to be a story set entirely in the real world without any magic or mythical creatures. But I had not written more than one chapter before Tessa met a strange furry elf in the snow. After some research, I discovered that the creature Tessa had encountered was a barbegazi.
Tell us about the creative process for this book.
The initial idea for the book came to me while skiing, a couple of years before I began writing the story. At the time, I was rewriting (for the nth time) an MG fantasy novel set in the afterlife, so I wrote my thoughts on the skiing story in my notebook and later copied them into my ideas collection—a Scrivener file with notes about potential future projects—and then I forgot all about it.
After a “First Pages session” at AFCC (Asian Festival of Children’s Content) in 2015, my dream editor, Sarah Odedina, read my “afterlife” manuscript. She liked the opening chapters and my writing style, but not how the plot unfolded, and she encouraged me to write something else and keep her posted. Even though we were living in Singapore by then, I immediately knew that the skiing story was my best bet.
Over the next six months, I wrote the first draft. As soon as I decided to include a fictional non-fiction book and a barbegazi viewpoint (as described in my answer to the next question), the story flowed. I didn’t plot in detail before writing that first draft, but I had a clear idea of the ending and some plot points in the middle.
After finishing the first draft and letting it rest for a while, I spent a month analysing individual scenes and the overall structure of the manuscript. And then I made a detailed plan for the second draft, deciding what to cut, what to enhance, how to solve plot problems and how to raise the emotional stakes. At AFCC in 2016, before I’d begun writing the second draft, I pitched the story to Sarah Odedina, and she was keen to read the finished manuscript.
The second draft took me another four months, even though most of the structure remained unchanged. When I was happy with the overall story and each of the scenes, I wrote a third draft where I focused on paragraphs and sentences. That took a couple of months of working on one chapter a day, going through the following key steps: I printed the chapters out and used highlighters to mark dialogue, exposition, internal thoughts and conflict in different colours, getting a visual overview to check the balance of these elements. I also read everything aloud (again) to check flow and rhythm and make sure there was a good mix of long and short sentences. Sometimes, I copied the chapter into ProWritingAid’s web tool, to e.g. check if I repeated certain words or word combinations. And I tinkered a lot, moving words around in sentences and sentences inside paragraphs.
When I felt it was ready, I sent the manuscript to Sarah and waited impatiently until she responded a few endless months later with an offer.
Through two further drafts, we worked together, discussing in emails and over Skype to resolve the issues Sarah had highlighted in her editorial letter. Finally, I worked with Tilda Johnson, another brilliant editor, on line- and copy-edits. Tilda’s line-editing questions forced me to clarify descriptions and add some lovely details, so the creative work continued all the way up to this point. Afterwards, grammar and punctuation received a final polish in the copy-editing round, and, later, the page proofs were checked by me and a proofreader. In August 2018, more than two and a half years after I began writing the first draft, I received finished copies of The Missing Barbegazi—my little skiing story had become a real book.
Did you encounter anything unexpected while working on this project?
I discovered the barbegazi! Details about the barbegazi sparked my imagination in curious ways. For example, the fact that barbegazi myths are from the high alps in France and Switzerland, meant that I had to make up a reason for my barbegazi’s presence in Austria, where the story takes place. And, as the name barbegazi comes from the French barbe glacée (frozen beard), I knew their beards were important, so I decided female and young barbegazi needed beards too, and I bestowed barbegazi beards with magical properties.
Consolidating folklore and invented barbegazi “facts”, I wrote part of a fictional non-fiction book, called: Habits and Habitats: A Historic Account of Alpine Elves, to use in my story about Tessa. But it still wasn’t enough. The barbegazi, Gawion, wasn’t satisfied with a minor role; he wanted to speak for himself and tell part of the story from his point of view. I had not intended to write a dual narrative, so that was definitely unexpected.
Now for something completely different! Rain or Snow, Why?
SNOW! How can you ask? I still get excited every winter when I see the first snowflakes floating down, and there’s nothing quite like waking up to a newborn glittering world after a night of snowfall. Snow is magical!
Thank you Helle for sharing with us in detail your creative process for this book. It's wonderful to know more about the barbegazi!
We wish you all the best in your writing journey and hope to see more lovely stories from you.
Bio - Helle S. Norup
H S Norup grew up on a golf course in Denmark and lived in the UK, the US, Austria and Switzerland before moving to Singapore. Now, she has returned to Switzerland with her husband and two teenage sons. She has a Master’s degree in Economics and Business Administration and sixteen years’ experience in corporate marketing strategy and communications. When she’s not writing or reading, she spends her time outdoors either skiing, hiking, walking, golfing or taking photos. THE MISSING BARBEGAZI is her debut novel.
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