Annie Dalton: Moonlight and magic and cupcakes

Sometimes I get a promising idea that stubbornly refuses to go away even though I can’t quite see how to turn it into a story. These half-grown ideas remind me of a grow-your-own-crystal kit one of my children was given for Christmas.  You suspended a piece of thread in a jar full of crystal-friendly chemicals and from these invisible beginnings, if you were patient, a seed crystal magically formed.

Sometimes something will happen that reminds me of one of my forgotten story seeds. I go wildly searching for it through scribbled-on scraps of paper. Often, when I eventually find it, my idea seems completely different to how I remember it, almost as though it had been written down by someone else.  I find myself impatiently crossing out parts of my notes, adding new thoughts, forgetting to finish my coffee, reaching for a fresh sheet of paper, rethinking the whole thing from scratch.

This might be the moment when I finally realise that the whole thing is a dead duck, best forgotten. Some ideas can’t be breathed into life no matter how promising they seemed at the start.  But others are simply waiting for the right moment to find their true eventual shape.

Over twenty years ago, my daughter Anna sent me a beautiful post card of otherworldly looking cats frolicking on a roof by moonlight. My imagination was immediately seized by this picture with its twilit colours of green and gold. Where did these magical creatures come from? Why were they visiting our world? Every now and then I took out this card and wondered dreamily about these moon cats. On school visits, when children asked where I got my ideas from, I sometimes produced my daughter’s post card, explaining that this was possibly an idea in waiting!

Two years ago, my agent Caroline Sheldon asked if I had any ideas that I could turn into a series for children, perhaps about a magical animal of some kind, and I remembered that magical moon cat card. I started to write the first chapter of a story about a mind-reading moon kitten, on his first mission to our planet. I called him ‘Moonbeans’. I wrote several first chapters about Moonbeans and deleted them all! None of my beginnings felt right until a nine-year old girl called Jax, aka Ellie Mae Jackson, came marching into my story. Jax was Moonbeans’s human sidekick, whose mum dreamed of opening a stylish cafe in a lively inner city area called Goose Green. I loved the idea that this cafe could become the base where Jax and her little moon cat would secretly help the humans of Goose Green to make their dreams come true. My story had finally taken off!

The finished stories have turned out to be very different from that first green-gold picture of moon cats gambolling in the moonlight. But that’s how it is with ideas. They’re just a starting point, a seed crystal that changes as it grows. The first two Magical Moon Cat books won’t actually be published until August but a special edition of these stories will be made exclusively available to festival goers at Hay.

In the meantime, why don’t you try making your own gorgeous, Moonbeans-inspired cupcakes? Just follow these easy and truly delicious recipes for the Moonbean’s magic cupcakes.

Catch Annie at the festival on Tuesday 5 June, 10am and 1pm

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