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Bri Meets Books

Children's and YA literature reviews.


Sifting through my posts tonight, fixing up dead links, etc, I saw Blogger had this as a draft. What happened? No clue.

This was part of a summer blog tour.

Vivian French’s Robe of Skulls begins with a robe. Not just any robe, but a robe of the deepest black velvet with tiny skulls cascading down the hem. Like most villians, Lady Lamorna is concerned about her fashion. After all, where would Darth Vader be without his breathing suit or Hook without his…hook?

Vivian French’s The Robe of Skulls is macabre yet lively adventure of fairy tale proportions. Gracie Gillypot is pure of heart and overworked and under appreciated, living with her loathsome stepfather and stepsister. But fate comes in the form of an unlikely source – a chattersome bat, some Crones, and a peculiar prince.

The Robe of Skulls is a madcap fractured fairy tale of twists and turns that readers of any age can enjoy. It’s a really fun read, with laughs, mystery, and just a little bit of evil.

Title: The Robe of Skulls
Date: April 2008
Publisher: Candlewick (US print edition)
Pages: 208
Format: Hardback & Paperback

Copy for review provided by the publisher.

And now, there’s three books in the series of “Tales from the Five Kingdoms”! Visit Vivian’s website to learn more. Read a preview from the second book, The Bag of Bones, and from the third, The Heart of Glass, released this month from Walker Books.

And now, an interview with author Vivian French.

There’s a variety of fairy tale and folktale elements in The Robe of Skulls – from the traditional evil stepsister, to the royalty into frogs. What was the inspiration for this darkly whimsical novel?

I’ve always loved fairy and folk tales; my dad always read us stories before we went to bed, and later I read my way through all the Andrew Lang collections, together with Grimm and Perrault – anything and everything I could get my hands on. After a spell as an actor I became a storyteller, so I used to tell folk tales … but I didn’t mean to use them quite so much when I came to write the Robe of Skulls. I’d intended to write a very different book, about a boy called Thomas Catt, but it was DREADFUL. I wrote about 20,000 words, and had to delete the whole lot, and I was getting desperate! But then one evening I was in the kitchen (making my one hundredth cup of tea of the day), and I heard a voice from the TV next door … and the voice was talking about Evil. It was a very distinctive voice, and I remembered seeing a play with that particular actor in it … I remembered seeing her sweeping across the stage wearing a long black velvet dress. Bingo! I decided I was going to write a story about someone evil who wanted a long black velvet dress … and the other characters just sort of fell into place.

If you could live inside any children’s book, which title would it be and why?

Sarah, Plain and Tall, by Patricia MacLachlan. I’ve always absolutely loved that book, and I’d love to spend time with Sarah, and have her show me things, and talk to me about them. There’s the most beautiful truth and simplicity in the story; it makes me cry every time I read it.

You’ve written for various ages – from teens and toddlers. Are there different challenges with writing for individual age groups, and do you have a preference?

To be honest, I don’t really think too much about age groups once I’ve actually started writing. That probably sounds odd, but I think it might go back to my storytelling days; I had to choose a style of story that was right for the children I was faced with, and then keep going, or there’d be mayhem and chaos.


It’s an interesting question, though. I hadn’t realised before quite how instinctively I fall into different styles for different age groups … and I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. As far as a preference goes, I suppose I’d have to say I really REALLY enjoy writing for the Robe of Skulls age range, whatever that is. It seems to vary wildly; here in the UK I’ve had letters ranging from all different ages … including a grandmother of 62. I was very honoured.

The quick paced and lively style of The Robe of Skulls makes the novel an excellent candidate for a film version to me. What technique – live-action or animated – do you feel would be the best interpretation? Any thoughts on a potential cast?

Oh wowsers – I would absolutely LOVE someone to make a film of Robe! I’m inclined to favour animation (I’m a massive animation fan) but I’d be over the moon with live action too. Tim Burton would be my dream director … but then again, there are so many brilliant directors out there. Cast? Geraldine McEwan would absolutely HAVE to play Lady Lamorna, because it was her voice that gave me the idea right at the very beginning ….

Thank you so much for your questions – I really enjoyed answering them. I’ll go on thinking about the different age groups!

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