What inspired you to write Skandar and the Unicorn Thief?
AFS: Eight years ago, walking home, an image of a boy and a unicorn flying ahead of me soared into my mind. I’m a visual writer and often play out scenes in my imagination and I remember thinking very clearly: This unicorn doesn’t look like it belongs in a fairy tale. It looks like it belongs in a nightmare. When I came back to the image years later, I think I was particularly inspired by writing a story focussed on a mythical creature. I love that unicorns feel like they really could exist. They’re so entrenched in historical writings, in paintings, in tapestries that they blur that line between the possible and the impossible in such an interesting way. And so with Skandar I set out to play with that idea: what if, fifteen years ago, unicorns were revealed to be real, deadly, and living on an Island off the coast? What then? And to be honest, I’ve always been a little suspicious of unicorns. They have a horn on their heads – a weapon! That’s not very friendly!
What makes the unicorns in this story unique?
AFS: Far from being rainbow-fuelled and fluffy, all unicorns in Skandar’s world are ferocious, magical and deadly. There is however, a key distinction between bonded unicorns and wild unicorns. Bonded unicorns can be tamed by the rider that hatches them, and together the pair can summon elemental magic – that’s fire, earth, water and air magic. Wild unicorns on the other hand, hatch alone and are extremely dangerous to humans – their immortality begins to show in their appearance as soon as they are born so they are skeletal, rotting, and downright deadly.
Tell us a little about how each rider and unicorn are allied with different elements – what does this mean? And how does it affect each rider and unicorn?
AFS: The magical foundations of Skandar and the Unicorn Thief lie in the elements. Unicorns are elemental creatures filled to the brim with magic, and when a rider bonds with their destined unicorn they too can share in that power. Although riders can summon all of the elements, one of them will be the allied element of that rider and unicorn – the one they are most suited to. When training, a rider and unicorn will find it easiest to summon and battle with their allied element – although they are still expected to master the others. Riders in training live in quartet treehouses – four riders each allied to a different magical element.
What would your unicorn’s name be, and what element do you think you’re allied with?
AFS: I would never dare to name my own unicorn! In Skandar’s world, unicorns communicate their names with their riders – not the other way around! But I did take the quiz on simonandschuster.com and according to that my unicorn’s name would be Crimson Earth’s Solstice. I’m not sure about my element! I think I definitely fit well into earth wielder characteristics – I’d certainly rather stay in with a good book than go out to a party most of the time! But I do feel drawn to the fire element too – particularly the imaginative, sparky side of the element.
What’s your favourite moment from the book and why?
AFS: There’s a moment in the book when it snows on the Island – which is rare. The morning is happens, the characters are about to embark on a dangerous mission, but just for a while they go out to play in the snow with their unicorns. I loved writing this scene because it let the characters forget their worries about saving the world for a few minutes! I enjoyed imagining how elemental magic and snow could interact and how the unicorns and their riders could play together – melting snowballs with fire magic? Snow/unicorn angels? It’s one of my favourite scenes!
Skandar and the Unicorn Thief is available online at your local Dymocks store.