AE DALY: ‘It’s the voice I needed that said yes, keep doing this.’
Congratulations again, what does the win mean to you?
Thank you so much. It still hasn’t sunk in completely – I keep going back to look at the beautiful trophy on my shelf to confirm that yes, it happened! One of the most difficult things about sticking it out as a writer in the early years is that most of the effort is solitary; I’ve been fortunate with feedback and mentoring in the last few years, but there are still many doldrums when you can’t seem to reassure yourself that the story you’re telling will appeal to anyone but yourself – so receiving this award, along with the wonderful and thoughtful feedback from the readers, the Junior Judges and Sam Copeland, has been such an affirmation for Dreamdogs and for me. It’s the voice I needed that said “yes, keep doing this.”
What’s the reaction been like from friends and family?
I’ve always had fantastic support from family and friends for my writing, and they’ve been lovely since they heard the news – they all know how long I’ve been working on my writing and therefore how much this award means to me.
Your story was inspired by a dream one of your sons had about otherworldly dogs that only some children can see. What does he make of your win?
When I started to write Dreamdogs in earnest I thought it only fair to ask him if he minded me using his dream as inspiration, and he gave his full permission. He’s close to finishing high school now and has storytelling aspirations of his own, but in a different direction; he’s a dedicated fan of horror stories, so I think one day he’ll create his own uniquely frightening take on that dream. He’s delighted for my win and says it’s given him encouragement to see someone he knows reach this point. My younger son is excited too – he’s an aspiring cartoonist, so perhaps one day we’ll make a comic together!
Why did you enter?
I’d entered the Bath Children’s Novel competition unsuccessfully twice before with early drafts of my first novel Devil-Glass. What’s always drawn me to the Bath competition is its unique level of engagement and feedback – the tantalising Twitter hints in the run-up to the longlist, the excellent Junior Judges and their reviews, and the final judge’s comments. I initially entered the 2021 contest to give myself a hard deadline for finishing Dreamdogs, knowing that if I was lucky enough to be longlisted I’d have to send in the full manuscript. To get to that stage and then beyond has been an absolute thrill.
Award judge Sam Copeland said of Dreamdogs: “It’s scary and exciting and moving and highly original.” How did it feel to read his comments?
It was wonderful to hear Sam’s comments because the qualities he saw in my story were exactly what I was aiming for when I started Dreamdogs. Some of my best-loved and most formative children’s books are by classic ‘eerie’ writers like Robert Westall, Susan Cooper and Alan Garner – deeply felt, sometimes chilling stories rich in language and atmosphere. If I’ve managed to hit even a few of the same notes, that’s immensely gratifying.
The Junior Judges were gripped by the vividly real yet slightly “off” world of Dreamdogs and the children’s urgent call to save their families and villages. Do you think speculative middle grade is especially resonant for children in our unsafe times?
I love the role of the Junior Judges in this competition – having critique and encouragement from one’s target audience is a brilliant, unique feature and I’m deeply grateful for the insights of the children who read Dreamdogs. I think speculative stories always resonate in times of stress because they have the power to offer catharsis and wish fulfilment at the same time, exposing our worst nightmares but offering a vision of courage, love and loyalty to overcome them; what used to be dismissively called ‘escapism’ is one of the essences of why we need and love storytelling. There’s a grain of harsh reality in Dreamdogs‘ antagonists, but my wish is that Bell, Fern, their friends and their Moor leave the reader with a sense of endurance, warmth and hope.
You’re looking for agent representation – what’s the dream for Dreamdogs?
The dream would be to find an agent who loves Dreamdogs as much as I do and believes that there’s a place for it on people’s bookshelves, someone who appreciates the wavelength I write on and would like to see more of my stories.
What’s next for you?
I have another book in progress which I set aside to focus on Dreamdogs, so my next aim is to finish that – it’s a YA novel provisionally named Ice Machina, a historical steampunk thriller set in the Arctic of the 1850s featuring a lost expedition, mysterious automata and ice-cold Victorian villainy. Although I’m aware it needs a daunting level of research, I’m really looking forward to returning to my misfit cast of polar adventurers.
A. E. DALY lives and works in Edinburgh. She has a background in art history and computer science and loves comic books, ghost stories, vintage cameras and abandoned buildings. She received a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award in 2018. Her previous novel, unpublished YA time travel mystery Devil-Glass, was longlisted for the 2020 Mslexia Children’s & YA Novel Competition and she has also been shortlisted for the 2020 Kelpies Prize for Writing. Of Dreamdogs, she says: “The earliest seed for the book came years ago when my eldest son, then quite small, had a dream about brightly-coloured dogs. I’d wanted to write a middle-grade adventure story for a while, and the mental image of these ‘dream dogs’ set me thinking. The story also became a fictional love letter to the North York Moors of my childhood – I liked the apparent contradiction of setting a technological thriller in a remote and beautiful rural landscape.” AE Daly’s Dreamdogs jointly won 2021’s Bath Children’s Novel Award along with The Doll’s House Mouse by Rachel Darwin AE Daly’s website is www.aedalywrites.com