A fan of historical fiction by Rosemary Sutcliff and Henry Treece, she also heard stories from her parents, grandparents, and their friends about living through, and returning from, war.
In addition to writing middle grade novels, A. E. Conran works as a freelance editor, bookseller, book talker, and children’s book club facilitator. She lives with her family in Northern California.
Can you tell us about your book, The Lost Celt, in 45 words or less?
Primed by their favorite video war game pitting Celts against Romans, Mikey and Kyler are convinced they’ve seen a real live Celtic warrior. Has he time-traveled as part of a secret defense project? In tracking him down, they solve the biggest mystery of their lives.
What was your favorite scene to write?
I enjoyed the scenes at school where Mikey and Kyler are getting ramped up about their various time travel theories and are imagining their first encounter with the Celt. I drew on conversations between my son and daughter and their friends that I overheard when they were completely involved in their imaginary games. The childhood years up to 12 are an exceptional time in our lives when we can be completely immersed in imagined worlds. Mikey and Kyler have a great friendship and they are both enthusiastic, crazy boys with a great sense of humor and a love of exaggerated gestures and facial expressions. They spark off each other constantly. I really enjoyed spending time with them.
What theme song would you give The Lost Celt?
I don’t think it’s written yet. I’d love the composer of the Master and Commander film soundtrack to write a great Celtic battle march with plenty of drums, the eery sounding Carnyx, Celtic war horns, some fiddle music and something a bit modern, too. Am I asking too much? This is actually a hard question for me because I never listen to music when I work so I don’t make strong associations between my writing and working soundtracks like some other writers.
Why did you decide to write Middle Grade fiction?
I have an unwavering faith in the value of middle grade fiction. There are no books I value more than the books I loved when I was 8-12.
I fell in love with reading when I was about 8 years old. The book was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I remember vividly where I was, how I felt and how the sunlight shining through the library windows moved around me, dust motes floating in the beams, as I read. Reading that book was one of the most magical experiences I’ve ever had. Just opening the covers was like walking through the wardrobe into a magical world. That was the moment I knew I wanted to become a writer and create magic myself.
In fact, I didn’t write straight away, but got somewhat sidetracked by life. When I finally started to write as an adult I realized that settings, themes, even names from books I’d loved as a child were subtly reappearing in the books I was writing. I’d been so deeply affected by the middle grade novels I’d loved that they must have been sitting deep within my psyche, waiting to emerge. I’d say they had actually become part of who I am. So, I firmly believe, firstly, that you are never as close to your true self, as you are when you are 10-12 years of age. I had wanted to be a writer. It took me thirty years to go back and reclaim that childhood dream, but I’m so glad I did. My 12-year old self was right. Secondly, middle grade books deal with the most important issues in life a critical time in your life: good and evil, life and death, home, friendship, belonging, bravery and who you are. I know I make writing middle grade sound like a great responsibility, and I believe it is, but the wonderful thing is all your ideas and themes are already sitting in “the compost” of your mind waiting to come out. I’d suggest reading my agent Sarah Davies’ Blog for more about this.
At the moment The Lost Celt is a standalone, however, I do have a potential companion book which deals with a boy who has been in foster homes and is adopted as an older child. The book involves time travel to the world of the Picts, the original inhabitants of Scotland.
Would you encourage elementary teachers to incorporate The Lost Celt into their curriculum?
Absolutely! The Lost Celt draws heavily upon Roman and Celtic history and the differences between these two ancient cultures. This is especially interesting since we are now reassessing the information we have about the Celts and discovering that they were far more advanced than the Romans gave them credit. Having said that, we are also recognizing when the Romans may have been correct. There are plenty of lessons about history making, who writes history and how we interpret what is written and found. I’ve written more about this on my website aeconran.com.
The book also draws on the stories of the Irish warrior hero Cuchulain, which is an on a par with the Norse, Greek and Roman myths.
Finally, The Lost Celt is based around the Veteran’s Day and Halloween. Mikey needs to write a Veteran’s Day report, which is partly why he is so determined to track the Celt down. If he interviews a real live Celtic warrior he will have the best Veteran’s day report in the history of Veterans day reports, but ultimately he changes his presentation to share his new understanding of the invisible effects of war on veterans of all generations and their families. The Lost Celt throws a gentle, empathetic light on the issues of Post Traumatic Stress and the challenges of returning from war and is a great opener to a wide range of discussions regarding our recent and ancient wars, the realities of war, returning from war, videogames and war, friendship, understanding others, grandparent/grandchild relationships and the importance of community.
What age range does The Lost Celt target?
The Lost Celt is ideal for fourth and fifth graders, but the subjects touched upon are serious ones that make it appropriate for sixth graders and even adults.
What will some of your main characters be dressing up as for Halloween?
I love this question because my characters do dress up for Halloween. Mikey dresses as a Celtic warrior and I’m pretty sure, if he and Kyler hadn’t fallen out just before Halloween, Kyler would have gone as a Roman Soldier.
What else are you working on?
I’m working on two historical middle grades, one based in France during World War One and the second based in a town much like San Rafael, CA after the Gold Rush.
What 2016 debut are you most looking forward to?
It’s so hard to single out just one, but I’m definitely looking forward to A Tale of Camelot: Mice of the Round Table #1 by Julie Leung. I loved Josh Lieb’s Ratscaliber, so Mice of the Round Table sounds right up my street.
Written in the voice of Mikey, a fourth-grader who believes that eating crunchy things will get your neurons to fire, The Lost Celt follows Mikey’s adventures after a chance encounter with a man who must be a time-traveling Celtic warrior, transported to the present as part of a secret defense project.
With the help of his best friend Kyler, and clues from his military history book, Mikey tracks down the stranger, and in the process learns about the power and obligations of friendship.
Full of heart, The Lost Celt throws a gentle light on some of the issues facing our veterans and their families, but it’s the humor and infectious camaraderie throughout this book that makes it so memorable.
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