The Puffin Portal: An Interview with Vashti Hardy

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‘I like to ground my fantasy worlds with nods to our own world. That way they feel familiar yet other-worldly with their own rules and inventions.’

Grace’s family are wardens of the Griffin Map, using it to teleport and fight crime across Moreland. Stretched through helping as many people as possible, they could do with another warden on their team, while Grace is investigating a series of pretty puzzling thefts. Books From Scotland spoke to award-winning author Vashti Hardy about the tale.


The Puffin Portal
By Vashti Hardy
Published by Barrington Stoke


Congratulations Vashti on the publication of The Puffin Portal, another Griffin Gate adventure! Can you tell us a little more about you have in store for Grace in this book?

I was thrilled when Barrington Stoke asked me to continue Grace’s adventures! In The Puffin Portal, Grace is back but is now a full warden of the Griffin map with its teleport technology. She’s investigating a series of puzzling petty thefts, along with her robot raven sidekick, Watson. The clues lead her to a ramshackle castle on a lonely island, where the mystery deepens and Grace meets a young boy called Tom, who appears to be all alone. It’s another mystery-led adventure with a few new inventions, and it has kindness and found family at its heart. Once again the book is dyslexia-friendly with more fabulous illustrations by Natalie Smilie who has an amazing ability to bring this world to life visually. I adore her portrayal of the characters and settings.


You capture that sense of longing for adventure so well in these books. Were you similar to Grace as a youngster? Did you get involved in various scrapes?

That’s very kind of you, thank you! As a child we didn’t have much money for travelling, but my Nan had a brilliant and interesting large house with a wonderful garden, so most of my adventures took place there. During the holidays I would create games with my siblings and cousins and use my imagination to have pretend adventures. I was always the one who was seen as quirky and a little bit bonkers in my imagination! Luckily most of my scrapes were limited to sneaking cookies from the special cupboard to take on the imaginary adventures, so nothing as bold or interesting as Grace Griffin, but fun nonetheless!


In The Puffin Portal Grace is now a fully-fledged warden. Does this change her relationship with Moreland and its inhabitants?

Now that Grace is officially allowed to tackle calls on her own, she’s relishing the opportunity and rising to the challenge, which is very much part of her personality — she doesn’t tend to give up easily and tackles situations with grit and tenacity. Her place in Moreland feels more set in this story, which leaves room for her to become a guiding force with another character (which I won’t say too much about because of spoilers…).


Can you tell us a little more on how you go about creating the fictional world of Moreland and all its mysteries?

I have always loved maps and the idea of being able to teleport into one, so the world of Moreland grew from there. I like to ground my fantasy worlds with nods to our own world. That way they feel familiar yet other-worldly with their own rules and inventions. For example, by taking the old-fashioned red telephone boxes in our world and using them as the warden call boxes that connect to the teleporting map, it brings a nostalgic, yet inventive, scientific feel. I love bringing that combination into my world-building. I also like to take images of real places and use it to ground my settings, so although Moreland is a fantasy land, the village Grace travels to in The Puffin Portal has a bit of a Scottish fishing village feel to it. With the mysteries, it’s fun to introduce magical-feeling technology into the mix, so I enjoy creating the sort of inventions I would love to see in our own world, but perhaps aren’t possible (yet!), like walking street-lamps and advanced AI robots with personality like Watson.


There are a lot of great inventions that help the Griffins with their investigations. What invention would you like right now that would help you in your life as a writer?

Definitely a machine that could pause time but would allow me to keep moving within it. Then I’d have more time to write and imagine more story worlds and adventures alongside having more real-world adventures too. A tea-pot with an endless supply of honey tea and an infinity biscuit machine would go down well too!


We’ve seen readers describe the Griffin Gate series as Steampunk, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Mystery . . . what writers and books influenced the creation of this series?

As a child, a teacher read me Rebecca’s World written by Terry Nation (who also wrote for Doctor Who). Rebecca is magically transported to another world through a telescope and has a great adventure trying to bring the trees back to the planet and bring down the rather shiny but nasty antagonist Mr Glister. It was the book that made me fall in love with stories and was the moment I decided that one day I wanted to create my own story worlds. There’s a brilliant map with riddles in Rebecca’s World, which is where my love of map adventures began, and there’s an unlikely group of friends, which I’m also a fan of in stories.


What great books have you been reading recently?

I love adventures where animals play a part and this year I enjoyed The Last Bear by Hannah Gold, which is a wonderful eco-adventure. I was also lucky to have an early read of a new book which will be out in October called The Secret Animal Society by real-life vet Luke Gamble. It’s an irresistible magical adventure with a classic feel, and lots of inventive creatures for children to discover.


Can we look forward to more adventures with The Griffins? Can you give us a hint of what’s next for Grace?

There will be more adventures for Grace, which I’m so excited about. The Raven Riddle will be the third in the series and is due out March 2022. This time Grace is heading to solve a mystery in a remote mountain village where ravens are causing mischief and there are rumours of a witch and a haunted house which can move. Readers can expect more mystery, inventions, and heart, and more lovely illustrations from Natalie Smilie. I’m also about to start work on a book four in the series, so watch this space! I love the moment before I start a story, when I’m thinking of all the possible inventions, fun, and mystery ahead…

Thank you for your brilliant questions and teleporting into the map with Grace and co!


The Puffin Portal by Vashti Hardy is published by Barrington Stoke, price £6.99  


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