From celebrated children’s author Samantha-Ellen Bound comes Seven Wherewithal Way, the first book in an epic portal fantasy series for middle-grade readers. We chatted with Sam to learn more about the inspiration for this captivating new novel.
Hi Sam! Can you tell us a bit a more about your book Seven Wherewithal Way?
Seven Wherewithal Way is inspired by my love of portal fantasies and world folklore. It’s the series I’ve always wanted to write, and I hope readers will find joy and an escape in the world I’ve had so much fun creating.
It centres around Wherewithal, a big, bustling magical house with six portals that go through to other Realms, each inspired by a different world folklore. Wherewithal is the entry point between all the Realms and it’s run by Ferd, the eccentric cousin of sisters Celeste and Esme who live in the regular human world but join Ferd on their adventures whenever possible.
On a very boring, hot day in the middle of their summer holidays, Ferd crash-lands a flying bus into Celeste and Esme’s front yard and whisks them off to Wherewithal. What ensues is an adventure into the Realm of Forests, variously involving a quest for a powerful magical artefact called a hagstone, saving an ancient creature called the Leshy, and a lot of running for their lives through magical forests, spooky swamps and mysterious wheat fields. And in the background, a Realm-wide uprising is going on that spells big trouble for Wherewithal!
Seven Wherewithal Way has plenty of thrills, chills and wonder, but it is also a celebration of found family, diversity and the many ways we can be a hero.
The book has wonderfully relatable young characters. What should we know about Celeste, Esme and Ferd?
Celeste and Esme are sisters, and very much have a love-hate relationship! They spend most of their time bickering, and yet their bond helps them navigate the many wonders and mysteries of the Realms.
Celeste is the older sister and has been forced for much of her life to look after her little sister and fade into the background while Esme steals the spotlight. Her escape is reading, and she longs for an adventure like the heroines in her books. Of course, when she gets it, it was very important to me that she didn’t suddenly become the ‘chosen one’ – no sudden special powers or discoveries that she is a long-lost faerie princess! All the worries and fears that bug Celeste in the human world follow her into the Realms – she overthinks, she has anxiety, she worries that Ferd will realise she really is ‘boring’ and not worthy of such an adventure, and she still has to put up with her annoying little sister tagging along!
Ferd is the larger-than-life, eccentric character who makes all these adventures possible! They run Wherewithal not only as a gateway to all the Realms, but as a home and a place of safety and welcome for creatures who have maybe not found that anywhere else. You know what they say, though … it’s often those who laugh the loudest who hide the most pain.
You’ve drawn upon fascinating world folklore in the series. What are some of the folk creatures and tales that readers should look out for in Book #1?
There are some absolute superstars of Slavic folklore, including Baba Yaga, a fearsome witch who lives in a hut that walks on chicken legs, and the Leshy, a woodland spirit who rules over the forest and all within. You might also recognise the Kikimora and the Domovoi, two Russian household spirits, and the fearsome Striga, from Polish folklore, whose folklore origins are a sad reminder that some monsters are of our own making.
In Wherewithal, you will find a big (mostly) happy family of creatures from all over the Realms. We have a military advisor inspired by the Anansi tales of African folklore, a friendly giant inspired by Norse folklore, and a range of lively household spirits from the folklore of the British Isles. My favourite supernatural creatures have always been mermaids, so there is a Japanese ningyo (mermaid) who lives at Wherewithal, too.
Word has it you are quite the folklore buff. What do you love about these stories?
Mostly I love the idea that there are worlds, and creatures, that might exist beyond the limits of our human world, if only we were so lucky to stumble across them. The ‘what if’ element is so thrilling and enticing, even comforting.
But I just adore that folklore is really about how we use our imaginations to make sense of reality, and to bring meaning to our daily lives. When so much of the wider world is inaccessible and unknowable to us, we turn to art and stories and imagination to explain the unexplainable: the strange disappearance of a traveller in the wood, a harvest going bad, a child mysteriously struck down by disease.
In folklore, there is also a great reverence given to the natural world, which is something I really connect with.
You’ve worn many hats as a booklover – writer, editor, marketing coordinator and now a bookseller for Our Bookshop in Hawksburn. What’s your favourite part of being a bookseller?
Being surrounded by books and stories and the beautiful products of people’s imaginations is lovely. Sharing these is even better, and connecting readers to the stories that make their hearts sing. In a bookstore there is a great sense of community, not only with your readers, but also everyone in the industry who is a part of making books.
And finally, what are you working on next?
I am busily editing book two of the Wherewithal series, which will be out next year. This time Celeste, Esme, Ferd and their friend Logan are off to the Realm of Ice, which is inspired by Nordic folklore, and the Realm of Jungle, inspired by South American folklore. I just cannot tell you how much fun I am having! I need to find my own Wherewithal, stat.