Dragonfly Song, by Wendy Orr, with an interview

Today's the US release day for Dragonfly Song, by Wendy Orr (Pajama Press)-- a lovely middle grade historical fantasy about a girl who becomes a bull-leaper in Bronze Age Crete.

Aissa was born to play a special role in her community--she is the firstborn daughter of the priestess, and in the normal way of things she should have been trained to someday take her mother's place, listening to the scared snakes and maintain balance between the people and the world around them.  But Aissa is born with an extra thumb on each hand, and though these are easily cut off, she is still imperfect, making her unsuitable to follow her mother's footsteps.  So a story is told that she died at birth, and instead she's sent up into the hills to be raised by a humble but loving family, not knowing who she really is.

When that family is killed by raiders, Aissa takes deep to heart her mother's last words to her as she was hidden out of sight--that she shouldn't make a sound.  Mute and nameless, she becomes a drudge in the town where her birth mother is priestess.  Feared and despised, she sees one chance to change her future--to be chosen as tribute to Crete, and taken to perform the bull-dances of the Cretan bull-king.

When this chance comes, Aissa finally flies free....and finally she has a choice about what her future will hold.  
Written in alternating sections of verse and prose, this is an unforgettable story of an extraordinary girl touched by ancient magic, one that I enjoyed very much.

It's my pleasure today to welcome Wendy Orr to my blog, with an interview and pictures she shared.

1.       At what stage in the shaping of the story did Aissa's name come to mean dragonfly?  It's a perfect metaphor for her own lifecycle— the period of being flightless, underwater, unlovely, before emerging iridescently into the air. And how did the title come about?  I'm curious about that, because of course dragonflies don't sing, and neither did Aissa....

 Oh, I hadn’t seen all those metaphors! Thank you. The dragonfly theme started in a slightly surreal way, in that when I finally saw the shape for the story, it seemed to be enclosed in a beautiful blue bubble. The next day I saw a dragonfly, the exact same shade of blue, and felt that it was confirming the story. After that I consistently saw dragonflies whenever I worked out something significant about the story. I therefore had Kelya see dragonflies at the Source as a symbol that she was making the right decision, and then realized that Aissa’s name should mean dragonfly. I admit that by this stage it took a bit of self-talk to remind myself that I was the boss and since Aissa’s original island is fictitious, I could decide on the language! However it wasn’t till the book had gone to print that I learned that the dragonfly was a symbol of the Minoan goddess and/or her priestesses.

(One of the dragonflys that visited the author)

 My original title was the Snake Singer, which no one liked except me – kids I trialed it on reacted quite negatively, which was a pretty good reason to change it. I don’t remember who came up with Dragonflly Song – I’d like to think it was me, but suspect it was my editor. The song that bursts through Aissa’s mutism – a bit like the dragonfly breaking free of its chrysalis - is so significant that it definitely deserves to be in the title.

 2.         How did you decide where to switch between verse and prose?  Which was easier to write? Was this your first time writing fiction in verse form?  What were the pros and cons?

My original aim was to write the more internal thoughts in verse and background in prose, but it was a bit looser than that in practice. It’s the first time I’ve written fiction in free verse, but it’s how I usually ‘hear’ stories before I write them – it was just that this one refused to come to life when I tried it in prose, so I had to give in. The verse was therefore easier to write than the prose, and as deadlines approached I would write it all in verse and then transpose the most appropriate sections back into prose. Sometimes it would be just that my editors felt that it was time for a breath! 

The big con of verse for me is that it has to be written by hand, which is physically painful because of neck pain, and takes a lot of extra time as my writing is so bad that I have to type it into the computer the same day – of course I would fiddle with words that didn’t seem right as I typed, but there’s not enough time gap to actually edit. 

I also sometimes worried on my publisher’s behalf about all the extra paper because of the short lines! But of course the big fear was of how something different would be received.

The main pro was that I was absolutely convinced that was how it needed to be written. I was passionate about this story and wanted to know I had done my best for it.

3.       Your bulls seem very realistic; how much bull research did you have to do?  And how familiar with ancient Crete were you going into the writing?  

My husband and I had a dairy farm for fifteen years, so I learned a healthy respect for bulls, from our own animals and from neighbor’s experiences (such as the school girl tossed right over the fence into the road when she cut through the bull’s field on her way to the bus). My husband had grown up on a cattle ranch, so he had more experience of having several bulls together, and helped me work out the bull scenes.  

(the author's daughter, befriending a young bull)

 I’ve been reading about ancient Crete for years – probably ever since I read Mary Renault’s novels at twelve – and started researching and reading seriously about four years before I started writing. So much new research keeps appearing, as well as more academics and archaeologists uploading papers to public academic sites, that I kept researching and occasionally revising up to the last draft.

4.       What is your next project?

It’s set in the same world, but about 200 years earlier: a family fleeing to Crete from the volcanic eruption in Santorini in 1625 BCE. This time I was lucky enough to travel to Crete and Santorini for research; I had just finished the last edit of Dragonfly Song, and felt quite emotional to stand in places where she would have stood. (If she’d been real – I know she wasn’t. But on the other hand, real kids did stand there and face bulls…)

(the steps of Knossos, where Aissa would have stood)

5.       Is there a question I haven asked about Dragonfly Song that  you'd like to answer?  

One interviewer asked me about the number of disabled characters in Dragonfly Song. I was quite surprised because I hadn’t seen my characters as disabled, although obviously Aissa’s mutism is a handicap in life and makes her an object of bullying. The interviewer pointed out that the two bull trainers are disabled. I realized that I hadn’t seen them in that way because they were strong, capable people who happened to have physical problems. It’s a distinction that’s extremely important to me – as is the bullying-because-of-difference theme. Those are beliefs that I’ve always held and were probably central to my originally being an occupational therapist, but the depths of darkness I felt in writing some of Aissa’s verse makes me realize that much of these two themes came from my own years of being labeled disabled after a catastrophic car accident.

Thank you Wendy!

Wendy Orr was born in Edmonton, Canada, but grew up in various places across Canada, France, and the USA. She studied occupational therapy in the UK, married an Australian farmer, and moved to Australia. She’s the author of many award-winning books, including Nim’s Island, Nim at Sea, Rescue on Nim’s Island, Raven’s Mountain, and Peeling the Onion.

 More information about Dragonfly Song: http://pajamapress.ca/book/dragonfly_song/
More information about Wendy Orr: http://www.wendyorr.com/

Blog Tour Stops

Unleashing Readers, Activity Guide and Discussion Questions, 10/22 http://www.unleashingreaders.com/

YA and Kids Book Central, Book Playlist, 10/23 http://www.yabookscentral.com/blog/

Log Cabin Library, Guest Post, 10/24 http://logcabinlibrary.blogspot.com/

The Children’s Book Review, Character Interview, 10/25 https://www.thechildrensbookreview.com/

Bluestocking Thinking, Review, 10/26 http://bluestockingthinking.blogspot.com/

A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust, Interview, 10/28 http://www.foodiebibliophile.com/

Writers’ Rumpus, Guest Post, 10/29 https://writersrumpus.com/


  1. This sounds wonderful! I've pinned it to my Want to Read board.

  2. Love that cover and the book sounds terrific. Thanks for the review and interview. Very interesting stuff.

  3. Lovely interview, I'm always fascinated with all of the details surrounding the inspiration for a story and really liked seeing the steps of Knossos.


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