What influenced A Clock of Stars - Francesca Gibbons Debut Novel

Published on: 
Friday, 2 October 2020 - 9:02am
Francesca Gibbons

I often think of fantasy books as a kind of travel. They are cheaper than most train tickets and more fun than long drives. When we cannot leave our houses, books present the possibility of flight.

Fantasy stories are often inspired by places the author has visited. My first novel, A Clock of Stars, is no exception. It was inspired by three different locations…

1. An old garden
2. The Czech Republic
3. Narnia

Let’s start with the garden. It’s in Staffordshire. Today, it’s owned by the wonderful Wildlife Trust. When I was a child, it was owned by an almost-bankrupt aristocrat.

The estate was falling into disrepair (or repair, depending on your point of view). It had tall grass and kingfishers and otters.

When I was twelve, I wrote a story set there, about a girl who found a door in a tree that led to a magical world. I read the story to my long-suffering sisters. Then I squirrelled the notebook away.

The idea came back to me in my early twenties and I decided to write it again. The door in the tree stayed the same. The place that it led to changed.

By that time, I’d met my husband. We spent many happy holidays visiting family in the Czech Republic. Elements of A Clock of Stars were inspired by our travels.

I saw the astronomical clock in Prague’s Old Town Square. I heard the legend of how its maker was blinded. A magic clock appeared in my story.

I heard tales of bears with paws as big as dinner plates. Sometimes they strayed into the woods, crossing the Slovakian border. A bear snuck into my book.

The third place that influenced A Clock of Stars was Narnia. If each book we read is a second life, then I have lived Narnia many times.

As a child, I loved the idea that we can slip out of our ordinary lives into something more exciting – and that young people can change the course of history. I still love these ideas today.

But if fantasy books are a kind of travel, what changes does lockdown bring?

As a reader, I have found the escapes offered by books more important than ever. I need doors that lead to strange places. I crave thoughts that are not my own.

As a writer, I was worried that the travel restrictions would restrict my imagination too. But I am incredibly lucky. I live in a place with easy access to green spaces and, when I need a break, I tend to go for a walk.

On these walks I’m surrounded by portals into other worlds. A hole in the hedge that’s the right size to crawl through. Stepping stones across a stream. An unexplored path across fields.

More than ever, 2020 is the year when I’ve appreciated the nature on my doorstep. It’s not just a “nice to have”. It has been my whole world.

2020 has reinforced the importance of access to green spaces and made the destruction of them even more shocking. These are our places – our enchanted realms.

How can the government cut down ancient trees so commuters can save twenty minutes? How can they steal Travellers’ stopping places, and call them the criminals? How can water companies dump sewage in our rivers? Bit by bit, the portals are closing…

I hope people enjoy reading A Clock of Stars as much as I have enjoyed writing it. I hope it will take readers somewhere new. I hope, more than anything, that 2021 is the year when we all get to go outdoors and protect the magic worlds close to home.



A Clock of Stars, The Shadow of Moth by Francesca Gibbons and illustrated by Chris Riddell, was published by HarperCollins on 1st October 2020. Get your copy now!