The Shadow Lantern Guest Post: The Mysteries of Inspiration by Teresa Flavin

The number one question children ask me when I visit their school is: where do your ideas come from? I have one or two colleagues who have amusing answers – ‘from the idea store’, for example – but I’ve never been able to think of more clever answers than ‘from things I like’ or ‘things I’ve read about’. But perhaps I should add ‘from things that intrigued me when I was your age’.
This last category applies to one aspect of my new book, The Shadow Lantern, the final adventure in my fantasy-mystery trilogy for age nine and older. In addition to the magical paintings, labyrinths, mazes and strange worlds in the first two books, The Blackhope Enigma and The Crimson Shard, this story involves a magic lantern whose slides contain clues to an old secret. There is also a supernatural strand about the spirit photographer who introduces the magic lantern to the main characters, Sunni and Blaise. This character, Munro, was inspired by stories of people who allegedly can see spirits and by my own fascination with photos that purport to show ghosts by accident or design. 
I was probably about the age of my readers when I first heard really scary ghost stories from my friends. There were the ‘true stories’ told late at night during sleepover parties, though the tellers never knew where the stories came from. We heard tales from vampire-obsessed friends and others who claimed to know how to do a séance. The idea of being able to contact The Other Side from a suburban living room seems amusing to me now, but at the time it seemed all too possible – if only there had been a proper Ouija board available. 
I love the possibility that kids could inadvertently conjure up proper spirits and it was something I wanted my characters to do in The Shadow Lantern. At a sleepover party early in the story, Sunni and her friends experiment with a Ouija board and unleash a malevolent entity that only Munro, the spirit photographer, and his cat can see. Perhaps this is making up for the fact that I never got a spirit message when I was a kid.
And perhaps this is also why my teen characters hunt for clues, decrypt codes and unearth secrets in all three books. It was something I wanted to do myself. I was a huge consumer of ‘girl detective’ stories. Nancy Drew was my favourite but I also read Trixie Belden, the Dana Girls and Judy Bolton (all series with roots in the 1920’s to 1940’s but updated for succeeding generations) and Encyclopedia Brown, a boy who solved cases that stymied adults.
I once found an empty wallet in the road and was convinced there must be a huge unsolved mystery on my doorstep. I examined it for clues, showed it around to the other neighbourhood kids, and managed to rally some rather weedy enthusiasm for embarking on a hunt for the wallet’s owner. The others’ interest waned overnight but I carried on solo for a few days until I accepted that it was probably just a wallet someone had thrown away.
But what if it hadn’t been?
These are the sorts of intriguing questions that lead to books about kids who go on adventures and solve perplexing enigmas. I may not have met a spirit or solved a mystery when I was young but these days I am having a wonderful time watching my characters live out my daydreams.

Thank you for this incredible post Teresa, I love the idea of a young Teresa combing through a wallet with a magnifying glass checking it for clues and being convinced it being left in the street was the work of a master thief! For more information on The Shadow Lantern which was published today by Templar, please visit Teresa’s website or Goodreads

  • Lovely post. I look forward to reading your books.