Children's and Young Adult Book of the Month: The Billow Maiden

Competition type: Children's and Young Adult

Start date: 01 August 2022, 09:00

Closing date: 31 August 2022, 23:59

Language: English
Genre: Fantasy, Scotland, Wellbeing
Age group: 9-11, 12-14
Audience: Children
Topics: Competitions

We have five copies of The Billow Maiden by James Dixon to be won! All you need to do is answer the question at the bottom of the page. Entries close on Wednesday 31 August at midnight. All entrants must reside in the UK and full terms and conditions(this will open in a new window) apply.

And you can check out our Competitions page(this will open in a new window) for other giveaways, too.

About The Billow Maiden by James Dixon

This is a sensitively written story about a girl who moves to live with her aunt and uncle who help care for her mother as she suffers from a debilitating illness. Ailsa seems such a resilient girl, coping with the great sadness and fear she has surrounding her mother's illness. But there is a point when she is utterly overwhelmed with the grief she carries and when she suddenly and unexpectedly expresses all of her pent up rage, hurt and resentment. Readers are given a real sense of the weight of Ailsa's worry and distress.

When Ailsa befriends a strange woman she finds in a cave, she is struck by the familiarity of the sadness emanating from the stranger and is determined to help her. She enlists the help of a new friend she makes in the village and together they find a way to sustain this woman so that she can begin to heal and find her courage, strength and will to live. As the woman begins to recover, the community, environment and Ailsa's mother are all affected. The themes running through are delicately and beautifully explored and the description of landscape and Hefring is magical.

Q&A with James Dixon

Of the nine billow maidens why did you choose Hefring to be the one whose story needed to be told?

This was a magical piece of coincidence. One of my original working drafts for the novel was entitled The Rising Tide. I knew I wanted to have a Selkie-like creature working as nature's avatar, as nature rose in rebellion against what was being done to it. This is all there in the damage wrought by the local trawlers, the exploitative Gallach family, and Hefring's own story.

Whilst researching selkies and their ilk, I came across the billow maidens. I had read about them years ago and half-forgotten them. However, as I read about them, there she was – Hefring, the rising tide.

I couldn't believe my luck! This is when I made the move to using a billow maiden, brought in the new title, and made explicit the idea that nature really was rising up.

Mrs Tomlinson is an interesting, incidental character. Is she based on someone you have met?

Mrs Tomlinson is a gestalt character, as so many characters are. She isn't based on any one person. To be honest, I didn't give her the attention she perhaps deserved when I wrote her in – there is no back story, no depth, just a friendly neighbour to drive the plot on at times and lend the family a bit of support!

However, I can absolutely trace the influences that went into her. Firstly, Ma Larkin from The Darling Buds of May (specifically Pam Ferris' portrayal of her) featured heavily in my thinking when writing The Billow Maiden. There are elements of her in Aunt Bertha, Uncle Nod, and Mrs Tomlinson. There is also a good dash of Professor Sprout in Mrs Tomlinson, too – hence a greenhouse to make any good herbology student proud.

Do you have a song or compilation of songs in your head which would create the song of Hefring?

Absolutely, and it all plays into the Nordic theme (if we can use the term quite broadly). Anybody familiar with the haunting, understated melodies apparent in Sigur Ros' music will be on firm ground imagining her song. It is everything and nothing, as is much of their music. Their keyboardist, Kjarten Sveinsson, has brought out a few pieces of solo work over the past decade that blow me away with their discordant beauty. I listened to him a lot around the time I was writing The Billow Maiden.

Aurora's music is in there, too. Again, haunting and beautiful, everything and nothing. Her music seems to well up out of the world around us rather than being written and recorded. It simply is, as is Hefring's song.

About James Dixon

James Dixon is a London-born, Glasgow-based novelist, poet, and playwright. His debut novel, The Unrivalled Transcendence of Willem J. Gyle (Thistle, 2017) was shortlisted for the 2018 Somerset Maugham Award by the Society of Authors. His debut play, It's My Turn, was performed as part of the 2019 Edinburgh Science Festival, aimed at younger audiences. The Billow Maiden is his first novel aimed at younger readers.

Which of the nine billow maidens is the main focus of The Billow Maiden?

If you are under 16, you can still enter the competition but will be asked to provide an additional contact email for a parent or guardian.