The wild, untamed beauty of north Norfolk provides plenty of fuel for a writer’s imagination.

It’s the stomping ground for Elly Griffiths’ forensic archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway who combs the coast uncovering clues to solve dastardly deeds.

And when he was looking for a mysterious and magical setting for his latest book, Orla and the Magpie’s Kiss, award-winning travel writer Chris Haslam looked no further than its creeks and marshes.

Young witch and eco-warrior Orla, her brothers Tom and Richard, and Dave the dog are on holiday in Norfolk, visiting their eccentric Uncle Valentine.

In the first book in the series, Orla and the Serpent’s Curse, she learned that she’s a witch, so is intent on not getting into trouble on this trip.

However, she quickly discovers the beautiful Anna’s Wood is due to be bulldozed for shale gas by a company called GasFrac. And what’s more, the locals are convinced that it’s a great plan.

Baffled as to why no-one is protesting against it, Orla begins to suspect that dark magic is at work.

With the help of a magpie, she finds out who is behind GasFrac – and what he wants is worse than she could possibly have imagined.

It’s a gripping read and while it is aimed at young readers aged nine and over, it has won lots of grown-up fans too.

The book is set in a fictionalised version of north Norfolk, a part of the world that Chris knows well as his parents and brother live in the county – and he grew up over the border in Suffolk.

He says that readers are having fun working out where the locations are based on.

“Norfolk’s a brilliant place to set a story,” says Chris.

“There is a tradition of witchcraft in Norfolk as strong I would say as any.

“I’m up on the Norfolk coast a lot, so I know everywhere, I know every turning on every lane around there. Anyone who knows Norfolk will probably work out exactly where the book’s set pretty quickly.”

Eastern Daily Press: Award-winning travel writer Chris Haslam, who has written a novel for young adults set on the north Norfolk coastAward-winning travel writer Chris Haslam, who has written a novel for young adults set on the north Norfolk coast (Image: Contributed)

Chris is chief travel writer for the Sunday Times and lives in Cambridge with the real Dave the dog.

He has also written three black comedy thrillers for adults, including Twelve Step Fandango, which was shortlisted for the Edgard Allan Poe Award.

He grew up without a television, so entertained himself by writing his own stories, inspired by Biggles’s action-packed tales of derring-do and the likes of H Rider Haggard and Jack London who set their works in faraway places.

Wanting to travel to faraway places himself, he became a journalist, later moving into writing fiction and travel writing.

“I saw journalism as a way of being to travel to the places I used to read about when I was a kid. I started freelancing from places like El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, West Africa, and East Africa...”

Orla and the Serpent’s Curse was published in 2020, just after the country had gone into the first Covid lockdown.

Chris says that Pippi Longstocking was one of his inspirations for the book’s young hero.

“I loved the idea that Pippi didn’t care about anything and she was tough and independent and eccentric and always absolutely confident that everything was going to end up fine no matter what ridiculous situation she found herself in,” he explains.

Orla and her brothers, Tom and Richard, are also based on his own children.

“I liked the family dynamic, I like the way when kids are chatting among themselves, particularly brothers and sisters, they are hilarious because they are constantly taking the mickey out of each other,” he says.

“British people, we say that our way of showing love is by taking the mickey, we’re not huggy people and I love that from the outside you think they’re being totally rude to each other and dismissive, but in fact that’s the way it works and the closer you are, the more intense that dynamic, so I wanted to reflect that.”

Dave the dog was a creation from his imagination.

However, when Chris got his own Jack Russell in 2020, which he also named Dave, life started imitating art.

“I’d always had Jack Russells and I’d made myself a promise that when the first book got published I would get a Jack Russell and call him Dave. So Dave the dog in the book, his characteristics, his mannerisms, his weirdness, climbing trees and stuff like that, was all an invention.

“And I’ve ended up with a dog that eats cat food and climbs trees – my mum found him nine feet up a tree in Great Massingham the other day.”

Eastern Daily Press: Orla and the Magpie's Kiss by C.J HaslamOrla and the Magpie's Kiss by C.J Haslam (Image: Contributed)

Chris hopes that his young readers get two things out of reading about Orla’s adventures.

One is a deeper appreciation of nature and the importance of looking after the planet.

“And the other is to write their own stories,” he says.

“Orla loves birds, she loves nature, she hasn’t got a phone and I think that’s significant. Pippi Longstocking would never have had an iPhone, would she? And Orla hasn’t because what she does is she lives for today in her real world. She is not sat on her phone, or online or anything like that, she lives in nature and if I can encourage kids to do that, I’d be delighted, because I think so many hours of childhood are wasted in front of screens.”

Orla and the Magpie’s Kiss, by C.J Haslam, is published by Walker Books, priced £7.99.