Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview

Blog Tour: Q&A with Lucy Strange, author of Our Castle By The Sea.

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Our Castle By The Sea is the story of Pet, a girl who lives in a lighthouse during the second world war. Everyone in Pet’s costal village wants to do their bit for the war effort. Some people think this means rounding up anyone who could be German or Italian. When Pet’s mother is accused of being a spy, Pet thinks she is going to lose everything that matters to her. 

The story plays out against the legend of the Daughters Of Stone. Pet doesn’t think she could ever stand up and be brave like the girls in the legend but her character is about to be tested. 

I loved Lucy Strange’s first novel, a brave and beautiful story about the way people with mental health conditions have faced gaslighting and manipulation. Both of Lucy’s novels take subjects which with think of as historical and make us question whether those attitudes are really confined to the past. They are the sort of books which make even the quietest of people feel brave enough to form their own views and make a stand. 

I was delighted to be offered the opportunity to ask Lucy some questions, and her answers are spectacular. Thank you very much to Lucy for your time. BBD35E74-4B7A-46CA-8F8F-0E29FC08A586

Q. Our Castle By The Sea begins with a local myth. Do you have a favourite folk tale?

A. The Daughters of Stone in the book are partly inspired by the Merry Maidens in Cornwall and Long Meg and her Daughters in Cumbria. Long Meg was said to be a witch who danced with her female followers on a Sunday – they were turned to stone as punishment, and the Merry Maidens were cursed in the same way for their lack of piety. The Daughters in my story are turned to stone for a much more heroic reason . . .  We have so many wonderfully dark and strange myths in Britain – they are an absolute gold mine for storytellers like me

 

Q. Your story examines the threat of a far-right ideology and the suspicion of people other than ourselves. Why did you choose to write this story? Was there any part of the theme you particularly wanted to examine?

A. When I found out about the treatment of ‘enemy aliens’ in this country and the Second World War internment camps, I felt that it was a story that needed to be told – an aspect of the war that many younger readers would not know about. I was keen to explore the feelings of anger and fear that so many British people would have experienced at this time – terrified of a Nazi invasion – and what that meant for people such as Mutti – my protagonist’s mother, who happens to be German. It was important to me to explore the feelings of prejudice and xenophobia that are of course so heightened by conflict. When a nation becomes ‘the enemy’ (through war or politics or propaganda), it is all too easy to dehumanise the individual human beings who happen to belong to that nation. It would be nice to think that in the last seventy-five years, we have developed a more sophisticated and compassionate approach, but I think we’ve still got some way to go . . .

 

Q. What draws you to historical fiction?

A. I love the fact that you are never working on a blank canvas. Real events from history provide the sparks for your story. The historical period gives you a detailed and colourful background for your story and adds layers of tension to the narrative. It can be restrictive too of course, as you have to ensure the timeline of the story fits with the timeline of real events, and you have to watch out for anachronisms – but I love the challenge of it.

 

Q. What sort of research did you do around the time period? How did this influence your story?

A. I did a great deal of research on the first two years of the Second World War – in libraries and on the internet. I also read lots of interviews with elderly residents in Kent who had lived through the war and had wonderful and terrifying tales to tell about the things they experienced. I needed enough first-hand accounts to make my narrator’s world felt real and concrete, but it’s also important not to overdo the period detail as it can feel false. Stories have their own life-force, and it can be tricky when a story pulls you away from the historical truths of the period: as a writer, you have to try to be true to your characters at the same time as keeping faith with the historical context.

 

Q. Please can you tell us about your writing process? How do you turn an idea into a novel?

A. I tend to develop the narrative one thread at a time, starting with the main plot and then weaving other ideas around it. I always plan very carefully and tend to write one chapter at a time, making sure I’m happy with it before I move on. Of course, I don’t always stick to the plan – characters can be unpredictable at times! – and I always go back and change things / add things in / delete scenes, but you can’t really do this until you’ve finished a full draft. It’s only then that the true shape of the story emerges. I often get stuck, and when this happens I usually go for a walk or do some housework. Sometimes you can stare at the laptop screen for hours, but it’s only when you get up and do something else that your subconscious gets a chance to fix the problem

 

Q. How do you give your characters a memorable voice?

A. I think the trick here is to try to be as authentic as possible. I always check that everything my character is saying and doing feels RIGHT for them, otherwise they simply won’t be convincing as a character and you’ll lose your reader. It’s vital for your central character to be three-dimensional and real to you as a writer before you put pen to paper. Sometimes I think my background in acting helps, as I often find myself trying out facial expressions and gestures as I write.

 

OUR CASTLE BY THE SEA by Lucy Strange out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com and follow Lucy Strange on twitter @theLucyStrange

 

Thanks to Lucy Strange and Laura Smythe PR for your time.

 

 

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Blogmas 2018 · christmas · Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview

Author Q&A: HS Norup – author of The Missing Barbegazi.

Author Q&A: HS Norup, author of The Missing Barbegazi, talks about mountains, fairytales and Christmas traditions.

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The moutains which inspired H S Norup’s writing 
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HS Norup 

The Missing Barbegazi is one of my middle-grade hits of 2018. It is the story of a friendship between a girl and a mythical, fairylike creature which lives in the mountains. The story is about family, friendship and trust and it is set in the days shortly after Christmas. If you are looking for a magical story to read in the build-up to Christmas, I can’t reccomend this enough. 

I was delighted when author HS Norup agreed to answer some questions about her work, about the snowy landscape which inspired her setting and about fairytales in general. It is a pleasure to share her answers. Thank you Helle for your time. 

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Q: Barbegazi are mythical creatures who come out at first snowfall but are rarely sighted by humans. Did you want to write about Barbegazi, or did these creatures fit into your story?

A: When I began writing THE MISSING BARBEGAZI, I had never heard of barbegazi. I wanted to tell the story of an eleven-year-old girl, Tessa, who was desperate to win a ski race. A story set entirely in the real world without any magic or mythical creatures. But I had not written more than one chapter before Tessa met a strange furry creature in the snow. After some research, I discovered that the creature Tessa had encountered was a barbegazi. And everything about them fit perfectly into the story.

 

Q: Aside from the Barbegazi, do you have any favourite stories set in snowy landscapes? What is it you love about these stories?

A: Snow is magical! I still get excited every winter when I see the first snowflakes floating down, and there’s nothing quite like waking up to a newborn glittering world after a night of snowfall. In a novel, the dangers of snow and cold weather immediately raises the stakes. A landscape covered in snow can become a character in its own right and influence the story through the opposition or help it gives the protagonist, as is the case in THE DARK IS RISING by Susan Cooper. Other favourite stories that are set in the snow includes: C.S. Lewis’s THE LION THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, Philip Pullman’s NORTHERN LIGHTS, Sinéad O’Hart’s THE EYE OF THE NORTH, Vashti Hardy’s BRIGHTSTORM, Piers Torday’s THERE MAY BE A CASTLE, and Katherine Rundell’s THE WOLF WILDER.

 

Q: Mountains play a huge part in your story. Why did you choose this setting?

A: I love the mountains and find them immensely fascinating—perhaps because I grew up by the sea in a flat country. From afar, the mountains present this beautiful, serene panorama, but up close they are wild and unforgiving. Add snow, and the mountains become both more beautiful and more dangerous. I have a deep respect for these dangers, especially avalanches, and they played a role in the story even before I discovered the avalanche-surfing barbegazi.

 

Q: You write about a world which is very like ours, except for the magical creatures who live in the mountains. What drew you to magical realism and how do you think fantasy elements help us to tell a story?

A: I have always loved reading magical realism and low fantasy stories. The idea that there might be magical or otherworldly creatures around us is both enticing and scary. I can’t go for a walk in the forest without secretly looking for fairies and I’m still afraid of the dark—my imagination often runs wild. I think fantasy elements can help us create story worlds that are fresh and interesting. At the same time, the presence of fantasy elements signals to the reader that this is a pretend world, which they can safely explore along with the protagonist.

 

Q: Family plays a huge part in The Missing Barbegazi. Tell us a little about how the two main characters fit into their families.

A: Tessa and Gawion are tweens (although Gawion is 154 years old) and both are part of loving families, but with very different family structures. Tessa’s parents are divorced, but she and her mum lives in the same house as her grandmother (and until recently her grandfather) and near other relatives, so she has a wide family network around her. Gawion’s family lives in complete isolations, far from other barbegazi, so they are a very close-knit family, and Gawion’s twin sister is his only friend. It’s important for the plot that they are isolated, but it’s also a situation I know well and wanted to describe. Whenever we, as a family, have moved to a new country, we have experienced 6-12 months of being each other’s only friends, and, since we left Denmark a long time ago, we have not had any family network to depend on. All family structures have positive and negative sides, and it’s important to show diversity without judgement in children’s fiction.

 

Q: Your story is set in the days after Christmas – the days when the presents have been unwrapped and the crackers have been pulled. Was there a reason you set your story after Christmas, and not during the festivities?

A: There are a couple of reasons I didn’t include the Christmas festivities, but the main reason is that it would have distracted from the story I wanted to tell. Tessa’s grandfather died shortly before Christmas, and the family is grieving, so I can’t imagine their Christmas was a jolly affair. Also, for many of the locals in a skiing resort, the week between Christmas and New Year’s, is the busiest week of the whole year. Tessa’s mum and Uncle Harry were both working over Christmas, catering to the needs of guests instead of their own families, but I’m sure Aunt Annie took good care of Tessa, Felix and Oma.

 

Q: Fun: Favourite cracker joke? Best Christmas jumper?

A: We have neither Christmas cracker jokes nor jumpers in Denmark, so I can’t really answer these questions, but we have other fun traditions. We celebrate on Christmas Eve. For dessert we always have Risalamande, a kind of rice pudding with almond slivers and one whole almond. Whoever finds the whole almond receives a small gift, but the fun lies in hiding the almond if you have found it or pretending to have found it if you haven’t. After dinner and before opening presents, we all dance around the Christmas tree, singing first psalms then jolly songs, usually ending with the whole family chasing each other around the house.

 

Q: Which animal would you have on the front of a Christmas card?

A: Mountain goats! We sometimes see them in the snow, springing around the steepest mountain sides, defying gravity. They’re more interesting than reindeer and deserve to be on Christmas cards.

 

Many thanks to HS Norup for taking the time to answer my questions. The Missing Barbegazi is available from Pushkin Press.

Blogmas 2018 · christmas · Q & A

Q&A: Sophie Anderson, author of The House With Chicken Legs.

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About The House With Chicken Legs: 

Marinka dreams of a normal life, where she stays in one place long enough to make friends, but that isn’t possible. Her house has chicken legs and her grandmother, Baba Yaga, guides spirits between one world and the next. 

Marinka is destined to become the next Yaga, but she rebels against this and sets out to change her destiny. 

The House With Chicken Legs was one of my favourite titles this year. I loved the interpretation of Yaga (a character from Russian folklore) and the unflinching narrative about mortality. The characters are the sort that stick in your head, and I will return to their story over and over just to spend time in their company.

I am delighted to have Sophie Anderson here on my blog to talk about fairy tales, stars and Christmas traditions. 

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Do you have any favourite fairytales set in winter/snowy landscapes? What draws you to these stories?

Wintry landscapes glitter with magic and invoke a chilling feeling perfect for dark fairy tales. My favourite is the Russian fairy tale Snegurochka or The Snow Maiden. There are different versions, but most begin with a childless couple building a little girl out of snow. She comes to life and seeks out happiness at every opportunity, but sadly in most versions she melts at the end of the tale. As a child I used to find this heart-breaking, but over the years I have come to accept it as a message to live fully, as a short, full life is preferable to a long, empty one. One of my favourite books is an adult reimagining of this tale: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.

 

Winter is a time when stories were traditionally told around the fire. What are your favourite storytelling traditions?

I love bedtime stories with my children. However busy our lives get, we always make time for stories at the end of the day. We each take turns reading a chapter of a book we like and because my children all have different tastes we usually have three or four quite different books on the go!

 

Both the Nativity Story and your story feature stars. What inspired you to write about stars?

Carl Sagan! I love his work. The idea of our souls returning to the stars after death came directly from one of his quotes: “We are made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”

 

How might Marinka’s house be decorated if she was celebrating Christmas?

Holly and mistletoe would grow in great curls from the House’s roof and oranges studded with cloves would blossom from the beams. The scents of mulled wine, roasted chestnuts and rum soaked fruit cake would plume into the air as Baba cooked up a sweet spiced feast. And skulls lit with candles would adorn every surface, throwing a warm light into all the dancing shadows.

 

Marinka learns and inherits lots of traditions from her Grandmother. Do you have any special Christmas traditions, or any you would love to try?

My grandmother served Rumtopf with ice cream every Christmas. Rumtopf is made by soaking seasonal fruits in a stoneware pot filled with rum, and because it takes months to make I’ve never got round to doing it. Perhaps 2019 will be the year I finally start filling my Rumtopf pot!

 

If you could receive one gift from a story, what would it be and why?

The wardrobe that leads to Narnia. I’d love to see if I’m brave enough to go through it!

 

A huge thanks to Sophie Anderson for your time.

What are your favourite Christmas traditions? Let me know in the comments below.

Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview

Q&A: Author Amy Wilson talks Snowglobe, fairytales and creating magical settings.

IMG_E6003The first book I reviewed for BookMurmuration became a lifelong favourite. A Girl Called Owl is a story of frost magic, the search for family-identity and a hidden world where a magical council controls the seasons. 

Amy Wilson has now published three books, each as fantastic as the other. Her latest novel, Snowglobeis a story of three magical sisters, manipulation and the importance of grabbing life with two hands. Like all her novels, it is set in a world with hidden pockets of magic and wonder. 

I am delighted that Amy has agreed to take part in a Q&A about magic and fairytales and all things winter. Her answers will leave you daydreaming and grabbing for a pen to write your own magical tales. It is a pleasure to have Amy here on my blog. BBD35E74-4B7A-46CA-8F8F-0E29FC08A586Your debut novel, A Girl Called Owl, takes us into Jack Frost’s wintery world and your latest story Snowglobe features a room full of magical snowglobes. Why are you drawn to snowy landscapes?

I love the blank page of a snow-filled street. The sense of possibility and magic that comes with all the ordinary being hidden away. And the danger that comes with the beauty feels like such a truth. Many of us are lucky enough that we spend most of our lives cushioned from the harsh extremities of the world. Snow – winter – reminds me that we are still, always, at the mercy of our environment.

 

Do you have any favourite stories set in snowy worlds? What do you love about these stories?

CS Lewis’ Narnia stands out immediately. I have such a sense of the wild and the cold, and the snap of branches underfoot. The danger, and the suffering of those who need spring so desperately. I love the heart of the characters, the friendship offered when there is little else to give. I’ve recently read The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden and I suppose it seems natural that I would love it, but I LOVED it so much. I loved the old myths and legends, the wilderness, the magic. All of it!

 

Snowglobe and A Far Away Magic feature houses with magical secrets. The houses are unique to your stories. Please do you have any tips about creating magical houses as settings?

See them as a character. These houses have been around for longer than the characters themselves, and if there is magic in your world, and in your characters, then that magic may have infused the place. See normal things: a kitchen sink, a clock, a chest of drawers, with infinite possibilities. Even a settee is capable of much, in a magical house. And we all know about wardrobes…

 

The magic in your stories is subtle – other people in the same world may not be aware it exists. Why do write magic in this way?

I want it to be so nearly real that you can truly be there, even if you’re sitting on the train reading. Like shadows in the corners of your eyes, or the mist rolling over the fields in the very early morning that could be more than it looks. Powers that work like a sneeze, or the tingling of skin with a shock. The sensations are real, it’s just a question of taking that one step further, and then wondering, if that did really happen, if I could do things that we believe are impossible, would other people believe it? Or would they just blink and think they’re tired? Would they see it? I think that even if it were real, some people perhaps wouldn’t see it because they don’t open their eyes to see the magic that is in the world, they’ve trained their minds in other ways.

 

Snow melts shortly after it settles, especially in the UK. If you were given magic to turn a snowflake into an object you could keep, what would that object be? Please can you describe it for us? 

I would turn it into a unicorn – a Pegasus actually, because it would have wings, and we’d travel the world, at night, and have the most incredible adventures. And then one day we’d find a whole heard of snow-Pegasus’ and I’d have to leave her there but every winter she’d come and graze in my garden, and give my children rides up to the stars.

 

If you could choose any magical power, what would it be and why? 

I’d like to talk with trees. I’d like to hear their voices, to know what they think of the world.

 

Win a copy of Snowglobe – thanks to the lovely people at Macmillan Children’s Books UK, I have three copies of Snowglobe to give away to readers in the UK or Ireland. Check out my Twitter feed for a chance to win. Competition ends 16.12.2018 at 11.59pm.

A huge thanks to Amy Wilson and Jo Hardacre for your time.

Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview

Q&A: Author Matilda Woods

Q&A with author Matilda Woods.

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Set sail on an adventure to the sea and the stars. 

For years, Oona Bright has dreamed of her own adventures. While her father is away at sea, Oona reads stories about the fabled beast, the Nardoo. She stows away on a whaling boat and sets off in search of the truth. Is the Nardoo real? Will she ever find out?

I am delighted to welcome author Matilda Woods to my blog to talk about magic, the sea and how girls can have adventures too. 

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  • Tell us a little about The Girl, the Cat and the Navigator

The Girl, the Cat and the Navigator is about a girl called Oona who has always dreamed of going on a great adventure with her father who owns a whaling ship. Unfortunately, Oona’s father doesn’t think girls belong on ships: its too dangerous and wild and wet. To prove him wrong, Oona stows away when he sets out on the annual whaling hunt. Oona encounters all sorts of magical creatures on the hunt – some kind and some cruel. She also discovers a truth about her father which she never would have known if she had stayed on land. The story is set in an unnamed Nordic country in the 1900s and has elements of magical realism. It’s very much about taking chances, going after your dreams and being open to changing your mind about things as you grow older and see more of the world and the people (and creatures) in it.

  • Why does the sea play a huge part in your stories? Also, the setting is cold (and wet!), why did you choose that setting rather than a similar climate to Australia? 

I’ve always loved the sea and the connotations it has. For me, the sea makes me think of adventures, escape and going to new places. These have all been central elements of my first two books. I’m lucky (or, maybe, unlucky) to live in a part of Australia where we experience the extremes of all four seasons. We have really cold, wet and windy winters and summers so hot that even the blowflies slow down from the heat. I like to match each story with the season I think will be the best fit. So far, this has always been winter.

  • Oona is a girl trying to prove herself so she can take part in activities that are normally prescribed for boys/men – do you think you ever came up against these challenges as a young girl?

I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy. I can think of a few times when I didn’t do things because they were seen as too much of a “boy/man” type of activity. In school I wanted to study engineering but I would have been the only girl in the class so I studied textiles instead. I also wanted to play cricket but there weren’t enough girls to start a girls team and the boys team (and their coach) didn’t want a mixed gender team.  I think in both of those cases if I’d really wanted to pursue those options I could have done it, but I’m not sure if I was brave enough or passionate enough (about cricket and engineering) to fight for them.

  • Who are your favourite writers? What are your favourite books?

The first book I fell in love with was The Twits by Roald Dahl. I thought it was disgusting and funny and brilliant. Our librarian read it to the whole class. We had library lessons once a week so I always wanted the weekends to end faster so I could hear what happened next. When I started reading books myself I really enjoyed anything by Tamora Pierce and I also loved the Harry Potter books. I also went through a phase where I loved reading biographies and non-fiction books, especially ones about ancient history, anthropology and animals. I also love mysteries – especially those written by Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle.

  • How do you develop your characters? Are they based on real people/yourself?

Whenever I have an idea about a character – a name, trait, scene, physical description – I write it down in a notebook. When I’m developing a new story I flick through the notebook and pick all the ideas that I like. I group them together to form different characters. This is how I create the main characters in the story. Then, the secondary characters usually develop out of necessity e.g. in The Boy, the Bird and the Coffin Maker I needed a character who would notice that Alberto was hiding a boy in his home. So, I created Rosa and Clara Finestra: two old ladies who are always spying on their neighbours over the back fence.

  • There is a sense of magic that underlies the seemingly real world that you have created. Did you choose to write a magical realism story or was this something that happened organically?

When I wrote my first book – The Boy, the Bird and the Coffin Maker – I had never read anything in the genre of magical realism. In fact, I’d never even heard of that genre until someone said I wrote that type of story (and then I had to google the meaning to find out what it was). So in my first book that did happen organically. When I started writing my second book I was more aware of purposely making it fit into that genre. I really do love the genre – I love that it isn’t so far removed from reality that it’s all fantasy, and I love that it allows you to make impossible things happen within a world that feels real. 

 

Many thanks to Laura Smythe PR, Scholastic UK and Matilda Woods for making this Q&A possible.

 

Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview · Uncategorized

Author Q&A: Catherine Johnson talks about Race To The Frozen North

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Author Q&A: Catherine Johnson talks about Race To The Frozen North

Catherine Johnson 2018 credit Andy DonohoeCatherine Johnson is a star. 

She’s written a large number of books, including Sawbones and The Curious Lady Caraboo. Her stories are mainly historical and often feature lesser-known characters from history, particularly those from black history. 

Her fiction opened my eyes to the fact that history, and the canon of literature we are all familiar with, has been one-sided. Catherine’s work also made me aware of the all the stories yet to be listened to, yet to be told. 

birdAbout Race To The Frozen North: 

When Matthew Henson runs away from his violet stepmother, he begins a new life which nobody could have predicted. Inspired by the stories of an explorer named Baltimore Jack, Matthew sets out to see the world. 

As a black boy in early 1900s America, the odds were against him. 

Matthew works three times harder than anyone else to be judged on merit instead of being dismissed. His tenacity and hard work pay off, and he is hired and rehired in various positions on ships which sail the world. Often those positions are menial to his experience, but he perseveres and sees more of the world as a young man than most people see in their lifetime. 

Finally, the opportunity comes for him to play a key role in an expedition and he sets out to become the first man to reach the North Pole. 

Matthew and his friends Ootah and Segloo look at the success of the expedition in a different light – although Matthew plants the American flag in the right spot he understands how absurd it seems to his friends that another country would be so hung up about one spot of ice. This would make a lovely opening to conversation about colonial attitudes and inherited beliefs (ie we may not think we are prejudiced, but we may have inherited a set of beliefs from our culture including the idea that ‘conquering’ geography is cause for celebration.

I am delighted to welcome Catherine to my blog for a Q&A. Her answers are insightful and interesting. Thank you Catherine for your time.

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Q&A: Catherine Johnson

1.) What drew you to Matthew Henson’s story?

I LOVE black history. For centuries people like me have been airbrushed out of the past and I believe it’s vital that everyone realises that enslavement is not the only story to be told about us. Also I am a sucker for terrible stories of people pushing themselves to their limits. I cannot imagine doing what Henson or Peary or Scott or Amundsen did. Also Henson was unique in that he learnt from the indigenous people of the far north. It was a completely different attitude to the prevailing one of the time, which said that western culture knew best about everything.

 

2.) What sort of research did you do and how did this shape your story?

Real solid research for this book mostly meant reading a lot of books! So even though I had read many of them when I wrote a non-fiction book about his exploits I had to look again. And read again, and check again. It was harder with this book because it’s more of a personal account. And even though there is an autobiography – written by Henson and a co-writer – there are still loads of gaps. And although there is a lot of detail about the polar expeditions, I thought readers could always get that elsewhere. What I imagine a lot of young readers will be really interested in is how and why an eleven-year-old boy runs away from home, and how he sets off – like a kid in a story – to see the world and perhaps seek his fortune.

 

3.) If you could voyage to one place in time and history, where would it be and why?

Ooh this is hard. I love a hot bath and antibiotics and modern medicine – can you imagine getting frostbite so badly your toes come off in your boot when you take them off? That’s what happened to Robert Peary who was the leader of Henson’s expeditions? 

And while I love clothes – especially late 18th century/early 19th century women’s dresses – if you weren’t wealthy or healthy the past was not an easy place!  

So if I was very rich and very healthy – and not about to have a baby – maybe I would have liked to live in 1780s London and meet the Blackbirds of St Giles…

 

4.) You write historical fiction. What draws you to historical narratives?

Historical fiction is life or death, and the stakes for young people (all people actually) were often much higher than they are today. This means there’s so much scope for adventure and excitement. Also it’s important to show readers that our past as Britons was full of very different sorts of people. Even in Roman times Britain was an island where many cultures smashed together, and that black people were always a part of British society from at least (if not before) Roman times. It’s about saying we all belong here.

 

5.) Matt decides to travel after listening to tales of adventure from a man named Baltimore Jack. Who were your role models as a child and how did they inspire you?

Writing role models? I suppose I was massively impressed by my Uncle who wrote books (I couldn’t read them and they were heavy theological books all in Welsh) but I remember the thrill of seeing his name on a book in a shop window when I was on holiday with my family in North Wales. Also I babysat for a woman who lived next-door-but-one when I was in my early teens. She had a desk in her kitchen with her typewriter set up and above it a shelf of the books she had written. She was a single parent and supported her family writing not just books but radio plays and TV – she was one of the first on the Grange Hill team. I was incredibly impressed by her, her name is Margaret Simpson.

 

6.) Matthew Henson is a forgotten character from history. Which other characters need a higher profile?

 

My favourite would have to be John Ystumllyn, who became a head gardener at a big house in North Wales at the end of the 18th century. He was enslaved and brought to Wales as a boy, during the fashion for exotic slave attendants for wealthy young women. Unlike some of these children he wasn’t sent to be worked to death on Caribbean plantations as soon as he grew up, but gained his freedom, married a local girl and had several children. 

 

Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview

Author Q&A: Chitra Soundar

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Chitra Soundar is the author of over 30 books worldwide. Many of her books her inspired by Indian myths and legends.

Her latest book, You’re Safe With Me, tells the story of a group of animals who are afraid of a thunderstorm. A wise elephant shares her knowledge of the weather and reassures the little animals that they are safe under her watch. 

I was able to ask Chitra some questions about the story, and I am delighted to share her answers.bird

What was the starting point for your story?

The story came to me as an image – a mother elephant rocking little animals in her trunk. And I wanted to find out what her story was.

 

What were the main influences?

This story is drenched (the pun is fully intended) in my experiences of the thunderstorm. The crash of thunder, flashes of lightning and the relentless downpour is etched in my deep subconscious. And of course the image of a gentle elephant has stayed with me from my childhood.

 

How do you see Mama Elephant’s role?

This story began with my experience as a storyteller. I wanted the main character Mama Elephant to be a storyteller who would explain scary things in a poetic way.

She plays the role of my grandmother in my life – reassuring, poetic and imaginative.

 

Why did you choose to include a refrain?

In the first version of the story, I didn’t have a refrain. And the title was different too.

Then as the story found its rhythm, and as I found the voice of Mama Elephant, I knew she had to reassure them that she’d be there no matter what. She not only explains the fearful elements and makes them less scary, but she acknowledges their fears and makes them feel safe.

 

Your story offers children scientific explanations in a very poetic way. What role do you think art has in helping children learn about the natural world?

Albert Einstein said, “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”

Children identify with animals and nature – whether it’s Goodnight Moon or baby owls. They want to know how animals do bedtime, eat their food and go to school.

Children put themselves in the character’s place – like the little animals in You’re Safe With Me and they mirror the fears of the characters and they empathize with the characters.

Whether it was thousands of years ago around the fire, to teach children the dangers of predators or today we tell stories about thunderstorms, the purpose of stories is to give us a frame of reference to relate to this world. Through stories we learn about our natural world and our place in it. We learn to respect and live in harmony with the world around us.

 

I love the personification of the natural world. Why did you use personification?

I don’t think it was a conscious decision. I grew up thinking of nature as living beings. Like the Greeks we have gods associated with each element and we respect them, fear them and acknowledge their place in the natural world.

For this story, the underlying theme was empathy and alternate perspectives. I wanted the little animals to understand the working of the elements and not fear them.

 

Many thanks to Chitra Soundar for your time. You’re Safe With Me is available now from Lantana Publishing.