Tell me what inspired you to write for children?
My initial impulse is to tell you that I was inspired to write this story and it just so happened to be a children’s story. However, I think the truth is that I still feel connected to who I was as a child and love the magic of children’s stories and still read them all the time. They’re not bogged down by the grim, messiness of adult books and instead focus on the bright, sparkly important stuff – like kindness, adventure, courage and friendship.

I also think the impact children’s books have is huge. The books I loved as a child taught me so much about what matters and made me feel comforted and understood when I was trying to figure a lot of things out. Adults books do that too, of course, but there’s a magic to the newness of childhood experiences. The books you read as a child become part of your memories and identity.

I also love children. I nannied for A LOT of years for three children who grew up while I was looking after them. I adored this experience, their humour and the way they wore their hearts on their sleeves.

How hard was it to get your first book published?
It wasn’t easy by any means! The MA at Bath Spa really helped. It’s so funny because I almost didn’t do it. I was muddling along on my own before that, trying to write whilst doing reception work… it wasn’t going very well and I was finding it difficult to stay motivated. The MA was fantastic – not only was I taking my writing seriously, but I was surrounded by a wonderful group of other writers and some fantastic tutors… as well as a few peacocks. There was a huge focus on the actual logistics of publishing, which gave me such a helpful insight that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. This really helped me understand what I needed to do to get my book out there.

How long did it take to write?
Haha, I don’t really want to think about that… Let’s just say that I had the first stirrings of the idea when I was sixteen and visited Venice with my parents and that I’m now twenty-eight…  Eek! However, looking back, I think I did a lot of figuring out how to write whilst re-working this story. Writing is like any skill – like violin, for example, you can’t just expect to play a finished piece the first time you do it, you’ve got to practice and I did my practicing whilst redrafting this story… a few dozen times! At least, that’s what I’m telling myself!

Actually, I almost gave up on this story all-together during my MA, when a teacher, whose advice I hugely respected, wisely suggested that I might be better giving up on this idea and worked on something new. I did try, but this Venice story just kept coming back. I knew I had to write it out of me, one final time, whether it got published in the end or not. Luckily, it did! But there were a few more years between my MA and the final publication this January. I actually almost gave up on it a second time after completion. The morning I decided, I received an offer from my agent Caroline Walsh for the story by the afternoon…

How many publishers turned you down?
Thankfully, my agent dealt with all the publishing offers so I don’t actually know. I’m sure there were a few!

What kind of reactions have you had to your books?
So positive! To be honest, the reactions have totally blown me away! I love hearing how people responded to the characters and the themes of the book. My first wonderful review was from a girl who actually went to Venice with her mum and they took photos with the book in all the places from the story. I was so touched! I always said during my MA that if my book got into the hands of one reader who responded to it in the way I responded to the books I loved as a child then I would be happy and this made me absolutely delighted.

Other reviews online have referenced the great pace, wonderful setting and fantastic characters. I love getting review that say that children have been going to sleep late because of reading Aribella and desperately pleading for one more chapter… That is just the most wonderful thing to hear, though I do apologise for the lost sleep! It really is magic to know that children are reading the story and enjoying it. There were a few Aribella’s for World Book Day at the school I’m Patron of Reading at, which was lovely to see!

So far, Aribella has been included in The Guardian Round-up of the ‘Best Books of the Month’ for January, it was Dubray’s ‘Book of the Month’ for January, it was recently ‘Book of the Week’ in the South Wales Evening Post and received an absolutely stunning review in the New Statesman’s round up of ‘Best New Books for Now’ from Amanda Craig who is apparently a tough cookie. She wrote that it was: “Gorgeously written with touches of Philip Pullman and Eva Ibbotson, this is almost as captivating as a trip to La Serenissima itself”, which just filled me with joy to read!

I’ve also had a few incredible booksellers, such as Fiona Sharp, get behind my book and this has been so amazing. Booksellers know their stuff so it really is an honour to know that they’ve enjoyed my story.

All of this has happened in just three months of publication and, especially given the current circumstances right now with bookshops closed and my promotional school visits tour cancelled, I’m really delighted.

What can you tell us about your next book? Is it book 2 in the series? Or something different?
I’d love to write a next book in the series but sadly I don’t think the book has had enough reach for that to be an option right now…. Bookshops being closed means that sales are down but maybe sometime in the future I’ll be able to write another in this series… fingers crossed, if enough young readers enjoy it! I’ve got a lot of ideas in a notebook and know exactly what happens next for Aribella and her friends.

At the moment, I’m working on something new. Another middle-grade, still with a magical world, vividly built, that draws upon our real world and central themes of bravery, friendship and kindness.

Do you try and read the online reviews you get on say Waterstones website?
Yes! All of them!!! I absolutely love them! Not only are they a total JOY to read and does each one blows my mind that someone else has actually read the book, but they make such a difference to a debut author who is trying to get the book out. The more reviews the more likely the book is to be recommended on sites and get into the hands of more children who will enjoy it. Please do leave a review on Waterstones/Amazon/Goodreads if you did enjoy the book. You can copy and paste between all three and you’ll know that I will be reading it with a massive smile on my face!

Would you ever consider writing for teens or adults?
100% teens. Maybe adults… perhaps I’m older and have more life experience under my belt.  I’m not sure though, I really do love children’s books.

What did you do before becoming a writer? Or indeed still do?
All sorts: I’ve been a nanny, a receptionist, a professional model, a film-maker (writer/director), a visual storyteller, a freelance journalist, a poet, a freelance copywriter, a bookseller… twice! I still do freelance copy-writing jobs and am trying to make this work with being an author… we’ll see!

Which author inspires you?
J.K. Rowling, of course, just for not giving up and believing in her story in-spite of her circumstances. She’s hugely inspiring. Phillip Pullman, for his world-building, which is why I’m so delighted with the New Statesman review. Katherine Rundell, because I just think her books are wonderful and my husband emailed her out of the blue when I was struggling with edits and she sent me the kindest, most motivating email telling me to keep going. That was really kind. Also, Michael Rosen, who is a hero. I am wishing him and his family all the best right now, and have all my fingers crossed for his recovery. His campaigning for more play has been super inspiring and I could listen to him tell stories all day.

Which genres do you read yourself?
Children’s fantasy! Anything a bit magical, with some humour and great character relationships! Otherwise, philosophy, biography, coming-of-age stories, modern fiction…

What is your biggest motivator?
I think it comes back to wanting to give children the experience that the books I read as a child gave me; to write stories that make them feel wonder, awe, delight, warmth; to write stories that become part of them; that make them feel more understood; that make them lose themselves. Stories that affirm the kindness and goodness of human beings and the wonder and magic of the world around us.

What will always distract you?
My cat, Dharma. Why do cats ALWAYS manage to sit on whatever is more important to you at that particular moment? How do they always know?! Dharma seems able to find my manuscript wherever it is in the house and use it as a new bed…

How much say do you have in your book covers? Your current book cover is fantastic!
Not much. I don’t think authors really do, which is why I was SO delighted!! I was honestly preparing to accept that I might hate it, but then I got the email and I jumped up and down with delight. It’s so gorgeous. I know you shouldn’t generally judge a book by its cover, but please feel free to judge mine by Paola Escobar’s gorgeous design.

As a child were you a great reader?
Absolutely! My mum would always find me reading late at night in bed with bad light and tell me off for ruining my eyes… I was lucky to have parents who read to me A LOT as a young child and who always encouraged a love of reading in me.

Which book shop is your favourite?
I’ve worked in Max Minerva’s book shop in Bristol and Topping’s in Bath and I love a Waterstones… but, for me, it has to be Mr B’s – their children’s section is like no other: so magical and all the staff are simply lovely! Also, they have these wonderful extras, such as a book spa where they’ll recommend books you won’t have read yet and lots of great events. I did a storytelling session there and was the resident writer in their Imaginarium for a day, they have a Chris Riddell graffitied toilet and also have author pens hanging from the ceiling, which I only spotted recently when I added my own pen to it. I could honestly spend all day in there…

What can you not resist buying?
Something with a beautiful cover –  I know I shouldn’t be swayed by that but sometimes I am – with a great story premise, elements of magic, with writing that sparkles on the page.

Do you have any rituals on your writing days?
Not so much rituals… I love being surrounded by books that I love, I feel like it gives good energy. I always make sure to have breaks. Walking helps with ideas a lot. Playing with Dharma doesn’t help with ideas but is great for getting out of my head and back into the present moment.

How are you finding life during UK lockdown?
As an author and avid reader there are some benefits. I’m trying to make the best of it and it’s really reminded me to be grateful for everything I have. I miss being able to go outside for longer than an hour but I am lucky to be close to some woods and not inner-city London… I miss hugs with my mum and seeing friends, and I would have liked to have been able to do the promotional school visits I had planned and meet some young readers… but I know these are small sacrifices and I just feel really sad for all the people who are finding this hardest and really grateful to the heroes on the front-line, shopworkers, postmen/women, delivery drivers, and the NHS staff (of which both my parents are part).

How many books in your own to be read pile? (Let’s have an honest count please)
Oh goodness…. Ten, I think. I like having books to look forward to.

What is your current read?
The fourth book in the Lockwood & Co series. Honestly, I am so late to this party and I am loving this series! A child at my storytelling session at Mr B’s recommended the books to me and I am so grateful. They make me laugh-out-loud in bed, which always startles my husband. And they’ve also given me some pretty scary nightmares… worse than any horror film has been able to. Jonathon Stroud is a genius. Next up, I’m reading Orphans of the Tide by Struan Murray, which I’ve heard wonderful things about and am very excited for!



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