Perdita and Honour Cargill

Tell me what inspired you to write for children?
Honor is dyslexic but always loved stories and so for the whole of her childhood, we were reading together and listening to books too. There’s a freedom and a joy (or at least a hopefulness) about children’s books that is irresistible. More directly, our first books (the Waiting for Callback series) came about because Honor dipped her toe into the world of child-acting and it was such an unreal and funny world that we used to joke about writing a book about it … and then we did.

How hard was it to get your first book published?
Our first book was published in 2016 and it was relatively easy. Now we know and understand the rollercoaster author life we are almost embarrassed about that! No doubt in part because of the novelty value of the mother-daughter pairing – and the success at that time of the Geek Girl series (our first books were young teen and funny) – we had a lot of offers very quickly. We wrote three of those and then –because the market in the space between YA and middle grade is tough and because Honor, no longer being a teen, wasn’t keen to stay in that mindspace for the next books – we decided to try to write for younger children.

How long did the Diary of an Accidental Witch take to write?
Probably about four months for the first draft and then a couple of months on structural and line edits. It’s quite a short book (about 26,000 words) but we’re not very fast writers. That’s partly because we collaborate but write in the same voice – we have to pass scenes between us multiple times to get the writing smooth and (hopefully) sounding to the reader as though there is only one author.

How many publishers turned you down?
We ducked the nail-biting submission stage on this one because the concept for the Accidental Witch series originated with Little Tiger, our publishers. They were the ones who came up with the idea of combining the setting of a witch school series with an illustrated diary format. We could immediately see how imaginative and energetic that ‘potion’ might be and jumped at the chance to write them. Bea’s voice came to us really quickly – it’s been so much fun.

What kind of reactions have you had to your books?
We’ve been lucky, people have been really kind about our writing and that helps on the difficult days when you stare at the screen thinking you will never again be able to string together a decent sentence. We’ve just started to get happy feedback from our first child readers and that is a special feeling!

What can you tell us about your next book? Is it book 2 in the series? Or something different?
Book 2 in the Diary of an Accidental Witch series (Flying High) is ready to go to the printers. We’re at line edit stage on book 3 and we’ve just started writing book 4. At the same time, Honor is writing a children’s non-fiction title that hasn’t been announced yet and an adult non-fiction narrative history about the scandalous Roman empress Messalina for Head of Zeus (early 2023). Talk about genre-hopping…

Do you try and read the online reviews you get on say waterstones website?
We do and thank you so much for posting yours – it meant a great deal to us!

What did you do before becoming a writer? Or indeed still do?
Perdita was a barrister (and still juggles a number of projects as well as domestic stuff with the writing). Honor is doing a PhD at Oxford in Ancient History (because those non-fiction titles need a lot of research!).  So, like most of the writers we know, we’re multi-tasking like crazy!

Which author inspires you?
In terms of lifelong inspiration if we had to choose one that was shared by us both it would have to be Eva Ibbotson but we’re very lucky to be writing at the same time as many brilliant children’s authors and we’re even more lucky to know some of them so we get to be inspired both creatively and in a broader way by their hard work and positive involvement in the children’s book community. Emma Carroll, Abi Elphinstone … we could list so many!

Which genres do you read yourself?
Perdita: I’m not very good at identifying genres but I read a lot of books written by women (outside of children’s fiction, I re-read Austen all the time and I’m listening to Meg Mason’s Sorrow and Bliss on audio at the moment). I probably gravitate to books about relationships but I want to try and read some detective stories this year.

Honor: I have to read a lot of non-fiction and ancient texts for work – luckily, I enjoy them, not least because the Roman sources are never willing to let the truth get in the way of a good story. Apart from that – and children’s books – I love historical fiction and a good rom com. Jeeves and Wooster on audio is my ultimate comfort ‘read’.

What is your biggest motivator?
Perdita: I always wanted to write books but for most of my life I didn’t believe I could. Now I’ve started I want to keep going. I love writing and it gives me a feeling of purpose that I value more the older I get.

Honor: I just want to write books that children enjoy, ones that make them laugh and want to read more (particularly because I wasn’t always a great reader myself). It’s a huge privilege – one I’m very aware of – to be able to do this as a job.

What will always distract you?
Because we’re both juggling other things, time spent on the children’s books tends to have a deadline attached and that focuses the mind! Still there are some days where no matter how much you try, the words don’t come and anything is a distraction. One of the great things about collaborating is that we don’t tend to get the bad writing days at the same time!

How much say do you have in your book covers? Your current book cover is fantastic!
We love it too! Katie Saunders the illustrator and Charlie Moyler at Little Tiger did such a brilliant job. We know that cover decisions have a lot to do with market and although we were asked for comments on the rough we didn’t really have much to input other than that we thought it was great. At that point they hadn’t settled on the jacket colour or on the colour/type of foil. We had our fingers crossed they would go for the holofoil – we think it’s gorgeous!

As a child were you a great reader?
Perdita: I was a real bookworm. I read anything I could get my hands on because there wasn’t much choice (we lived fifty miles from a shop selling books (John Menzies!) and online wasn’t a thing). I literally used to walk into lampposts because I was reading. 

Honor: Because of my dyslexia most of my early ‘reading’ involved being read to or audiobooks (I still listen to lots of books). But I always loved stories. I found texts that were relatively short or broken up easier and I read a lot of play scripts and poetry. I always loved illustrated books and one of the nicest things about writing this series is that these are books in form as well as content that I would have loved as a child.

Which book shop is your favourite?
Perdita: I have a soft spot for Waterstones Islington because I spend so much time in it. When Honor was small we spent hours and hours sitting on the carpet reading (we bought books too – promise!)

Honor: I’m going for Waterstones Gower St. I can pick up Loeb editions on the ground floor in their brilliant classics section and then go upstairs to the children’s area, the reading nook is irresistible.

What can you not resist buying?
Depends how much money we have on us – neither of us are good at saving and we both love shopping. Predictably we both buy A LOT of books.

Do you have any rituals on your writing days?
‘Rituals’ is such a calming word! Sadly, the closest we get is fuelling ourselves with coffee (Perdita) or tea (Honor)!

How did you find life during UK lockdowns?

Neither of us enjoyed any aspect of the isolation and worry and the social restrictions were especially hard for Honor who had to come back from university but we were lucky with no serious illness or loss caused by Covid in our close family. In the end it was good to have the distraction of book deadlines – something fixed to work towards in an uncertain time and the world we were writing about was the perfect escape. It really helped.

How many books in your own to be read pile? (Let’s have an honest count please)
It’s completely out of control because of publication. This is just what’s on the kitchen table…

What is your current read?
Perdita:  The proof of When Shadows Fall by Sita Brahmachari – she writes beautifully. The hardback – with illustrations by Natalie Sirett is out in November.

Honor:  Suetonius’ Lives of the Caesars – for research obviously, but honestly it’s a great read.

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