Monday, 22 October 2018

Sarah Todd Taylor - Max the Detective Cat: The Phantom Portrait - Interview (Q&A) - Nosy Crow

Hello, everybody. Today, on Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books I have a lovely interview with Sarah Todd Taylor, author of Max The Detective Cat series. The Phantom Portrait is the second book to be published by Nosy Crow. Max is ready again to solve another case! The book is armed with humour and charm as he faces a case with some ghostly goings-on. If you are not familiar with the series, then please read my review of the first book HERE. Whilst the interview below should give you a brilliant insight into the author and her books. I hope you all enjoy a good start to the week.

Max the Detective Cat: The Phantom Portrait is the second book in the series, tell us a little about it and where it fits into the series?

In the first book, Max was finding a new home in The Theatre Royal and ‘finding his paws’ as a detective on his first case. He is a bit more confident in this one, but still has some of his old worries about whether he will be forgotten by his new family. The theatre company are invited to spend a week in a castle in the middle of the country, performing a new play on Halloween night to celebrate the birthday of Lord Fawley’s daughter, Arabella. The company soon find their rehearsals disrupted by ghostly goings on and talk of hauntings in the castle. But Max suspects that someone is playing tricks on the Fawley castle and that the peculiar happenings have more to do with old family jewels than old family curses. I loved being able to bring out Max and Oscar’s friendship more in this one. Instead of just having chats on the roof of the theatre, Oscar is right there in the middle of the action, helping Max solve the case. 

How do you select the names of your characters?

For some characters, the names came easily. I knew that I wanted to call Miss Julier after a good friend who I based the character on, and Oscar, Sylvia and Agnes just sprang to mind, but sometimes it can be so hard. I try to think about what my characters are like and then find names that sound a little like the adjectives that I might use to describe them. So Sylvia sounds light and silvery just like the sparkly character she is. I had a very specific reason for calling giving one character in The Disappearing Diva the surname ‘Spinel’. It’s a tiny hidden mystery in the book and I often wonder if any readers have worked it out....

What’s the most difficult thing about writing animal-based characters?

At the beginning of writing the Max books, I decided that I wanted Max to be ‘all cat’ so he doesn’t get to do anything a real cat couldn’t, including talk. That means that finding a way for him to communicate the solution to the humans so that the villain can be brought to justice can be a real challenge. It helps keep the books much more action based, though, which makes them lots of fun to write. 

The other challenge is doors - life would be much simpler for cats if us humans hadn’t invented doors. I am forever having to find inventive ways for Max and Oscar to creep into places they shouldn’t be. 

Let’s talk about writing! How do you want your readers to react when they read the first and last pages of your book?

At the start I want them to be intrigued and to know that this story is for them, that it will be fun. If a reader has been kind enough to pick my book up, I want to pay that back with a good read that they’ll enjoy. At the end, I hope they put the book down feeling satisfied that the mystery has been solved without feeling cheated. It’s so frustrating when a mystery lets you down by being solved too easily. I would never have the humans solve it ‘for’ Max and I don’t think my readers would be happy if I did. I hope they feel happy for Max and Oscar too. I’m very fond of both of them and hope that my readers are too. 

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

Eek! I started writing books when I was a teenager. I wrote three books about a rather hapless king who was always coming up with terrible ideas that he thought were wonderful. As well as those I’ve got one finished and two half-finished books and a bundle of projects that never quite got off the first page. They all feed into the process, though. Nothing in the work we create is ever wasted. Bits of it will find their way into other projects, or into the way we view what we are working on. It all helps. 

The first two books have been illustrated by Nicola Kinnear. What's the process like between you both? What do you think the readers gain from the illustrations inside the books?

Nicola is amazing. When I see her illustrations it feels as though she has been looking at all the characters I can see in my head. I adore how she draws and the energy she gets into all the scenes. The illustrations add massively to the books. I love an illustrated book. They are so special and it feels very unfair that we don’t get to have illustrations in our books when we are grown ups. With Max, because it is set in the past, I think it’s doubly helpful to give that visual context for the reader. Nicola helps to show what the world Max lives in looks like, which helps them to understand the story better. 

Do you have anything else you would like to add?
Just a MASSIVE thank you to everyone who has read Max. I love hearing from readers and it’s an absolute honour and a joy to be allowed to create stories that go into bookshops and libraries and to work with amazing people like Nicola and everyone at Nosy Crow.

Sarah Todd Taylor is a children’s writer living in beautiful mid-Wales. Her first book, Arthur and Me, won the Firefly Children’s Book Competition 2014. She loves cats, puzzles and the theatre, three things that made their way into my Max the Detective Cat series which is published by Nosy Crow.  For more information check out her website here: or Twitter: @scraphamster 

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