- Edie and the Box of Flits is your first children's book. Can you tell us something about it and what inspired you to write it?
It’s about a girl called Edie Winter who lives in London and her dad runs the Lost Property Office for the London Underground. Edie has just started secondary school, but she’s not finding it easy as her old primary school friends have abandoned her and she feels very lonely.
So Edie decides to spend the first half term helping Dad to collect missing items. She finds an abandoned box on the Piccadilly Line and as she picks it up, she feels something fluttering inside. And so begins an adventure that takes her into a thumb-sized world deep in the tunnels under London.
As a Londoner, I spend a lot of time waiting for trains and buses especially at Highbury and Islington station which is on my route home. There is a family of sooty mice that live on the platform and I often sit on a bench watching them gathering up discarded crumbs and crisps. They gave me the idea of a ‘parallel’ world of small creatures foraging on the Underground.
- Part of the story is set on the London Underground. Why did you choose this as a setting?
I have lived in London most of my adult life and so the London Underground has found its way into my DNA. I love the maze of tunnels, the platforms and the whoosh of air as the trains rush into the station. It also runs overground through many of the suburbs so you rattle along in the dark and then suddenly you are out in the daylight often at rooftop level as you pass between the houses.
When I was researching my book I took a couple of Hidden London tours that the London Transport Museum organises and saw the ghost stations and abandoned passageways that still exist down under London’s pavements. That’s when I decided to set the scene when the Flits are freed in a ghost station at Wilde Street.
- What is the future for the characters? Will there be a sequel?
Yes there will hopefully next year and the adventure will be set on another great Underground system in a different city! Edie will discover the secret of the eyeglass and meet more Flits, but she will also be approaching her thirteenth birthday and once you are thirteen the Flits become invisible. Will this happen to Edie?
- Joe Berger has illustrated elements of the book. What process did you both use and did you see the illustrations as you were writing the book?
Publishers don’t tend to put illustrators and writers in touch with each other as you both work via an art director, but I was sent roughs for all the illustrations and love Joe Berger’s work. I particularly like the drawings he did of the wilderness station and Edie, Benedict and Charlie walking through the deserted Underground tunnels late at night. As we will be working together on a sequel, I did get in touch with Joe and we met in Bristol where he lives and had a lovely chat.
- You started out as a children's writer for BBC Radio creating audio stories. What are the main differences in writing a book as opposed to writing an audio story?
I did! It feels like a long time ago, but I wrote two long running series about The Boot Family who lived on a farm and Walter Crumpton who was trusted with looking after all sorts of unruly animals. The stories were for pre-schoolers in a slot called The Listening Corner and the joy of writing for audio is that you can really be playful with the different voices and use lots of music and sound effects to tell the story. The narrators were always brilliant at dialogue and often very funny. My favourite was the voice of a particularly grumpy donkey.
- What do you particularly love about writing for or listening to audiobooks?
My day job is producing readings and short stories for the BBC and audiobooks for publishers like Penguin and Bloomsbury, although they all tend to be for adults. As the audiobooks are unabridged, I can be in the studio with an actor for five or six days working our way through a particularly long novel. If the actor reads well, it’s an absolute joy and a privilege just to sit there and listen to a brilliant story unfold.
- At what point in your life did you realise you wanted to be a writer?
I’m afraid I was a bit annoying as a child and full of myself and my earliest memories are bouncing up and down on my mother’s bed, dictating stories to her about a walrus that could fly and insisting that she wrote them down. The walrus as you can imagine came to a sticky end!
- If you could hold imagination in your hands, what do you think it would look like?
A wardrobe with a hundred tiny doors and drawers. As you pull each one open you are never quite sure what you will find.
- How do you relax and switch off from the world?
I love to escape London and go for a walk in the woods with my dog or go swimming. Cold water doesn’t put me off so I try to swim right through the winter. Plunging into a river in March is a brilliant way to shake off all the wordly grumbles.
- Is there anything you wish you'd known sooner as a writer that you would be happy to share with any aspiring authors reading this?
It can take a very long time to find a publisher and for your book to move through the cogs and wheels, but just keep going and you will get there in the end.