Q&A with author Polly Faber

Q: What is your new book, The Book Cat, all about?

A: The Book Cat is the absolutely completely TRUE story of Morgan, Chief Mouser and Door Cat for Faber through the 1940s. It reveals his critical role in kitten evacuation during London’s second blitz and their invaluable contribution to literary output up and down the country ever since.

Q: What was the inspiration behind it?

A: As I say, the story is true! Well . . . the story could be true. Researching the life of Morgan, I found him described in a letter by Geoffrey Faber as a ‘very large black and affectionate stray cat’ who had arrived in Russell Square sometime in 1943. And once I’d discovered photos in the Imperial War Museum Archive of a War Fair being hosted in the Square at just that time, complete with banana auction, it seemed highly probable that these two events HAD to be linked.

The V1 ‘doodlebug’ that fell on Russell Square in 1944, and its effects on the Faber offices and staff were also documented in my grandfather’s diaries. To imagine that the neighbourhood cats would have been shaken up by it in much the same way as the humans seems a small stretch.

Q: What do you hope children will learn from the story?

Mostly I hope children enjoy the story! I have tried to paint a faithful picture of what life was like on the home front in London at that time. The book does touch gently on the realities of war; whether the experience of the Blitz and rationing or grief of losing loved ones. I hope it also has enough warmth and hope to spark interest in the era without overload.

Q: Do you have a cat?

I do! I have two; a black and white brother and sister pair called Alan and Babs. The book couldn’t have been written without them and they have been immortalised by Clara in the book’s illustrations. I’d say they were honoured by that accolade but in fact they take it entirely for granted.

Q: If you were stranded on a desert island, what book would you have with you?

I find it more or less impossible to answer this question! Middlemarch maybe, as it’s a book I don’t think I could tire of. But if I was going to pick something from Faber’s Children’s books back catalogue then I’d take Russell Hoban’s The Mouse and His Child – a book that really does contain every emotion and show me something new every time I read it.

See more about The Book Cat, here.

Q&A with Emma Carroll

Bestselling author and Queen of Historical Fiction, Emma Carroll, talks to us about her enthralling new novel, The Week at World’s End.

Q: What is your latest book, The Week at World’s End, about?

A: It’s set in 1962, during a very tense few days known as the Cuban Missile Crisis where the world teetered on the brink of nuclear war. My story deals with the very personal conflict facing two friends when they decide to help a runaway girl who claims someone is trying to poison her.

Q: What was the inspiration behind The Week at World’s End?

A: The story was inspired by my parents who were teenagers at the time of the crisis. A lot of this book was written during the first lockdown, so I did a fair bit of research online. The British Museum has a wonderful newspaper archive which I trawled through. I also read (quite terrifying) accounts of information that’s since come to light about how close we came to world war. I read about President Kennedy, Premier Khrushchev, watched documentaries about the crisis. And when I came across an account of nuclear testing on Christmas Island in the Pacific Ocean, I knew I’d found the personal angle to my story.

Q: What made you want to start writing historical fiction for children? What’s the best part about being a children’s author?

A: I love reading historical fiction so it made sense to me to write the sort of book I’d enjoy. I love that I get to write stories all day, read books, talk about books and meet lots of brilliant people. It’s the best job in the world. Ever since I was a child I’ve wanted to be an author.

Q: Where and when do you do your best writing, and what are you working on at the moment?

A: My favourite place to write is in my writing room, which is a small upstairs room at the back of my house, with great views over the countryside. But writing takes you by surprise – sometimes I’ll do my best writing on a crowded train or in a hotel room. I’m currently editing two very different writing projects, and about to start the first draft of my next novel for Faber.

Q: If you were stranded on a desert island, which book would you have with you?

A: My desert island book would be Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë because despite how many times I’ve read it, I still find something new in it every time. It also astonishes me that she created such a brutal, ambiguous, ambitious story when, in the mid 19th century, many of her peers were still getting to grips with the novel form.

Buy the book.

Win an afternoon tea with Emma Carroll!

PREORDER THE WEEK AT WORLD’S END FOR YOUR CHANCE TO WIN AN AFTERNOON TEA FOR THREE WITH EMMA CARROLL AND A BUNDLE OF BOOKS FOR YOUR SCHOOL LIBRARY

To enter, simply preorder a hardback copy of The Week at World’s End from any retailer and email your proof of purchase (e.g. a photo/screenshot of your receipt/confirmation email), your name and your address to kidsmarketing@faber.co.uk by 1st September 2021. UK only, 1 entrance per person.

Terms & Conditions:

  • You must be 13 or above to enter. By entering into this competition you consent to our using your personal data as described above. For more details, please see our Privacy Policy at faber.co.uk/privacy.
  • The afternoon tea will be held at various locations across the country, depending on where the winner is based. Travel expenses will not be included.
  • The winner will be joined by two friends or family. At least one of these places must be used by an accompanying adult.

Q&A with Lou Kuenzler

Q: What is Our Beautiful Game about?

A: It is a middle-grade historical adventure, set in Lancashire during World War One and centred around a young, football-mad girl named Polly Nabb. With her eldest brother off at war, Polly’s mam wants her to stay at home, look after her younger siblings and do the laundry. Polly has other ideas. At just twelve years old, she gets a job in a munitions factory and is soon playing football with the other young women and girls who work there. When the factory squad form a proper team, it seems like a dream come true. But whilst Polly and her teammates play their hearts out – and bravely defend the Home Front too – not everyone is happy to see female players on the pitch . . .

Q: What was the inspiration behind this story?

A: Although my character Polly is fictional, she is closely based on real young players at the time, such as the legendary Lily Parr and Alice Woods. Dark and anxious as the war years were, they also offered incredible new freedoms to women and girls. Football became hugely popular amongst female players, especially in the munitions factories. These often very young working class girls might previously have been sent into service. Shut away in private houses, they would have been given very little free time and, what recreation they did have, would rarely have been shared with others. Suddenly, huge groups of women and girls were able to gather together in factory forecourts and take a break. Best of all, they were wearing trousers – no wonder the game took off!


The spark of excitement at this moment in history was irresistible to me. I knew contemporary middle grade readers would identify with these trailblazing young players attempting to break down boundaries and rewrite the rule book; not only in the game they played, but also in class and race, who they were allowed to love, where they worked and how they were treated. Again and again in my research, I found feisty tales of fabulous feminism . . . I knew the story had to be told!

Q: Why is 2021 a significant year for women’s football?

A: Although the women’s game was initially viewed as a bit of a joke: a wartime chance for everyone to let off steam and raise much-needed money for wounded soldiers (whilst the girls showed their knees!), its ever growing popularity became impossible to ignore. By the time the men began to return home in 1918, women’s teams were firmly established up and down the country. A match played by the famous Dick Kerr Ladies team on Boxing Day 1920, drew a crowd of 53,000, with many others locked outside unable to get into the sold-out stadium. It also raised a whopping £3,115 for charity (well over £145,000 in today’s money). This was the problem!


The Football Association perceived a threat to the men’s game – with women’s matches sometimes better attended than their male counterparts in those early post-war years. In December 1921, the exclusively male FA took decisive action. They outlawed all female teams from playing on any FA pitches and from using FA officials to oversee their play. Instantly, the high profile women’s game was cut off at the roots. Women’s matches were reduced to being played on tiny local pitches, or waste grounds, with no room for spectators. The bitter and punitive ban was not lifted by the FA until fifty years later, in 1971.


Thank goodness, a hundred years on, we are once again celebrating the unstoppable passion for the women’s game; not only with international teams like the Lionesses, but in towns, cities, schools and local communities everywhere.

Q: If Polly was watching Euro 2020, who do you think would be her favourite player?

A: I think it would have to be Jack Grealish because he is so sharp, speedy and technically brilliant. He can outwit anyone and you never know what he’s going to do next – a bit like Polly herself. She’d also definitely be up on her feet and cheering for Raheem Sterling every time he scores!

Q: What is your favourite thing about being an author?

A: Make-believe! Ever since I was tiny, my favourite thing was to play imaginary games, dress-up, talk to myself and pretend to be something or somebody else. Now I get to imagine plots, worlds and people for a job. Almost unbelievable!

Q: If you were stranded on a desert island, which book would you have with you?

A: Gosh! I think it would have to be Grimm Tales For Young And Old by Philip Pullman. I love fairy tales and would find endless inspiration in these magical, tense and humorous retellings. Mind you, if nobody was looking, I might try to sneak the recent gorgeous Faber edition of Gender Swapped Fairy Tales by Karrie Fransman & Jonathan Plackett onto the raft too! The combination of these two titles would keep me happy for months . . . maybe I wouldn’t even want to come home (as long as there was Earl Grey tea and digestive biscuits on the island too!).

Find out more about Our Beautiful Game and read an extract here.

Q&A with Jeffrey Boakye

Q: Tell us about Musical Truth: A Musical History of Modern Black Britain in 28 Songs. Why did you want to write it?
A: On one level, I wanted to write a book that celebrated black British history in a way that I haven’t seen in the books I came across at school. I also wanted to write a book that spoke across generations, enabling conversations about the black British experience that have been sidelined for too long. That’s why the word Truth is in the title; this is my attempt to present the reality of the situation to a broad readership.

Q: Which of the songs featured in Musical Truth has most influenced you in your life?
A: Difficult question! ‘Sweet Mother’ is such an integral part of my childhood – one of those songs that everyone in my family and extended family would love equally. It has a lot of warm, fuzzy memories for me and, like I say, reminds me of the enduring strength of the black African diaspora.

Q: Do you have a favourite fact from the book?
A: There are a few, definitely, but the fact that Winifred Atwell’s hands were insured to the point of her not being allowed to wash dishes is just brilliant. It speaks volumes as to just how successful and popular she was, as a time when black women were not prominent in popular music, at all.

Q: What are you doing to celebrate the launch of Musical Truth?
A: I keep myself busy and I’m always working on various things, meaning that a bit of writing will be on the menu somewhere. That said, I’m on half-term with my kids, so I’m having fun hanging out with them. We just bought a set of roller skates so teaching my two boys to skate will be a highlight. And I’ll be seeing some family too.

Q: How has your job as a teacher influenced your writing?
A: Profoundly. As a teacher, you deal in interaction, engagement and conversation, in the truest sense of the word. I’m sensitive to the ebb and flow of learning and this makes me conscious of how my writing is being received by readers I can’t see. Reading is a solo activity but it’s not passive. Teaching has trained me to listen out for what I can’t hear, and push/ pull accordingly.

Q: In true ‘Desert Island Discs’ style, which track (from Musical Truth) and which luxury item would you take to a desert island?
A: One track? ‘Buffalo Stance’ by Neneh Cherry. Luxury item? A fully stocked MP3 player.

Find out more about Musical Truth, here.

Q&A with Harry Heape

Q: What can you tell us about your new series, Indiana Bones.

A: Indiana Bones is a comedy adventure series for primary school children. Indiana is the beloved pooch of Aisha Ghatak. He is a magical talking dog from another dimension and she has a black belt in archaeology. Their first adventure finds them on the trail of one of archaeology’s greatest mysteries – the lost treasure of The Lonely Avenger

Q: What is it you love about writing funny fiction?

A: For me writing has to be fun. I figure that if it is fun to write, then hopefully, it will be fun to read. Sometimes being a writer feels like having a big funny daydream in your head which you need to piece together, this is a lovely process, it is a great escape to have a head full of silly nonsense, and then try and piece together a story out of it all.

Q: Is Indiana Bones based on a real dog?

A: The inspiration for Indiana Bones came out of a conversation I had with the book’s illustrator, Rebecca Bagley, and my agent Gill McLay. We were talking about dogs and Rebecca said that she had friends who had a dog called Indiana Bones. BIG-BINGO-TIME! I knew at that moment I had to try and write this book. So, Indiana is based on our family pet, a lovely shaggy pooch called Otto. I sent pictures of Otto to Rebecca, so Indiana and our Otto definitely look alike. Also they both like sandwiches and snoozing.

Q: Indiana Bones has a superpower, he can sniff out criminals. What superpower would you like to have?

A: If I could have any superpower, it would probably be plumbing. What do you mean that’s not a superpower?! Okay then, I will say flying if you won’t let me have plumbing.

Q: What adventures do you think Indiana and Aisha will get up to next?

A: I KNOW EXACTLY what they will get up to next but I do not want to give away any spoileroonies! I will say that their next adventure takes them to Turkey, bits are set in Istanbul and also Ephesus, which is a fantastically preserved Roman city that I have visited a couple of times, once as a child, and once with my own children. It is truly magical and well worth a visit, or at the very least a little Google.

Q: What is your favourite thing about being an author?

A: I love school visits. It is so much fun to meet children who like the books. It is great to talk with children because they are so much fun. Slightly linked to this is World Book Day. I can’t tell you how ace it is to see someone dressed as a character from your own book.

Q: If you were stranded on a desert island, which book would you have with you?

A: TOO DIFFICULT!!! The answer to this would change each time you asked it. Today I will say The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman. What a book! There is a wonderful bookshop in Bath called Mr B’s and they ask any visiting authors to give them a pen, which they hang from their ceiling on string. My pen hangs next to Philip Pullman’s. Hope some of his magic somehow transfers itself to me. That must be possible, right?

Find out more about Harry’s books, here!

A letter from James Catchpole

Imagine being visibly different and being asked the same question about it over and over again? What Happened to You? by James Catchpole, illustrated by Karen George is the first picture book that addresses how a disabled child might want to be spoken to, and how they might not want to answer.

Dear Reader,
What Happened to You? is the story of a disabled child called Joe, who wants to play his game in the playground, but keeps being interrupted by other children asking him The Question. I was Joe, and this was my daily experience. As a disabled adult now, it still sometimes is, especially when I take my own children to the playground. But what may be inconvenient as an adult, is often distressing as a child, for whom the interrogation can feel relentless.


As the parent of the child who is staring and pointing and asking questions, it’s hard to know what to do. I’ve been on that side of the equation too. Sometimes, parents come up to me and ask me directly: sorry about that, but what should I do?! And I can understand their confusion. They don’t want to shush their child and make them feel uncomfortable around disability. As a disabled person, I don’t want that either! So should they do the opposite, and play it cool by encouraging their child to come over to me and ask me why I look different? Plenty do . . .
But here’s the rub: pointing and staring isn’t good, but asking questions is not the opposite of that. It’s not the solution either. But it IS the current consensus.


Just ask!‘ is the message we tell our children, and often adults too. ‘Just ask!‘ and the different looking person you’ve never met will be only too pleased to tell you everything you want to know. So if the man at the bus stop has one leg, just ask and he’ll tell you all about the traumatic injury he suffered. If a child has no hair, just ask and they’ll tell you and your friends all about their cancer. Is it any wonder that adults ask disabled people these questions every day too? Fundamentally, the message of ‘Just ask!‘ is disabled people do not have the right to privacy. And that’s what we’re teaching our kids . . .


The bestselling picture book about disability at the moment is called and I kid you not ‘Just ask!‘ This is what happens when someone writes a book about disability for non disabled readers. The aim is to educate non disabled children about different disabilities, and make them feel comfortable around disabled children. But what of disabled children, who may not want to ‘just answer’?


Having been a visibly disabled child, I’m in a position to try to tell this story from the inside, and to write a book that centres the disabled child both as protagonist and as reader. This is the book the five year old me would have found helpful. I needed someone to tell me that I didn’t have to answer The Question, that I could try to find ways round it without surrendering my sense of privacy and that the children interrogating me would eventually get over their curiosity and accept me. And, of course, by writing from a disabled perspective, for a disabled reader, I’ve realised that I actually have something meaningful to say to non disabled readers and their parents too. All I have to do is to invite them to walk, for a minute, in Joe’s shoe.


All best,
James

Q&A with Claire Barker

Tell us about Picklewitch & Jack and the Sea Wizard’s Secret.

In their third adventure, Picklewitch and Jack go on a school fossil-hunting trip to the Dorset seaside. Jack is determined to win the much-coveted Bonestar hammer in a competition to find the best fossil. Picklewitch refuses to help him out, being much more interested in bagging an invitation to tea with Scowling Margaret, the local Sea Wizard. Jack is infuriated by Picklewitch’s lack of interest in the scientific marvels of the Jurassic coast but, as he himself observes, it’s hard to argue with someone who can turn herself into a pinecone. Why can’t she just be reasonable and normal for once? But following a midnight picnic in a secret cave he soon discovers she has, after all, led him to treasure beyond his greatest imaginings.

What are some of your favourite words that Picklewitch uses?

Fudgenuts, kipper’s knickers, hornswangler, fopdoodle, cheese weasels . . . the list is long and possibly rude.

How are your books inspired by nature?

To be honest, even I’m not entirely sure where Picklewitch ends and her garden begins! The sparrows nest in her hair just as they do in the trees, she smells of mushrooms, her eyes flash a leafy-green and the garden’s mercurial temperament seems oddly familiar . . .

After two books in this established setting I wanted to explore how she would cope as a tourist – a fish out of water. Almost straightaway she finds herself larking about with the local seagulls, lolling in rock-pools, adorning herself in periwinkles and starfish. Scowling Margaret’s special responsibilities come as no surprise to Picklewitch. As she explains to Jack ‘most witches age slowly, like forests . . . slow and whispery. But Sea Wizards are even older – like the waves.’ Nature is the thread that stitches their magical worlds together.

Picklewitch and Jack have a unique friendship! What are your favourite friendships in children’s books?

Standout ones for me are Charlotte and Wilbur, Pooh and Piglet, Mary and Dickon. I like loyal friendships fuelled by contrast.

What is your favourite thing about being an author?

When a new funny character marches into my imagination, dumps their belongings in the hallway and makes themselves at home. Then I know the fun is about to begin.

If you were stranded on a desert island, which book would you have with you?

Favourite Tales from Shakespeare, adapted by Bernard Miles and illustrated by Victor Ambrus. I would read Twelfth Night and pore over the illustrations until the pages were eaten away by salt.

Find more about Claire’s books, here!

Q&A with Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick

Tell us about the myth On Midnight Beach is based on.

On Midnight Beach is a reimagining of The Táin, which is a blood-soaked battle-filled epic. I wanted to strip the whole story back to its essentials and bring the violence down to more realistic proportions, explore the main characters and concentrate on their relationships. And I really, really wanted to bring Maeve – sexy, amoral, gloriously self-centred Queen Maeve – to life as a teenager.

What do you enjoy about writing for a YA audience?

It’s challenging (and exciting) because it demands that I engage with the interior lives of my characters at a time when they are actively seeking out who they are and who they will ultimately become. The story needs to be urgent and pacy, but I think characters and their personal journeys are really what it’s all about in YA fiction.

What are your three desert island books?

Pride and Prejudice would be a must – it’s my go-to book for when I’m feeling blue. It’s so romantic and, no matter how many times I read it, it never fails to make me laugh. I’m so glad I didn’t read it in school though, as I’m pretty sure I’d have hated it then!

Olive Kitteridge. I love how Elizabeth Strout brings the main character in and out of focus as she moves through other people’s lives. There’s a real sense of being right there, in New England, eavesdropping.

A favourite recent YA read, Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, caught me in exactly the same way. I’d bring it along for its cast of heart-breaking misfits and the feeling of being on a roadtrip where anything might – and does – happen.

Find out more about On Midnight Beach, here.

Faber Publishes Follow-up to Lockdown Sensation, While We Can’t Hug

Everyone’s favourite (socially distanced) characters return this June in a striking, gently humorous and hopeful follow-up to the sensational and bestselling picture book While We Can’t Hug.

After a long hibernation, Hedgehog awakes desperate to be reunited with best friend Tortoise . . . but Tortoise isn’t to be found anywhere! A charming and touching new tale, The Longer the Wait, the Bigger the Hug is a much-needed celebration of friendship and reuniting with loved ones.

Reassuring, timely and a great teaching tool, While We Can’t Hug provided invaluable support in bringing families together during extremely challenging and unprecedented times. The lockdown sensation has since sold over 100,000 copies and continues to reach new readers up and down the country with award nominations for both the An Post Irish Book Awards and CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal.

Leah Thaxton, Publisher said: ‘There’s so much comfort in this book. The heart-warming title is a hug in itself. Yes the wait will be worth it; yes we will come out of this; yes there will be hugs galore. I think we all need to hear this message. Thank you, Eoin and Polly, for your grace and wisdom!’

Eoin McLaughlin said: ‘It’s been very special to see Hedgehog and Tortoise help so many children cope with social distancing this year. We never intended to keep them apart, so it’s with extreme joy that Polly and I have brought them back together. A reminder of the people we’ve missed, as well as the happiness waiting for us when we can finally hug them again.’

Polly Dunbar said: ‘I’m so delighted that Hedgehog and Tortoise meet again and they can hug at last – yippee! These characters have become friends to me so to illustrate a third book was an absolute joy, especially a story that is so full of hope and happiness, just what we need . . . and of course is very funny too.’

Leah Thaxton acquired world rights from James Catchpole at The Catchpole Agency. The Longer the Wait, the Bigger the Hug will publish on 29th June 2021 in paperback and 1st July 2021 in a small format hardback.

Preorder now: Waterstones Amazon

PRAISE FOR WHILE WE CAN’T HUG

‘A touching tale’ – The Sunday Times

‘The tender simplicity of While We Can’t Hug pairs Eoin McLaughlin’s text with Polly Dunbar’s rosy-cheeked images’ – The Guardian

‘An important historical record of the time’ – The Times


‘Delicate watercolour illustrations, full of expression, are teamed with a timely and charming story, making this a real winner’ – Irish Independent


‘A book that ought to carry a ‘tear-jerker’ warning but one that is perfect for your little (and bigger ones) at home’ – The Literacy Tree


‘Gently reassuring’ – New Statesman


‘Timely, topical and utterly charming’ – Irish Examiner

Join the conversation online