Wednesday 27 July 2016

Mirror, Mirror: a ghostly Q&A with Sarah Baker

By Miriam Craig

Secrets, you say? Mysterious happenings? Experienced by an orphaned girl who’s weighed down by her own terrible guilt? Who meets a boy from another world, is plagued by deliciously mean cousins and an uncaring aunt - all of it happening in a crumbling French mansion?

The ingredients of Through the Mirror Door make it a classic children’s adventure. It’s the kind of book that simply DEMANDS a cup of tea and piece of cake and, preferably, some really atmospheric rain pattering on the window as you curl up to read it.

It also has one of the most beautiful covers I’ve ever seen! (Design by Will Steele, illustration by Jessica Courtney-Tickle.)

I spoke to author Sarah Baker this week about how she came to write it, her background in film and blogging, and the books she read growing up that inspired her writerly life.

What are you up to today?
Waiting in for a delivery, toddler wrangling, writing and, if I’m lucky, a bit of reading too.

What’s Through the Mirror Door about?
It’s about a young girl called Angela, who’s been recently orphaned. When she’s taken on holiday to an old, crumbling French house by her suddenly very friendly aunt, uncle and cousins, she finds a secret doorway that leads her to a boy who needs her help, a boy who might just be able to help her too.

What gave you the idea?
The house in the book, Maison de Noyer, actually exists, though it’s not called that. I was taken there on holiday by my aunt, uncle and two cousins, but (disclaimer) they are all lovely and nothing (nothing at all!) like the characters in the book. However, they did end up staying in the guest house and I was left in the very spooky main part of the house. I really did go adventuring, got lost, bumped into a suit of armour and thought that it might make a pretty good story one day.

Kitty and Fliss are pretty horrible cousins of Angela’s – did you have any nemeses growing up?
I really relished writing Kitty and Fliss, particularly Kitty’s rather cutting comments, because I think we’ve all probably been on the receiving end of a bully or someone who’s taken a dislike to us and isn’t afraid to show it. I’m sure I had my fair share of both at school, though I hope I’ve shown that it’s the fear and misery they’re feeling that makes them so nasty to Angela. Well, when it comes to Fliss anyway. A lot of Kitty’s behavior is just her being Kitty!

What were you like as a child?
Talkative. That’s what every school report says. I read a lot too. I’d take a pot of tea and a pile of books into a corner of my room or the garden and stay there for hours until I was called back in. I lived in books. I had a pretty vivid imagination too, which came in handy because being at boarding school, I didn’t have many local friends (I lived in the countryside, in the middle of nowhere) so books, trees, animals and my rather eccentric family were my mates.

What were your favourite books back then?
I devoured anything and everything by Enid Blyton, but particularly the Famous Five and Secret Seven. Other loved books were The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis, The Box of Delights by John Masefield and the Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner. Really if it involved someone having an adventure, I loved it.

Tell me about the work you did in film. You were a story editor – what does that mean exactly?
I worked for a small film company so I got to wear a lot of hats. Story editing there involved scouting for writing and directing talent with an eye to adaption for film, so I would get to read books and scripts every day, watch a lot of short films and go to film festivals and the theatre a lot (pretty much a dream job). I would make many, many notes, deal with the film unit’s correspondence, liaise with producers and writers and make sure everyone was where they were supposed to be in time for production. I’d watch the latest rushes of the film with the producer and make more notes, help schedule films, and attend a lot of meetings too. Sometimes I’d work on set, which was great fun.

You’ve blogged about food for various magazines. Does that come up in your books?
I love baking, and food in some form of another always comes up in my books. In Through the Mirror Door, it’s French stews, chocolate and the odd flaky croissant, but in book two there’s a character who’s a proper baker. I even went on a course at Bread Ahead in Borough Market so I could prepare properly. It was so great I want to do another one.

What do you find are your biggest challenges when writing?
I have to remember to forgive every first draft and remember it’s not meant to be perfect. I’d like a bit more writing time too. Oh and exclamation marks. I can’t stop putting them everywhere!

How do you want people to feel when they read the book?
Honestly, I’m just so happy that people are reading my book – a book I wrote! They’re welcome to feel however they feel. It’s all good with me.

What comes next for you, and for the characters in Through the Mirror Door?
I’ve just sent book two to Catnip Books. It’s a prequel to Through the Mirror Door, that’s set in the same village and the same house, but during World War Two. It’s due out in 2017. I’m also writing a contemporary middle grade story called Different about a girl and her sister, who has Down’s Syndrome, as they navigate their way through a new school, their parents’ divorce, bullies, identity and acceptance. As for the characters in Through the Mirror Door, I’m not sure I’ve finished with them yet. Watch this space.

Sarah Baker

Thanks for talking to me, Sarah, about the book. I’m not sure whether you’ve made me more excited, or scared, about my upcoming holiday staying in a crumbling French mansion. I’ll certainly be examining any mirrors I find there very carefully...

For more information about Sarah, have a look at her website or find her on Twitter.

Miriam Craig
Twitter: @miriamhcraig
Instagram: @miriamhcraig

Tuesday 5 July 2016

Blog Tour: Holiday Ha Ha Ha post by Jonathan Meres

We're excited for Simon & Schuster's new Holiday Ha Ha Ha! anthology, so it's great to have Jonathan Meres, one of the authors involved, on the blog today!

Hello. My name is Jonathan Meres and I’m extraordinarily funny. Which came in very handy when I was asked to write one of the stories for the beachtastic Holiday Ha Ha Ha! anthology, available now at all good book shops and several rubbish ones.  And now I’ve been asked to tell you a funny summer-related anecdote of my own. Brilliant. Because not only do I love an anecdote, but I also happen to love summer.  I know. What are the odds, eh? In fact, if I’m ever asked to make a list of my Top 4 Seasons, summer will be right up there.   

Anyway if it’s OK with you, I thought I’d tell you about something that isn’t particularly side-splittingly funny in a hilarious way, more like funny in a ‘blimey, fancy that,’ kind of way. I mean I’ll do my best to chuck in a couple of gags here and there, but I’m not going to make any rash promises. Because essentially this is a true story. Well, not essentially. It is a true story. This really did happen. And it really did happen a long time ago now. Before my wife and I started having children. Or strictly speaking, before my wife started having children. We went on holiday, to France. To the picturesque and rather lovely Dordogne region, to be geographically precise.

By the way I don’t know about you – frankly it would be a bit freaky if I did - but I have the weirdest dreams when I’m on holiday. No idea why. There’s probably some perfectly rational psychological explanation for it. But anyway, I do. And I remember I’d had one that day, just before I woke up and this anecdote happened.

So, on this day, right, we decided to visit the caves at Lascaux. Which are very famous because there are these amazing cave paintings, said to be over 17000 years old or something. And that’s like, well old? Anyway blah blah blah and they were great. Then afterwards we went to the visitor centre. There was a book for writing comments in. About the caves, that is. Not just comments in general.  Anyway I was just about to write something when I noticed that the woman in front of me was from Leicestershire. Not that people from Leicestershire are particularly distinctive looking. I just happened to notice that she’d written ‘Leicestershire’ in the bit where it said ‘Name and address.’ I’m observant like that. That’s why I’m a writer.  

So anyway I said, ‘I used to live in Leicestershire.’ Which I did, by the way. I didn’t just make it up. I wasn’t that desperate to make conversation. Feigning interest, she said, ‘Really?’ Undeterred, I said, ‘Yes. Whereabouts in Leicestershire?’ She said, ‘A village in the Vale of Belvoir.’ I said, ‘No way. I used to live in a village in the Vale of Belvoir!’ Which again was perfectly true. I did. Well I’d started, so I had to finish.  ‘Which village?’ I asked. ‘Harby,’ she replied.  Now this was beginning to get seriously uncanny.  Because I too lived in the aforementioned village of Harby when I was a kid.  It was only a small village.  It still is only a small village, because I drove through it relatively recently and checked. ‘Whereabouts in Harby?’ I ventured, trying not to say ‘asked’ again. ‘Just an old cottage,” she said, clearly scoping the joint for the nearest exit. I paused for dramatic purposes, before saying the following sentence. ‘What’s the name of the cottage?’ But I had a strange feeling that I already knew the answer. And I was right. ‘Pilgrim’s Cottage,’ said the woman, as I was being escorted from the premises, by security.

You guessed it. I’d lived somewhere else entirely. In fact, I’d got completely mixed up and hadn’t actually lived in Harby at all.

I’m joking. Of course I’d lived in Pilgrim’s Cottage. About 25 years before. My dad had even named it Pilgrim’s Cottage. Prior to that, it didn’t even have a name. And I wasn’t really escorted from the premises by security. I added that bit to make the anecdote slightly funnier than it would otherwise have been. But the rest of it’s absolutely true.

Oh, I almost forgot. The dream I’d had the previous night?  And I swear this is absolutely true, too. I dreamt I was 8 years old, living in a small village in the Vale of Belvoir. In an old house, called Pilgrim’s Cottage.

Jonathan Meres
Jonathan Meres is the author of the bestselling The World of Norm series. Before writing children’s books, Jonathan worked as a sailor, ice cream van driver and actor. Born in Nottingham, Jonathan now lives in Edinburgh.

Holiday Ha Ha Ha!
From amazing aliens and strange superheroes to fantastic forests and crazy creatures; from ghoulish ghost tours and tiresome traffic jams to super spies and terrible talent shows – you’ll be laughing all summer with these eight summer sillies!