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

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