Favourite scenes & inspirations behind The Goose Road

Louise Twist of Books for Boys fame interviewed me for THE GOOSE ROAD’s launch blog tour. Here’s what we discussed.

Did you do a lot of research for The Goose Road? If so, what stuck in your mind most?

For the book, I did months and months of research in the UK, France and online, spread over three years, but I’ve continued to read and think about WW1 ever since. I believe all historical periods are important to understand, as far as one can, before embarking on an imaginary journey through them. Readers – especially young people – will (hopefully) absorb our stories at a visceral and emotional level, so the “truths” we present to them in fiction might well become more significant and long-lasting than the “facts” they pick up in history classes.

I also wanted to understand this terrible time better myself. The more I researched it, the more it struck me how little I knew. So many images one has from the First World War are about the hell-on-earth that was the Western Front, but the Eastern battles were dreadful, too. The Serbians suffered terribly, as did the Russians. World War One bought down Empires, and globalised international relations, and began the great 20th century confrontation between Communist Russia and the capitalist USA which still reverberates today. I’d love to continue to research those years, and write about them again.

Is there a scene in The Goose Road you enjoyed writing more than others?

The most powerful scenes for me are also the saddest, but saying I enjoyed writing them best seems a bit weird. Yes, there is huge satisfaction to be had in deciding – invariably after a long struggle – that you have, finally, said what you meant to say. But in terms of actual writing fun, it would have to be a scene with Napoleon the gander, especially the one with him and Rene in the orchard. I love Napoleon. He’s so gutsy.

What inspired you to read as a child?

As a young child, I remember being drawn to strangeness in stories and fairy tales from distant places. When Dad read us Swallows and Amazons, I liked Missee Lee, set in the Far East, more than their English adventures. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader thrilled me, too, and the Slavic folklore of Baba Yaga. I was slow to start reading, but once I’d got the hang of it I devoured books during school holidays. The Crusades fascinated me when I was about 10 or 11 years old, and early medieval courts, the She-Wolves of France as their queens were called, and Eleanor of Aquitaine, all of which led me to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings in my early teens.

How would you inspire boys to read more?

I feel like the worst person ever to answer that question because my son NEVER reads for pleasure! That said, I suspect I know at least one of the reasons why: the pedestrian, old-fashioned, set texts he was forced to slog through at primary school before he was allowed to choose his own books. Why the powers-that-be limit children’s reading this way is beyond me. Sure, some parents will object to anything novel (no pun intended) as will some governors, but I’m dismayed when teachers also restrict their pupils’ reading. I think a great first step to encouraging boys to read more would be to stock libraries in both primary and secondary schools with a wide range of books, including lots of Barrington Stoke titles for reluctant readers, so that every child has access to the wealth of brilliant authors writing for young people today. Sadly, I suspect this is very unlikely to happen in the current educational climate, and with libraries and professional librarians everywhere under attack from public sector spending cuts.

What is your favourite book to read to children?

When my son was little, we loved Debby Glori books at bedtime. Puzzle books were wonderful too, and picture books about the natural world. We shared and discussed them all the time. As a primary school governor, I used to read anything the child wanted. I think their taste in books is more important than mine.

Which book do you wish you had written?

I’m not sure how to answer that. I wouldn’t want to have written any of my favourite novels because then I wouldn’t have discovered them, and been transported by them. So I’m going to cheat and say I wish I’d been commissioned to write The Definitive Guide to African Wild Cats, then I could live in a tent far out in the bush, researching animal behaviour and listening to the fantastic sounds of the African night beside a campfire.

First published April 9th, 2018




Interview with Kathryn Aalto about her “amiable field guide” to the 100 Acre Wood

Landscape designer and historian, Kathryn Aalto, created an “amiable field guide” to the Hundred Acre Wood, where Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet once wandered with Christopher Robin. She talked to me aboutThe Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh: A Walk Through the Forest that Inspired the Hundred Acre Wood” for Words & Pictures, the SCBWI’s online magazine.

Rowena: Helen Macdonald said when she received the Costa Award this year that her memoir, H is for Hawk, is intended as a “love letter to the English countryside and all that we’re losing and have lost”. Does nostalgia play a part in your love affair with English landscapes?

Kathryn: My love affair with the English landscape is a torrid one, that’s for sure. It’s a mix of nostalgia as well as discovery. As an expat from California now living in Devon, I didn’t grow up with an ancient network of footpaths as we have here. They’re a revelation. A couple years ago, my family and I walked the Coast to Coast Path from the Irish Sea to the North Sea. The kids had direct exposure to nature: they navigated guidebooks, read maps and searched the landscape for trails. It was a pivotal experience, like A. A. Milne experienced in the 1880s, one he recaptured with Christopher Robin wandering in the Hundred Acre Wood. But in terms of nostalgia, childhood has changed so much since the first Winnie-the-Pooh was published in 1926. Since then, there’s been a decline in native English meadows by 90%, and children can no longer wander freely like their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents did. Milne had tremendous freedom to explore and indulge his imagination. Few children enjoy that today. I’m also nostalgic for childhoods before electronic diversions were so prevalent. With so many footpaths in England, there’s always a place for us to walk and explore.

Read the full interview here:




Interview with Sally Nicholls for SCBWI writing retreat

Award-winning author Sally Nicholls led the SCBWI-BI Writer’s Retreat on 8th May – 11th May 2015. In anticipation of this event, I caught up with Sally for Words & Pictures, the society’ online magazine. Here’s a quick excerpt.

ROWENA: One thing that really struck me when I was reading your books for this interview was the authenticity of your young narrators’ voices. In Ways to Live Forever and Close Your Pretty Eyes, for example, you bounce us straight into the heads of your 11-year-old narrators even though they’re dealing with some dark and sophisticated psychological issues. How do you achieve that balance between a difficult subject matter and a young voice?

SALLY: Mostly it’s just remembering. When I wrote Ways to Live Forever, which is the one I wrote on the (Bath Spa University) MA, about a little boy with leukaemia, a lot my fellow students were quite frightened of dying. I remember thinking: Well, I don’t think I would have been frightened of dying if I’d had a terminal illness when I was eleven. I wouldn’t have wanted it, of course, but I just couldn’t image that I would have been frightened because you have quite a simplistic view of death as a child. So I talked to some nurses at a local hospital and they said, No, you’re not frightened at eleven. The parents are frightened, but the kids aren’t.

Read the full interview here:


Interview with David Almond: The Freedom of Knowing your Limitations

David Almond, the multi-award winning author of Skellig, A Song for Ella Gray, and many other beautiful adult & children’s stories, became a creative writing Professor at Bath Spa University the year I began their MA in Writing for Young People. His talks quickly became highlights of this fantastic course. Here’s an excerpt is from an interview he gave me for Words & Pictures, the online magazine for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, published in May 2013. 

Q1. What I’d like to talk about mostly is the ‘how’ of writing, but I am very aware that it’s arbitrary to disassociate the ‘how’ from the ‘what’. So can we start with a very interesting comment you made at a recent seminar at Bath Spa University. You said, ‘You only discover how to free your imagination by knowing its limitations. Discover your boundaries and then you are free to explore this world.’ Could you expand on that idea a little?

David Almond: For me it was a matter of accepting certain things about myself that were going to be the things that gave me my true voice and my true subject. It was to do with discovering the way I write, the way I speak which is kind of dictated by the language I grew up with. There were certain things about me that I couldn’t change like the fact that I had been brought up as a Catholic; that I had been brought up living in the North East. I spent a long time trying to struggle against those things and cast them out from my work. It was only when I got to the point of realising that that wasn’t working, and just sighing and saying, ‘Oh yes, that’s what I am’ and accepting those things, that they actually brought a great deal of richness and imagery to my work, and a language and rhythm which I had been kind of denying myself. But I don’t think I could have used them properly without first denying them. It’s a paradoxical thing. (US author) Flannery O’Connor was a big mentor for me. She said that thing about the imagination not being free.

Read the full interview here:


Book Birthday interview with Final7 author Kerry Drewery

final-7-from-amazonIn the final instalment of this thrilling dystopian trilogy, Martha and Isaac are on the run, hiding out in the Rises among the poor and powerless. When a wall goes up around them, Martha must act fast. But breath-taking treachery reaches into the very heart of government…

Rowena: I loved the different voices in FINAL7, especially the Death Is Justice scenes and the way you tell the story through script-like dialogue. Which ‘voice’ came most naturally when you wrote from that point of view, and whose voice was hardest to get right?

Kerry: Thank you, that’s great to hear. I studied scriptwriting at university and was also a finalist in a BBC Scriptwriting competition so I did particularly enjoy writing those sections. When I first started writing Cell 7 I found it difficult to switch between the voices and would need to take a break between them, even if that was just going to get coffee (and biscuits), that became easier as I got to know their voices better.

I don’t think there was one that particularly came most naturally or one that was harder, they all had moments they felt natural and moments they felt difficult. I did particularly enjoy writing scenes between Martha and Eve in Cell 7, and dialogue with Eve and Cicero.

To read the Author Allsorts Book Birthday interview in full, click here.