Today we bring to you a very candid interview with Maile Meloy, a wonderful writer and the author of a brilliant new YA adventure, The Apothecary.

How did you become a writer?

I read a lot, as a kid, and I wrote long letters to friends who lived far away.  I was an English major in college, and my friends were all going off to fancy consulting jobs or medical school, and I didn’t know how to do anything except read and write my native language.  My thesis advisor told me to try writing a short story, so I did, and it instantly felt like the thing I wanted to do.

What do you enjoy most about being a writer?

The middle of a novel or a story, when you know what it is but you don’t really know what happens next, and you’re along for the ride.

What is the hardest thing about being a writer?

Certain moments when the first flush of enthusiasm has passed and you still haven’t quite figured the story out, and it’s like pushing a rock up a hill.

What were you in a past life (if anything) before you became a writer?

I wrote my first short story when I was twenty-one, but I had a lot of different jobs while I was learning how to write them: I was a river ranger in Utah, I worked on a political campaign in Montana, I taught in a bilingual grade school in Costa Rica, I worked in a health food store, I taught swimming lessons to the children of movie people, I read scripts for a production company, and I was a development assistant at Disney in Direct-to-Video Animation.

What are you working on at the moment?

A second Apothecary book, under terrifying pressure from the kids who read advance copies of The Apothecary, who want to know the exact date they will find out what happens to Janie and Benjamin next.

(So pleased to hear this, Maile. I was wondering the same thing.)

Do you have any tips for new writers?

Read all you can and write all you can.  Read lots of different kinds of books, and don’t worry about whether what you’re writing is any good or not.  Be bold.  You can always throw things away—and definitely don’t be afraid to do that, either.

Do your books have any consistent themes/symbols/locations. If so, what are they?

The books are all very different, set in different places, but they’re all about love and loss and the accident of birth, and what happens between people, especially when they encounter the unexpected turns life sends you.  That’s what’s most interesting to me.

How many books have you had published?

The Apothecary is my fifth, and my first for kids.  The previous books are two novels and two collections of short stories.

Anything else of interest you might like to tell our blog readers?

Ian Schoenherr did the beautiful illustrations, and he’s incredibly talented.  He really captured the texture and the fantastical element of the book, and because he has a wonderful realistic, technical drawing ability, the magical aspects feel real.  He was the perfect illustrator for it.


What’s The Apothecary about?

It’s about a girl who has to move to London, leaving behind a life she loves, and about a boy who doesn’t want to be an apothecary like his father—he wants to become a spy.  When the boy’s father disappears, he leaves behind an ancient and powerful book, the Pharmacopoeia.  The kids have to learn who the apothecary really was and how to use the book’s transformative powers, so they can escape his enemies and prevent an impending nuclear disaster.

What age groups is it for?

The main characters are 14, and I thought of it as a book for teens when I was writing it.  A smart 9-year-old friend of mine had it read to her, and then re-read it herself at 10.  And my sister’s boyfriend just read it, and he’s 30.  That’s what I want: both the 9-year-olds and the 30-year-olds.

Why will kids like it?

It’s a spy novel with a magical element, but the magic is akin to science—it has to be learned.  It’s about independent kids figuring stuff out: they learn how to become invisible, and how to fly as birds.

Can you tell me about the main characters?

Janie Scott is smart and curious and sometimes insecure and stubborn: she’s a real girl.  Her parents are TV writers and they’re the funniest people she knows.  Benjamin Burrows is defiant and willing to stand up to authority, but sometimes frustratingly so.  Their personalities complement each other: even when they disagree, they make each other braver, and work better as a team.

Are there any teacher’s notes or associated activities with the book?

Yes, Text, the publisher, has a wonderfully thorough and inventive teacher’s guide, with questions and activities.

Is there something that sets this book apart from others?

It’s both sophisticated and wholesome: it deals with difficult problems in the real world, with accusations and suspicion and the fear of nuclear weapons, and the characters are smart, but they’re also 14 in 1952, and there’s an innocence to them.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

The first draft.  I wrote it in six weeks and had no idea how I was going to get out of each scrape.  I felt like I was along for the ride.

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

The second draft: making the story and the puzzle-like plot all fit together and make sense.  It made my brain hurt.

Thanks for visiting, Maile. This afternoon, we’re reviewing The Apothecary here at Kids’ Book Capers. So make sure you drop back and find out more about this definite page turner.


Published by

Dee White

Dee White lives with her husband and two sons in a small rural country town which has more kangaroos than people. She has worked as an advertising copywriter and journalist and has had numerous career changes because until recently, writing wasn’t considered to be a proper job. Letters to Leonardo, her first novel with Walker Books Australia, was published in 2009 to great critical acclaim.


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