Lily the Elf – New Releases

imageSo utterly adorable and perfect for exploring deep emotions, friendships, problem solving, confidence and adventure are award-winning Anna Branford‘s Lily the Elf series for emergent readers. All with five short, steadily-paced chapters, enlarged font and sweet, detailed illustrations by Lisa Coutts throughout, these books are irresistibly readable.

I read the latest two books with my six year old daughter, alternating pages as we like to do. She participated with confidence, both understanding the concepts as she read and enjoying the active listening role as well. The books also effectively engaged her interaction as chapter endings left us with opportunities for discussion.

imageIn ‘The Sleepover’, Lily’s cousin, Fern, is invited to stay for the night. It has been a long time since they have seen each other, but Lily is excited nevertheless. She helps prepare a delicious meal, some fun games, a special bed for Fern and her favourite bedtime stories. The anticipation is almost too much to bear, but when Fern finally arrives, Lily’s expectations for a fun evening are soon dashed. Fern dismisses all of Lily’s efforts, leaving her confused and disappointed. But despite Fern’s scornful attitude, Lily manages to cut to the core of the issue and gently reassures Fern, slowly but surely, that she is safe and welcome.

The themes of empathy and kindness are evidently clear but written beautifully to reflect associated feelings of misplacement, uncertainty and disillusionment. Intertwined are playfulness and familiarity to make this story relatable and relevant to its early readers.

imageIn ‘The Jumble Sale’ Lily’s elf neighbourhood is holding a Jumble Sale Day to sell their no-longer-needed belongings. Lily yearns to buy a dress-up mermaid’s tail with her elf coins. But when Dad and Granny begin to clear out some of their own old dress ups, Lily is cross, but not as devastated as the notion of selling her baby cot with the precious hanging cloud. The day turns from bad to worse when she discovers the mermaid’s tail is too expensive, and her cot is the only option for a couple expecting their first baby. With a little thought and a lot of courage, Lily’s generosity, resilience and willingness to part with the special treasures ultimately lead to the satisfying ending she hoped for…in more ways than one!

I love how this story focuses on sentimentality and how simple possessions can evoke such strong feelings deep within us. It also reminds us that we are still able to cherish our memories forever, and allow others to create their own memories with those passed-on treasures.

Totally age-appropriate with supportive reading structures, simple language and whimsical illustrations, children from age five will just adore this special, spirited and good-natured series with a whole lot of heart.

Walker Books, August 2016.  

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Books & Christmas with Anna Branford

I adore Anna Branford’s endearing character Violet Mackerel, who features in her own series for young girls, illustrated by Sarah Davis (Walker Books). Violet is written exquisitely and her empathy and kindness moves me even on multiple readings. The most recent instalment is Violet Mackerel’s Formal Occasion.Violet Mackerel's Formal Occasion

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, Anna.

Such a pleasure!

Where are you based and how involved are you in the children’s lit world?

I live in Melbourne in a little apartment that looks down over a park. It is just about perfect for a writer as it’s very quiet but at the same time, I can see the world going by. As for my involvement in the children’s lit world, besides writing, I’ve been doing lots of school visits and touring this year and I’ve also had the opportunity to present at two writers’ festivals too, Brisbane and Melbourne, both of which were fantastic.

How else do you spend your time?

I lecture in Sociology at Victoria University, teaching on topics like childhood and religion. And I also love making things by hand, especially dolls and nests. I love knitting and felting and that kind of thing.

What inspired you to write the ‘Violet Mackerel’ series?Brilliant Plot

In a funny sort of way, the inspiration actually came through doll making. I was selling my dolls at an especially beautiful Melbourne country market, St Andrews, which is outdoors and starts very early in the morning. It was during the winter so it was still dark. There was a fire and some people were playing fiddles and flutes, and even though the sun was coming up there were still stars in the sky. It was a bit magical really. I noticed that some of the people setting up their own stalls had children with them still in pajamas and half asleep, watching the market forming all around them. And as I was wondering what they thought about it all, somehow Violet and her family popped into my mind.

Could you tell us something about your main characters? Are the children or adults modelled on real people?

One of the funny things about writing is that for me, I often don’t realise where my influences and ideas come from until after I’ve finished the story. Then, as I reread, I realise how very much like my sister Violet is, or how similar Violet’s mum’s reaction is to something I have recently felt myself. Retrospectively, I can usually see exactly where each trait and characteristic comes from, but it’s never intentional at the time of writing. I see my sister, my friends (especially young friends) and sometimes myself in the characters I write about.

I love reading about Violet’s family’s creativity and involvement with making things and going to markets. Do you also like these things?

I absolutely love them. I grew up with parents who often made things and who encouraged my sister and I to make things too. And for me markets, and especially craft markets, are places where you get to see newborn ideas, fresh from people’s minds and hands. I also feel a lot of love for handwork with small and slightly uneven stitches and unintended fingerprints in clay – all the evidence of the love of human hands.

How closely have you collaborated with illustrator Sarah Davis?

I love working with her. In some ways you could say we collaborate closely in that we are absolutely co-creators of Violet and her family. But at the same time, many of the ideas in the Violet stories come purely from Sarah and are a wonderful surprise for me when I first open a set of illustrations for a new Violet story. Lots of the humour especially! In the later books in the series, Violet’s teddy bear has become a hilarious side character in the stories, reflecting Violet’s emotions and thoughts. That is purely Sarah’s doing and I enjoy it as much as any reader of the series!

Why is a different illustrator used in overseas editions?Personal space

Violet has actually had four different illustrators in her different editions! I believe that is pretty unusual and I’m not sure of the reasons behind the choices publishers make about these things, but my best guess is that an ‘ordinary family’ like the Mackerels is actually quite a specific idea depending on the culture and society it is being portrayed for. It has been hugely interesting for me to see both the differences and the similarities in the way the characters have been created in their various incarnations.

Have you received any responses from young readers about Violet Mackerel that particularly resonate with you?

One thing I would never have guessed when I started out as a writer is the wonderful mail you begin to get! I’ve received beautiful handmade gifts from children and lovely stories from parents telling me that a Violet book was the first their child read independently from cover to cover. That just amazes me. I’ve heard from a few young readers that they think of Violet as their own friend, and that resonates with me a lot. When I was young my family moved very often and I always has to leave friends behind, so I know how important portable book friends can be for children.

What else have you written?

Lily the elfJust recently I have been working on my new series about Lily the Elf. Lily lives with her dad and her granny in an elf house under a bridge, with a moss garden and a huge (to her) dandelion overhead. So she is an urban sort of elf who exists, as lots of us do, in the city but also in an incorporated natural world. And although there is a lot about her life that is elf-specific, such as her tininess, she is a relatable character too, and deals with lots of the same troubles and delights that children her age do. I’m having a lot of fun creating this series in collaboration with Lisa Coutts, an illustrator who captures Lily’s world so beautifully that I secretly suspect she may be half-elf herself.

What awards have your books won or been shortlisted for?

I’ve been very lucky in this department over the past few years! Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot was Honour Book in the 2011 Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Awards, Younger Readers category. In 2013, Violet Mackerel’s Personal Space won the Young Readers/Picture Book Award category of the Australian Family Therapists’ Award and was short-listed for the 2013 Children’s Peace Literature Awards. And in 2014, Violet Mackerel’s Possible Friend was short-listed for the CBCA Book of the Year Awards, Younger Readers category.

What are you writing at the moment?

I’m working on two things at the moment, a new Lily the Elf story about the trickiness of parting with old things even though you don’t really need them any more. And another thing that is top secret!

What have you enjoyed reading?Wind in the willows

My favourite book of all time is Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. I read it when I’m feeling sad and it is like an old friend. I read it when I get sick and it makes me feel better. I read it at Christmas and it fills the time with magic. I think there will always be at least a bit of happiness with me all my life, so long as I always have a copy on my shelves.

More recently I have been some of Banana Yoshimoto’s books and enjoying them very much and wishing I could travel to see some of the places she is writing about.

Christmas is coming. How do you plan to celebrate and what books would you like as Christmas presents?

Magic Beach

I absolutely love Christmas! This morning my sister, my mum and I are also taking my three-year-old niece to ride the Christmas train at Myer and to see a gingerbread village. In the afternoon I am going to choose myself a Christmas tree. I celebrate non-stop all through December. I can never sing enough carols, or see enough lights and gingerbread creations, or wrap enough presents or light enough candles! But for Christmas itself my partner and I will disappear up into the mountains and have a couple of very peaceful days together, which is one of my favourite things of all. This year I would love to start sharing Alison Lester’s beautiful books with my niece so I am hoping for a copy of Magic Beach.

Where can people find you and Violet on social media?Neville

I have a website, annabranford.com, and can also be found on facebook.

All the best with your books, Anna. I’m looking forward to spending more time with Violet and Lily and later discovering your top secret project.

Thank you so much!

Review – Lilli-Pilli’s Sister

Lilli Pilli's SisterNot another Zombie story! Well, not that I don’t mind a dose of eye-bulging, brain-slurping fun now and then, but, “When was the last time you read a really nice story about fairies?”, so asked my other half when reading Lilli-Pilli’s Sister for the first time.

“It’s full of heart and joy,” he added. “And I really like the illustrations.”

What else is there to say? End review. But wait, there is more.

Lilli-Pilli’s Sister by Anna Branford and Linda Catchlove is one of Walker Books Australia’s first, new sparkly picture book releases of 2014. And how it shines.

Anna Branford Anna Branford of the adorable Violet Mackerel series has spun and woven her word-magic into a beautiful tale about a strawberry-blonde haired young fairy named Lilli-Pilli, who is eagerly anticipating the arrival of a new sibling. Lilli-Pilli is convinced the new family member will be a sister, because she ‘can feel it in her wings’.

As Mum’s belly swells and the day draws nearer, Lilli-Pilli helps her be-speckled Dad make a crib for the new baby fairy. Regardless of their time shared together, Lilli-Pilli is impatient for her sister’s arrival. She can’t wait to have someone new to play with. She is also a tad concerned that the crib will be too wide for one little fairy baby, so on her Mum’s suggestion, she flies off in search of soft things to put inside the crib.

Kookaburra, the painted apple moth and the white-winged triller all come to her aid but each adds to her growing uncertainty about the new baby for each of them ‘feel a brother in their wings’, and their wings are seldom ever wrong.

Crestfallen and laden with doubt, Lilli-Pilli returns to her red-gum home with her bounty of soft things just in time to discover a tree-full of squeaking and squawking. It’s exactly what she has been waiting for, or is it?

Lilli-Pilli’s Sister is an appreciatively longer picture book than we’ve become accustomed to in recent times. However each of Branford’s carefully crafted word-images creates a pleasing sense of homeliness, warmth and fun. It is hard not to be swept along by the melodious narrative all the way to the delightful twist at the end. Primary aged readers will find the story full of allure but it’s the luscious illustrations that will captivate the very young (and 50 somethings as it turns outs).Linda Catchlove

Linda Catchlove has created a collection of water-coloured mini-masterpieces, each oozing with soft dreamy detail, reflecting all the charm of the Aussie bush and its characters in much the same way May Gibbs managed to capture their very essence with her pictures and stories.

Lilli-Pill’s Sister is definitely a picture book the whole family can and will enjoy and a cracker of a way to start off the New Year, unless you’re still more into zombies than fairies.

Available here from February 2014.

Walker Books Australia February 2014.

 

 

On My Bedside Table

Bedside read listWant to know who I like to curl up in bed with after a long day behind the flat screen? Curious to know how I spend the midnight hours? Well I can reveal that at least three of those listed below are amongst the many who keep me occupied into the wee hours of the night. But enough about the books weighing down my bedside table.

As a solution to my incurable curiosity about what  makes a good read and what is good to read, I will be featuring who and what some of Australia’s most popular authors and illustrators like to go to sleep with, or bathe with or dine with…you get the picture.

And so to kick off our inaugural On My Bedside Table post we begin with a clutch of very clever children’s authors and illustrators. Look carefully and you may just pick up an idea or two for your own reading list. Enjoy!

Susanne Gervay ~ Children’s and YA award winning author and patron, director and co-ordinator of numerous societies associated with Kids’ Lit.

Conspiracy 365 (series) by Gabrielle Lord

Hey Baby! Corinne Fenton (picture book)

Trust Me Too edited by Paul Collins (anthology of stories)

Jandamarra by Mark Greenwood illustrated by Terry Denton

Lighthorse Boy by Dianne Wolfer illustrated by Brian Simmonds

Ten Tiny Things by Meg mcKinlay illustrated by Kyle Hughes-Odgers

Gracie and Josh• I have a pile of picture books and illustrated stories at the moment. Maybe because I’m into picture books – of course there’s my Gracie and Josh illustrated by Serena Geddes there too.

Anil Tortop ~ Illustrator, designer and sometimes animator

• The second book of A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket (via Kindle)

• SCBWI bulletin

• Nonstop Nonsense by Margaret Mahy

• Downloaded picture books (on my iPad to have a look at very often. But I don’t read all of them. Just look at the pictures…)

Maggot MoonMichael Gerard Bauer ~ Children and YA multi CBCA award winning author

Just last night I finished reading Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner. A powerful, moving book that I really liked. It’s set in what appears to be England but the country is under a vicious totalitarian rule as if it had lost WW2. The story centres around a young boy called Standish Treadwell and the horror of his life, and eventually his attempt to expose a fake moon landing which is about to be broadcast by the government as an example of their power.

I’m also at present re-reading Barry Heard’s book Well Done Those Men about his Vietnam experience and the terrible effect it had on his life. A great read and soon to be a movie.

Anna Branford ~ Writer for children, maker of things and bath tub reader

There is a funny selection on my bedside table just now! Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows is there because I’ve been recovering from a cold and it is always my best companion when I’m not feeling well.

The AntidoteOn top of that is a book by the hilarious and wise Oliver Burkeman called The Antidote, which is a wonderful critique of the practice of positive thinking.

And right at the top of the pile is Sue Whiting’s new book, Portraits of Celina, which is spooky and beautiful all in the same moment.

On my Bedside table Anna BranfordFeeling inspired yet? I am. Time to grab whatever is on the top of your pile and curl up together.

 

 

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Anna Branford

1. Which genre of children’s books do you like most and why?

I’m not sure if it quite counts as a genre, but I love children’s books that work with ideas you can wonder about all your life because of a sense that, without recourse to any clunky symbolism or a deliberately placed moral, something important has been said. One book that comes to mind straight away is Jenny Wagner’s John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat and another is Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman. Both are books I had as a child and still have in my collection now and I expect I will still be mulling them over when I’m an old lady.

2. Which books did you love to read as a young child?

When I was very young, my favourite books were Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Margaret Mahy’s A Lion in the Meadow and The Nuns Go West, by Jonathan Routh.

My family moved a lot when I was a child and there was another book I lost and never found another copy of, called Ellen Climbs a Mountain. I don’t even know who wrote it and I always hope someone might be able to tell me!

3. Which three attributes make for a great children’s book?

One of my favourite attributes of children’s literature is its capacity to show people how to enjoy things that might otherwise have seemed ordinary. It was Beverley Cleary’s Ramona Quimby who taught me that there was a special pleasure in having new flannelette pajamas and in being the first person to use a fresh tube of toothpaste and it could have been any one of Enid Blyton’s boarding school girls who introduced me to the fine practice of midnight feasting.

I also like the way children’s books can sometimes, without being preachy or moralistic, help readers of any age to understand certain sorts of kindness that are probably too complicated to explain directly.

In C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I love the way Lucy intuits that Mr Beaver is shyly proud of his dam and that her praise would mean a great deal to him.

In Kenneth Graham’s The Wind in the Willows, I like the way Rat comes to understand that Mole is being a pest only because he is terribly homesick and that compassion would be a much better response than impatience.

Finally, although it’s not right for every book, I think funny illustrations have a very important place in children’s stories. I can never read Roald Dahl’s Matilda without an indelicate snort at Quentin Blake’s first portrait of ‘the Trunchbull’.

The other day I was book shopping and had the same reaction to the dogs’ faces in Say Hello to Zorro, written and illustrated by Carter Goodrich. Hilarious.

4. What is your number one tip for encouraging children to read?

In my opinion, lots of choice and not too much policing. The real joy of reading doesn’t properly begin until that amazing moment when you find that floating your eyes over a string of words can actually change the pictures you’re seeing in your mind. But you have to be a pretty accomplished reader to get to that point.

Once you’ve found that near-magical reading capacity, you can use it to explore all kinds of books, but I think children often get there via books that look a bit rubbishy to adults. So I think it’s important to be very tolerant of glitter, kittens, silly humour and anthropomorphic diggers and dinosaurs, and not risk dampening a delicate spark of interest by proffering Watership Down and David Copperfield (excellent though those books may be) too early.

5. Name three books you wish you’d written.

Ooh, what a good question! Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce and Betsy Byars’ The Eighteenth Emergency.

About Anna

Anna Branford is a doll-maker, a sociologist, a collector of small things and the author of the Violet Mackerel books.

www.annabranford.com

REVIEW – VIOLET MACKEREL’S BRILLIANT PLOT

VIOLET MACKEREL  thinks she would QUITE LIKE to own the blue china bird at the Saturday markets.

This is not just a SILLY WISH.

It is instead the start of a VERY IMPORTANT idea.

But what she needs is a PLOT.

A BRILLIANT plot.

I wasn’t surprised to see Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot win an honour book at this year’s CBCA awards.

Written by Anna Branford and illustrated by Sarah Davis, this book is one that I can see kids keeping on their bookshelves and handing down to future generations. (Yes I have faith that print books will be around for many years to come).

Violet Mackerel, the central character has a small goal, to own a small china blue bird she has seen at the market where her mother has a knitting stall on a Saturday morning.

But this blue bird is special and it’s going to take a brilliant plot to make it hers.

Violet believes that collecting small things can lead to something big, even brilliant. In fact she has a Theory of finding small things and hopes that this will help her get her blue china bird.

Anna Branford really gets inside the head of a small child in this endearing story. I remember being Violet’s age and wanting a horse. There was one I particularly liked and I used to plan and dream about how I could get it to follow me home.

I think that every small child had goals and dreams that even their parents don’t know about and this is depicted so authentically in Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot.

Violet is very endearing in that she is fiesty, determined, but honest in her goals and how she goes about achieving them. And just as small children do, she becomes totally distracted by another project and forgets about her original goal.

In the end it’s through her kind nature and generosity of spirit that Violet gets what she wants in the story.

Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot is a sensitively told tale that kids will enjoy reading or having read to them.

Sarah Davis’s beautiful black and white illustrations bring Violet’s story to life, showing her character and the emotions and turmoil she is going through. They are lively and sensitive illustrations with a touch of humour and bring the reality of Violet’s emotions closer to the reader.

There are even instructions at the end of the book showing the reader how to make their very own Box of Small Things.

Check out Violet’s website, violetmackerel.com.au to find out more about her adventures.

Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot is published by Walker Books.

 

ANNA BRANFORD HAS A BRILLIANT PLOT

Today I’m pleased to welcome Anna Branford to Kids’ Book Capers. Anna is the author of the highly acclaimed, Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot. This beautiful book, written by Anna and illustrated by Sarah Davis was an Honour Book in this year’s CBCA awards.

How did you become a writer?

I suppose I’ve always been writing something or other ever since I first learned to write, but I started writing children’s stories right after I finished my Ph.D thesis. Maybe doing all that disciplined, analytical writing made me crave the opportunity to write something more creative and colourful. Also, as part of my Ph.D research I read lots and lots of children’s books, so my mind was brimming with stories and ideas.

What do you enjoy most about being a writer?

One of the most exciting parts is seeing the illustrations. There is something really magical about dreaming up characters and places in the privacy of your own imagination and then getting to see what they look in the imagination of another person – especially if that other person is someone like Sarah Davis, who is already a bit magical to begin with, I think.

What is the hardest thing about being a writer?

For me the hardest thing about being a writer is trying to be other things at the same time. As well as being a writer I am also a full-time lecturer at a university. So sometimes I’m right with Violet, figuring out one of her theories, and then the phone rings and I need to snap out of her world and into the world my students are in, of tricky questions and lost essays. At other times I’m in the middle of explaining a complex idea in a lecture and suddenly a good idea pops into my head for a story I’m working on. I love both of my jobs, but I don’t always love trying to do them at the same time.

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

For two very long weeks I was a truly dreadful waitress. Then for a little while I worked in an aged care facility, mainly delivering people’s lunches and making them cups of tea and cleaning, which I was a bit better at. Then for many years I worked in crèches and childcare centres and as a nanny, which I loved. And for the last few years, as well as my university job, I have been a maker of dolls and other things.

What is your greatest writing achievement?

Well, it was very, very exciting to be nominated in the CBCA awards and even better to find out that Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot was an honour book. But I have also had two kind messages from people saying that the book was the first story their child read independently and that they had made it all the way through and enjoyed it. I vividly remember the satisfaction of the first book I read independently and I am very honoured that someone experienced something similar with Violet. I think that might be the achievement I’m most excited about so far.

What are you working on at the moment?

I have a few different projects I’m working on. One is a fairy book, which is a brand new genre for me, and another is a new installment in the Violet Mackerel series.

Do you have any tips for new writers?

Yes –read, read, read absolutely everything in the genre you’re working in. I think its good to read a balance of your own childhood favourites but also brand new books, to keep you in touch both with what you love in a story but also what others are loving.

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

I didn’t notice while I was writing them, but I think in retrospect that all my main characters share quite an important characteristic. They’re all people who think very hard and very resourcefully about the problems they need to solve and are brave enough to put their plans into action. Those sorts of people (whether child or adult) are my own favourite sort, so I suppose it’s natural enough that they should find their way into my books!

How many books have you had published?

So far I’ve had four books published – Sophie’s Salon, Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot, Violet Mackerel’s Remarkable Recovery and Neville No-Phone. The next book in the Violet Mackerel series, Violet Mackerel’s Natural Habitat, will be out in October.

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

Perhaps just that I have a blog of my own at http://annabranford.com which, in addition to all sorts of random thoughts and ideas and updates, has a few detailed posts on how I came to have my stories published that I hope other new writers might find helpful.

VIOLET MACKEREL’S BRILLIANT PLOT

What inspired you to write Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot?

I first had the idea of the Mackerel family when I was at an early morning market selling dolls I make. It’s quite a special market just beside the Yarra Ranges in Victoria called St Andrews, and it feels particularly magical there very early in the morning when it’s still dark and everyone is unpacking and setting up. Some families who work there have children with them who I got to meet and chat to a little bit. They were lovely and they gave me all the ideas I needed for the characters in the book.

What’s it about?

The book is about a girl called Violet whose family works at a morning market. She has spotted something there that she really wants. It’s a blue china bird, just the right size to fit in the palm of her hand. But it costs ten dollars and she doesn’t have any money, so she goes about devising a plot.

What age groups is it for?

I wrote it with seven-year-olds I knew in mind, but it could certainly be read aloud to smaller children and I’ve been lucky enough to have lovely emails from adults who enjoyed it too.

Why will kids like it?

I think children will like it because Violet is the sort of character who helps you to think differently about things, because she has an interesting sort of family who are fun to meet, because her plot takes all kinds of unexpected twists and turns and because Sarah’s illustrations are so utterly exquisite.

Can you tell me about the main character and what you like/dislike about him/her?

I don’t think there is anything I dislike about Violet! She is exactly my favourite sort of person – a deep thinker, a noticer of small things, someone who acts bravely even when she is nervous or disappointed and someone who has excellent ideas.

Is there something that sets this book apart from others?

In some ways I hope not. I would love it to slip in among the sorts of books I read as a child and carry children some of the way along the same journey I was lucky enough to travel. But I do think the Mackerels are quite a unique family and that Violet in particular has an unusual and special way of viewing the world. So I hope perhaps the book might offer something new in that respect.

What did you enjoy most about writing Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot?

I especially enjoyed sharing it with my Granny who lives in England and is nearly a hundred years old. Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot is dedicated to her. Sending her new drafts as I wrote them, then copies of new illustrations as Sarah drew them, then a copy I bound together myself and finally the real thing – perhaps that was the best part of all.

What was the hardest thing about writing Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot?

I think it was just that I kept having to stop – to go to work, to feed the cat, to make the dinner, to answer the phone. There was nothing hard about the project itself. I loved every part of it.