I’m over-the-moon to be writing this blog today and introducing you to the wonderful children’s author Lucy Strange. Lucy and I first met when we did our first ever event together back in 2016 to celebrate the release of her debut & bestselling book The Secret of Nightingale Wood . For me it was the first time I had organised and run an event at the bookshop I work in, and likewise for Lucy, it was her first event as a fully-fledged author. So together balanced with both nerves and excitement we conquered our first bookshop signing together and spent the afternoon meeting young bookworms and having lots of bookish chats!
Since then, it’s needless to say, that Lucy has become not only one of my own favourite children’s authors but has become a staple on the bookshelves of booksellers, children, teachers and readers up and down the country (and even across seas too!), and has bought the love of reading to countless children, some of which I’ve been happy to see first hand. You only have to see how captivated children are at any of her events to tell the magic of her storytelling and the love that her books bring to readers imaginations.
Whether she’s dealing with mysteries of family secrets, inequality, grief or adversity, Lucy always brings to life a story that encompasses you when reading it and she takes you back to a time so effortlessly that it feels as though you are there with the characters themselves. Her protagonists are realistic, flawed at times and hugely courageous even when the odds are against them. From Henry’s experiences of family, grief and mystery after the First World War in The Secret of Nightingale Wood, to Petra’s life on the coast of Dover throughout the Second World War where her family discover that the fight for resistance isn’t just solely fought over seas in Our Castle by the Sea to Aggies trials and struggles in The Ghost of Gosswater where she has to face challenging hurdles after the death of her aristocratic father leaves her questioning the very foundations of her life and who she is. Lucy’s characters and stories are full of atmosphere and often shines a light on lesser known topics which makes her books as unique as they are captivating. They are a perfect example of children’s books that can be enjoyed by readers of any age!
So without further ado please meet the lovely Lucy herself and find out about her latest book The Ghost of Gosswater, her inspiration behind her stories and what literary author she’d most like to have tea with!
The Ghost of Gosswater is as wonderfully atmospheric read, especially for this time of year. What inspired you to write Aggie’s story?
The Ghost of Gosswater was originally inspired by the landscape of the Lake District. I went here on holiday with my family as a child, and recently returned with my partner to rediscover its breath-taking beauty – vast, shimmering lakes surrounded by rugged, towering fells. The rain, the snow, the bitter winds and the isolated locations create the perfect backdrop for a gothic adventure!
The book is set during the turn of the century. What research did you have to do for it?
The time period is important and I had to check quite a few things – particularly to do with aristocratic heritage and traditions, inheritance and legal matters to do with birth, death and adoption around the end of the 19th Century. Generally speaking though, my other books – Our Castle by the Sea in particular – have needed a lot more research as real historical events were a bigger part of the story.
I loved how much of a part nature played subtly throughout Aggie’s story from the descriptions of the Fells to momentary acknowledgments of flowers, frost, wildlife and birdsong – it all together transported me to the Lake District. Was there anything in particular that made you choose the Lake District as the setting of Aggie’s story?
Nature is always a significant presence in my stories – adding beauty, life and often symbolism too (such as the hunted fox or the grim portent of the raven…). The Lake District setting is vital – a big dramatic story needs a big dramatic setting! Gosswater itself is a fictional place, loosely based on Ullswater (about ten miles away from the town of Penrith). I like to play with the etymology of names in my stories, and “Gosswater” has a deliberate double-meaning . . . Is it named after the geese which graze its banks, or the haunted cemetery island: goose-water, or ghost-water?
Agatha’s struggle to find out who she is, is pivotal to the story and as the reader you really do root for her on her journey. What was your inspiration for her character?
I think the key to Aggie’s character is her fierceness, and her determination to get to the bottom of the mystery. She is a flawed character – swayed by the beauty of material things, caught up her desperate need for vengeance – but she is vulnerable: she doesn’t know how much she needs friendship and a family as she has never really had these things before… She was one of those characters who just appears in the story fully formed and ready to go. I’m very fond of her!
I read your brilliant debut The Secret of Nightingale Wood whilst on holiday on the coast of Devon, in an creaky old, historical house with the sea on one side and woodland and countryside on the other. It was an absolutely perfect setting to read Henry’s tale in. Have you ever experienced reading a book in the perfect location?
Yes – and I agree – it’s magical when it happens! I read Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights on an aeroplane flying from the UK to the US. It was night time and the plane was quiet as we flew over the southern tip of Greenland. I was reading the epic battle of the polar bears… I had a window seat and the moonlight lit the clouds from above, so they looked like a great land of snowy rocks and mountains. It was unforgettable.
History plays a big part in your books, from Aggie’s story set at the turn of the century, to Henry’s life after the First World War to Pet’s experience through the Second World War. I love reading about different time periods as it gives me glimpses into how life was many moons ago. If you could time-travel to the past, what era would you want to visit?
Oh – that’s a tricky one… Could I attend a Regency ball please? – But only if I could be wealthy enough to enjoy it all! And I’d love to attend a Shakespeare play at the Globe Theatre back in the early 1600s. I think I’d have loved the 1920s too…. TOO HARD to choose, Jaynie!
Your tales always have a little bit of folklore magic threaded throughout them which I love. Has folklore and myths always intrigued you?
Absolutely. I think we have such a wealth of folk lore in this country – it can be fantastic inspiration for authors. In The Ghost of Gosswater I make use of an ancient bit of folk lore – the idea that there are times in the year when the veil between the living and the dead is much thinner, so that spirits might seep or creep through . . .
I love the fact that throughout your stories, you always find a way of talking about important and sometimes under-represented topics such as the female experience of mental health in years gone by, the treatment of minority classes in society and the challenges faced as a youngster in the face of adversity. What inspires you to write about these sort of topics and how important is it to you to include them in your books?
I think all really good stories have big ideas at their heart – ideas that will always feel relevant and important regardless of the period and setting of the story. I often find myself exploring situations in which characters feel powerless. The injustice Aggie suffers at the hands of wicked cousin Clarence is a crucial part of the story – and it fuels the anger that drives her throughout her strange and frightening adventure.
What inspired you to become a children’s author?
I’ve always loved stories – but it didn’t really occur to me for a loooooong time that being a writer could actually be a proper job! I trained as an actor, and then an English teacher – both jobs I loved. And the experiences from both these careers directly feed into my work as an author. I think stories are so important. To quote one of my own characters, ‘Stories are the spaces in which we learn and feel and dream.’ I take my job as a children’s author very seriously indeed.
What was the book in your childhood that sparked your imagination and love for reading?
Impossible to pick just one – I think a writer’s brain is shaped and trained by EVERYTHING they read – the good and the bad! I often find myself coming back to The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett – the unlikeable (at first!) protagonist, the mystery, the humanity of it. It’s such a perfect book and there was a time when I virtually knew it off by heart!
I’ve spoken to lots of customers in the bookshop who have said they’ve rekindled their love for reading over this year’s lockdowns and restrictions. What 3 books would you recommend for escaping into during these funny old times that we’re in?
ESCAPE is the key, isn’t it! I can’t understand anyone wanting to read pandemic thrillers at a time like this… I’ve indulged in stories that I know will whisk me away somewhere else. Last summer I read The Exiles by Hilary McKay which is gorgeous and funny and such a beautifully written story of siblings. I can highly recommend the Regency romances of Georgette Heyer for pure escapism – beautiful, funny, cleverly written – just joyous. And I’m currently reading A Snowfall of Silver by Laura Wood. If you haven’t read this and her other gorgeous, brilliantly written YA romances I can wholeheartedly recommend them!
If you could have a tea party with any characters or authors throughout time, who would you invite?
Agatha Christie – without a doubt. I’d love to talk to her about anything and everything – not just plotting a good twisty-turny mystery!
What would you say is the best part of being a children’s author?
When you hear from readers that your stories have made a difference to them. Sometimes, it’s turning a reluctant reader into a bookworm, sometimes it’s to do with the themes and situations in your stories that have really touched or affected them. It’s always an incredible feeling to know that the words you write really matter to someone.
If you could spend a day with any one of your characters, who would you spend it with and how?
Definitely Aggie in The Ghost of Gosswater! Perhaps we could take a boat out onto the lake, and sail to Skelter Island together . . .
I’d like to thank Lucy very much for taking the time to answer my rambling questions and I hope that you enjoyed meeting her yourself! If you’d like to read my book blog all about The Ghost of Gosswater click here (I’ve tried to avoid spoilers so it should be safe to read if you’ve not read it yet)! And if you would like to find out more about her paper and ink worlds you can visit www.lucystrange.org or find her over on Instagram, Twitter & Facebook.
Take care everyone and thank you for reading this weeks blog. Stay well and as ever – happy reading!
For more bookish talks, recommendations and photographs you can find me over on Instagram @viewsfromabookshop