This week I was delighted to take part in Catherine Millar’s brilliant Lockdown Children’s Litfest. You can listen to her live-streamed interview with me above – be warned, it’s a rather long one, but I really enjoyed Catherine’s thoughtful questions and taking part in such a wide-ranging chat.
Do check out the Facebook page for lots more intereviews with children’s authors and illustrators, and look out for more interviews coming each week.
This week, I was delighted to be one of the children’s authors taking part in Waterstones #GoldenTime. Visit the @Waterstones Twitter account for videos with different children’s writers or illustrators each day. Here I am reading from Peril inParis .
Check out this new video as part of Egmont’s #14Stories14Days initiative – a short reading from Spies in St Petersburg. Follow @EgmontUK on Twitter or check out the 14 Stories 14 Days website for lots more book-related content, activities and resources
I wrote the original version of this post when The Jewelled Moth was first published, for the fab YA Yeah Yeah’s ‘Classics’ series. Since a few people have asked recently about the relationship between The Jewelled Moth and The Moonstone, I thought I’d put a few thoughts here too!
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, published in 1868, is often considered to be the first real detective novel written in English. It’s a captivating read – the story of a mysterious (perhaps cursed) diamond stolen from an English country house in strange circumstances. Crime writer Dorothy Sayers called it ‘probably the finest detective story ever written’ and TS Eliot went as far as to say that the detective genre was ‘invented’ by Wilkie Collins. It’s inspired many crime writers including PD James, and it features a lot of the elements that we expect from a classic detective tale – from the English country house setting, to its world-weary detective Sergeant Cuff, to its exciting, twisty plot.
However, whilst it might be a thrilling read, The Moonstone is also very much a product of its times. At the very start of the story, against the backdrop of the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857, a British soldier steals a priceless diamond – the Moonstone – from an Indian temple. A few years later, he leaves the diamond to his niece, Miss Rachel Verinder as a gift for her eighteenth birthday. But as soon as the Moonstone arrives at her country home, Rachel, her family, and their guests all become aware of the threatening presence of a group of Indians on the trail of their long-lost jewel, who (we are told) will stop at nothing to get their sacred diamond back.
Over the course of the story, the diamond is stolen; a famous detective is called in to solve the case and return Miss Verinder’s diamond; and a whole cast of characters find themselves drawn into the mystery. Yet no one ever seems to point out the obvious: that the British soldier was the original thief, and it is in fact the Indians and not Miss Verinder who are the true owners of the Moonstone.
One of the things I love about The Moonstone is that it’s told in a range of different voices – from that of the Verinder’s old and trusted servant, Gabriel Betteredge, to evangelical busybody Miss Clack. However, the Indian characters are never allowed to relate their versions of events: they appear only through the narratives of the white British characters who encounter them. They have no names, they never speak for themselves, and we know little about them – we are only told they are mystical and exotic, as well as potentially sinister and dangerous. Spoiler alert (highlight to read!): although the Indians do eventually reclaim their diamond, and return it home for a contemporary reader, the imperialistic overtones of the story are impossible to miss.
With The Jewelled Moth, I wanted to have a go at writing my own tribute to The Moonstone – putting a different spin on this classic story. But as well as having fun writing about my own mysterious cursed jewel, I wanted to explore what the story might be like if it was told from a different point of view. How would it feel to have your most important and valuable possession stolen from you – and what might happen if you had the opportunity to try and get it back?
That’s exactly the position of Mei Lim in The Jewelled Moth. Mei has grown up in her family grocer’s shop in London’s Edwardian Chinatown, hearing her Chinese grandfather’s old tales of the Moonbeam Diamond – a precious gem that was once the pride of the temple in the village in China where he grew up. The diamond brought the Lim family prosperity and luck, until it was stolen by a visitor to their village – a treacherous British gentleman. Years later, her family believe the diamond is long gone, but when Mei spots a picture of an elegant young society girl wearing it in a London newspaper, she knows she must seize this chance to try and return it to its rightful home.
Even though it’s a very different story, which explores some very different elements of history, I had a lot of fun paying tribute to The Moonstone in The Jewelled Moth. If you’re a fan of classic detective fiction, you might spot one or two of those references and hints (and for those who have asked whether new store manager Mr Betteredge is named after Gabriel Betteredge – he absolutely is!) I’ve joked that the book could be described as ‘The Moonstone for kids’ but as well as being an exciting detective tale that I hope will keep readers turning the pages, it’s also an attempt to tell a different kind of detective story – and to hear from some of the voices that are so often missing from Victorian and Edwardian literature.
Starting a channel is something I’ve been thinking about for a little while. Recently, I made this video for my US publisher Kane Miller to show to their sales consultants, and really enjoyed it – even just filming quickly on my phone, using basic editing software (and my very basic skills!) it was such a fun creative project.
What’s more, whilst obviously I love any excuse to talk about children’s books, at the moment, it seems especially important to be shouting about them. It’s so sad to see the brilliant Guardian Children’s Books site closing its doors; as well as that some great children’s book reviewers have recently been cut from newspapers like the Telegraph. In spite of the fact that children’s books make up a big part of the overall books market, coverage in the mainstream media tends to be relatively limited (which is exactly why we started up Down the Rabbit Hole in the first place) and with these kinds of changes underway, there could be even less space to talk about children’s books in the future. With this in mind, it seems more important than ever to use all the platforms available to make as much noise as we can about children’s books.
Here’s my first attempt at a video – a little introduction, plus a book haul:
It’s been wonderful to see so many lovely responses to my first effort at Youtube already! Thanks so much to everyone who has been kind enough to subscribe, like, share, or leave a comment! I’m looking forward to making some more vlogs soon. Check out my channel and subscribe here.