October is one of my favorite months. Candy apples. Gorgeous fall leaves. Halloween. And, my favorite, spooky middle grade stories! So I was thrilled to chat with Tania Unsworth, author of the frighteningly beautiful new middle-grade story Brightwood. Leave a comment below for a chance to win your own copy!
JA: Unlike Daisy, the heroine in Brightwood who has never set foot outside the grounds of the mysterious mansion where she lives, you moved around quite a bit during your childhood. How did that impact the stories you tell?
TU: I was born in the UK but spent most of the time up till the age of seven living in Greece and Turkey where my dad – the novelist Barry Unsworth – taught English and wrote. That was an amazing early childhood to have – full of wonder and novelty – and it gave me my love of travel, of setting out on journeys into unknown places…But it also made me crave safety and stability. As a writer I’m drawn to stories about this conflict; the comforting certainty of home versus the need to go out into the world. I like writing for middle grade because it’s around that time that most of us start to feel this conflict. In Brightwood, my heroine Daisy is just at the beginning of the end of childhood. Change is coming. It’s a frightening, sorrowful – and completely thrilling – time of life!
JA: Describe Daisy in three words:
TU: Secret, powerful, kind.
JA: A lot of authors whose first books find great success suffer from what they call “second book syndrome.” How was writing your second middle-grade story? How was it different than writing The One Safe Place?
TU: I’ve written several books, two for adults, two for middle grade and three (by my last count) that never made it to the publishers at all! So you’d think I’d know how to do it by now. But while some things get easier – experience really helps with some of the technical aspects – each book has different challenges and demands. I think I can truthfully say that I never know how to write a particular book until I’ve got to the end of it. Sometimes I think of it as trying to walk across a bridge while building it at the same time…You have to rely a lot on faith – in your story and in yourself. And if you’re under pressure to follow up a good book with another that’s equally good or better, it can really get in the way of doing that.
JA: I’m too chicken to read scary stories for YA or Adult audiences, but I love a good middle grade spooky story. What made you want to write scary stories for children?
TU: I think children love scary stories. I certainly did. When I was very small, there were some books that made me run away just at the sight of them. But I always crept back, unable to resist the dreaded words or scary illustration. Books are a safe way for kids to explore all kinds of fascinating emotions – including fear.
JA: What’s your favorite ghost story for children?
I love the classics. The Monkey’s Paw by W.W Jacobs was written over a hundred years ago, and the style is slower – and perhaps a little less accessible – than children are used to these days. But it’s still an outstandingly spooky story. Be careful what you wish for!
JA: You’re currently on tour as part of Algonquin’s #iLoveMG Author Tour. What’s your favorite part of being on the road and talking about your books?
TU: That’s easy. Meeting readers!
JA: What are you working on next?
TU: I’m writing a story about a girl who thinks she’s a mermaid, although it’s more thriller than fairy tale. Dark, with plenty of twists!
I have a ten-year-old in my household who loves all things dark and mermaid, so we’ll be waiting to see that new one. In the meantime, we’re wrestling over Brightwood. Thank you Tania!
Readers, leave a comment below for a chance to win your own copy of Brightwood.