We’re thrilled to welcome Elle McNicoll into #TheRealm today to talk about A Kind of Spark!
Firstly, congratulations on A Kind of Spark winning Blackwell’s Book of the Year Award! How does it feel?
Oh, my goodness, it feels amazing. I mean, it really does because it won the Overall Book of the Year. Winning Children’s Book of the Year was a complete honour, but I never thought for one second Spark would then go on to win overall. Children’s authors and their books are maligned sometimes by the wider community. They’re considered less than, despite the fact that books for children are incredibly hard to write well. And many gifted writers are not able to do it. So, it was such a vindication and it felt like a win for the whole children’s book community.
Without giving too much away, can you tell us about A Kind of Spark?
A Kind of Spark is about 11 year-old Addie who lives in a small Scottish village. One day, she learns that her village were responsible for many witch trials. Although it’s been centuries since then, Addie campaigns for a memorial to remember the atrocities. She also loses friends, makes new ones and goes on a massive journey of self-discover.
Addie is such an engaging narrator – did it take you long to find her voice? Is she based on anyone you know?
She’s not based on anyone I know. She sort of walked into the story, fully-formed and ready to fight for her cause. Her neurodivergent lens and experience is very like my own, but she is an original character.
As a teacher, and having been bullied myself at school, I found some of the classroom scenes involving Miss Murphy really difficult to read. Were these parts of the story painful to write?
They were. But most of them happened to me when I was in primary school. So, I was determined to get them in there. Those feelings are easy to access and weave into a story because they have never gone away.
I think the character that perhaps changes the most in the story is Nina. I loved seeing her character develop! Can you tell us a bit more about Nina and her role in the narrative?
Nina is the odd one out within the three sisters. She’s privileged in the outside world, however, as she is neurotypical. Addie and Keedie, Nina’s twin, are not. Nina has to learn to fully understand what it is that they go through every day, and the challenges other people present for them. She learns empathy from Addie and yes, certainly changes a lot. Her role is almost one of an antagonist, as she creates tension between the sisters.
Addie’s love of the library is really clear throughout and I wondered if you had fond memories of visiting the library as a child and, if so, what they were?
Around the age of nine, I found it really difficult to make friends at my new school. The playground and lunchroom both felt like the wild west. So, I would go to the school’s wonderful library. It was always empty, no librarian. So I would just help myself. I spent months there, by myself. I loved the Eyewitness books and Victor Hugo.
I was trying to put my finger on what makes this story such a propulsive and page-turning read – maybe the connection we feel with Addie or the clear, direct writing? Do you have any ideas? How did you ensure the book has such a page-turning quality to it?
I cut out the boring bits mostly. And try to keep the action moving. We’re in Addie’s head and, as a neurodivergent person, our brains are often fastmoving, even if our speech or movement is not. So, the narrative flows in a way that recreates that.
In the book it says, ‘Good booksellers, like good teachers, are saviours.’ What would you like to say to all the great booksellers and teachers out there at the moment?
Just that there is no way, pandemic or not, this book could have succeeded without them. They have saved my life this year.
I know that your new book is out soon. How is it similar to A Kind of Spark? How is it different?
“Show Us Who You Are” has two neurodivergent characters in it, as well as strong themes of good vs evil. Other than that, it’s very different. It’s far more adventurous and it’s set in the near future, with a mysterious company called Pomegranate who are making holograms with artificial intelligence. It’s out on the 4th of March, World Book Day, and I really hope people like it.
Finally, can you describe A Kind of Spark in three works?
Neurodivergent and proud.