It’s lovely to welcome children’s author Jackie Marchant into The Reading Realm today to talk to Ian Eagleton about her Dougal Daley series and her next book!
I wondered if we could start with you telling us about your latest book in your series, Dougal Daley: I’m Phenomenal?
It all starts with a letter home to Dougal’s parents – one he hasn’t managed to bypass or feed to the dog. As a result, he is forced against his will to complete a school project, or be grounded forever – a perfectly normal state of affairs in Dougal’s troubled life. But he does such a good job of his project, which was to design a website, that he thinks he can make himself rich, so he’ll never have to clean Dad’s car again. But, instead of heaps of money, his website causes heaps of trouble.
Dougal is such a mischievous, funny character? Who inspired Dougal Daley?
He was inspired by my son, who asked me a question about writing a will. Days later, I found myself knee-deep in the mess of his bedroom and the following words popped into my head – To my mother I leave all the mess in my bedroom, so she can put it into a black bin liner and throw it out of the window. Those words are now on page 10 of the first book of the series, Dougal Daley – It’s NOT my Fault!
I spent some time in my son’s messy bedroom, thinking about what possessions a boy would leave to whom, and why. It wasn’t long before the character of Dougal, his family and friends (and the home-work eating dog) were bouncing off the page. Then all I needed was a plot . . .
Did it take a long time to find Dougal’s voice and capture his personality in your writing? How did you go about doing this?
Dougal arrived pretty much fully formed – and the rest of his family and friends soon followed. I always start with character in my writing, but Dougal has been really easy, and huge fun, to work with. And yes, to me he is absolutely real.
Can you remember how you felt when you saw Loretta Schauer’s illustrations for the first time?
We had a meeting with our publisher, Louise Jordan of Wacky Bee books, during which Loretta showed me a whole page of possible Dougals. It was very exciting to see him on the page and I also found several of his friends there too. Loretta is great to work with and I love seeing her version of my characters – she’s always spot on.
I know you also write stories for young adults. What are the challenges of writing for this aged audience? Do you enjoy it?
I’ve been writing a YA Fantasy set in space (I prefer to call it that, as there is not a lot of science in the fiction) and hugely enjoying it. It’s very different from my mid-grade writing, which means I can, if necessary, work on both at the same time. I do enjoy it, especially the world-building, when I can switch off from real-life and go live on a space station way out there.
You’ve actually visited a school that I worked in and it was wonderful! Have you been missing school visits during lockdown? Have you been able to connect with readers in other ways?
I remember that visit – it was to raise funds for Grenfell. I was hugely impressed by your passion for reading for pleasure, and loved visiting the reading corners which were in every classroom. In fact, I was so impressed, I put the school forward for a Reading for Pleasure Award from the Society of Authors.
Many authors, myself included, have had visits cancelled due to lockdown. But we are now offering virtual visits, which I think will be the new norm. Instead of book signings, I offer to send personally signed and dedicated books to schools.
Can you give us any clues about what’s in store next for Dougal Daley?
Dougal is having a little rest at the moment, while more trouble is brewing for him. In the meantime, I’ve been writing a new series about a girl called Tom. The first, in which she tries to sell her grandmother on an online auction site, is out this Autumn.
Finally, can you describe the Dougal Daley series in three words?
They’re great fun!