THE LIBRARY MOUSE: An interview with Frances Tosdevin

THE LIBRARY MOUSE: An interview with Frances Tosdevin

Today one of my FAVOURITE picture book authors, Frances Tosdevin, joins me to chat about her beautiful new book THE LIBRARY MOUSE, which is lovingly illustrated by Sophia O’Connor!

Before we settle down in The Reading Realm and talk about your new book, what’s your drink and snack of choice?

Ooh, a most important question! It has to be chocolate digestives (just two, mind, although I could easily eat half a packet) and a cup of tea…if we’re being fancy, then I’ll have loose leaf Keemun tea made in a pot, please!

Buy here!

Without giving too much away, what can you tell us about The Library Mouse, illustrated by Sophia O’Connor?

It’s the story of Quill, a mouse who lives — unseen by humans—  in a library. Quill loves storytime, and longs to write his own story to share with the children. However, he finds that getting his book seen or heard, is a lot more difficult than he’d realised. He’s not alone, though— his bestie is a jitterbugging spider called Leggsy, who cheers him on when things go from bad to absolutely terrible.

How is The Library Mouse similar to The Bear and Her Book? How is it different?

Great question! Well, it’s similar in that the main characters are once again animals — well, technically, Leggsy is an arachnid — but you know what I mean! But there are also some human characters in The Library Mouse, whereas in The Bear and Her Book, there is really only one human, the bookshop owner, and she’s only there fleetingly.

Like the Bear and her Book, it’s also a rhyming story, although the metre is not the same. But one key point of similarity is that I’ve also included a repeated refrain—  I rather like these!

There are two lovely, inspiring characters in the story: Quill and Leggsy. Can you tell us a bit about them? Who are you most like?

Ah, thank you, I’m so pleased you like them! I am very attached to them both, to the point that they now feel actually real to me! Plus, I’m lucky to have little plush ‘cuddly’ toys of them, made by my talented critique partner, Dawn Treacher! Of the pair, Quill is the impetuous one, who gets a heartfelt idea and then sets out to pursue it at once. He is hyper-focused, first on actually writing his book — he basically stays in his mouse hole until it’s finished— and then in trying to share it with the world. Leggsy is his sidekick, who is there to encourage him and generally just be there for him. I think I embody both— I have Quill’s determined character when it comes to writing, but also I like to support and encourage other writers, so I guess I’m also a bit Leggsy-ish!

Quill is desperate to share his stories with someone. Do you think this is an important part of writing?

Can I hedge my bets and say yes… and also, no?! I can’t speak for other writers, but for me, it’s the actual writing process that is important, not always whether a story will ever become an actual, published book, or be shared. But then again, if I thought nothing I wrote would ever get seen, would I continue to write? Yes, I think I would… but I do agree with Quill that the icing on the cake is both to write something— and have the joy of seeing it shared (and hopefully enjoyed)!

Who shared stories with you when you were a child? Do you have any special childhood memories of reading?

It was my mother, without a doubt. We always had bedtime stories every night. She also made up wonderful stories and told them to us … Come to think of it, one of the earliest was about a mouse —  so I’m sure she would have approved of Quill! I also recall reading a lot when I was off school, sick with something. One memory is of being off school, sick, but not so sick that I couldn’t snuggle in bed and read, and of my mother buying me “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” by Jules Verne. It had that lovely new-book smell, and though the print was terribly small, I adored demolishing it.

As an author, I definitely related to the lines:

Quill flopped down, defeated, and jumped on his pen.

“I’m fed up! I’m finished! I won’t write again…”

What advice would you give to other authors who might feel like this?

Haha, yes! I think lots of my writer friends will relate to Quill’s feelings of frustration and despair! My advice to other authors of all ages—  from aged three to one hundred and three—  is don’t give up! It’s fine to feel annoyed, frustrated and let’s face it, sometimes very sad when things don’t go the way you’d hoped. But pick yourself up, stick your pen back together, and try again. And always be prepared to write something new; something better. It might just be the one that gets noticed…

The illustrations by Sophia O’Connor are so lively and quirky! Do you have a favourite illustration?

It’s SO hard to choose a favourite image… I LOVE them ALL! But this one is so poignant, as it’s when Quill realises the cleaner has thrown his story in the bin, and he tries— and fails— to find a big enough voice to protest. But instead, his voice disappears, and all hope of being an author drains away. I really feel Quill’s pain when I see this image! Sophia has nailed SO many emotions in her illustrations for this book, it’s practically an exercise in reading emotions and developing empathy!

When I taught, I often talked to my class about writing for pleasure and enjoying writing. However, your story also explores how difficult the writing process can be – why did you want to include this? What do you hope children will learn about the writing process from your story?

Well, I didn’t want Quill to have an easy ride, because given that his aim was to write a story and get it seen, my job as an author was to make that as difficult for him as I possibly could (sorry, Quill— friends still?!). I knew from personal experience that writing is an uphill struggle; that most of my circle of writer friends have had to strive like mad to get their stories heard. So Quill needed to do the same. It’s also a great life-lesson to learn that things don’t always come easily; that goals take effort to achieve. I wish I’d had Quill and Leggsy as my friends 20-plus years ago, though, when I tried—  and failed—  three times to get a middle grade book I’d written seen… I gave up after only three agent rejections, and had a VERY long break from writing. Big regret… think of all the wasted time that I could have been writing… and trying… or writing something new; something better…!

Do you have any ideas about what Quill and Leggsy might be up to now?

Quill is enjoying being recognised in his library, and although he denies it, I think he likes it when children point to him and say, “Look, there’s the author mouse!” But by night, he is in his mouse hole, hard at work on his next book… I have no idea what it’s about, as he hasn’t let me see it. He’s a bit secretive when he’s creating! I’ll have to get Leggsy to take a peek and spill the beans… As for Leggsy, she’s anywhere and everywhere… watch out, she might just jitterbug out somewhere in your house!

Finally, can you describe The Library Mouse in three words?

Creativity, struggle, perseverance.

Frances’s next book GRANDAD’S STAR (illustrated by Rhian Stone) is available to order now!

Buy here!

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