Today I am beyond excited that it is my stop on the #Blogtour for Scoop McLaren: Detective Editor, the first in a new MG Detective/Mystery series by Australian author Helen Castles. As well as my review of the book, Helen has kindly answered questions about her inspiration and motivation for this wonderful new series. So, without further delay, allow me to introduce Helen to UK readers through a Q and A!
Hi Helen, firstly, can I congratulate you on your debut novel Scoop McLaren: Detective Editor, which I thoroughly enjoyed. What inspired you to write an MG book?
I loved books as a child, the places they took me to and the people I got to meet. As an author, I wanted to write novels for children, to be able to provide that joy for them that I always felt as a child when reading. I had written two books previously (unpublished), one for middle grade and one young adult novel. The YA novel subsequently got turned into a short film. After a few years of working for a newspaper, meeting so many interesting people and telling so many stories, I thought it would be a good idea to write about my life as a journalist. While still wanting to write a children’s novel, I decided to combine the two and Scoop is the result!
I love your main character, the quick-thinking, bold and determined Henley “Scoop” McLaren. Knowing that you are a journalist I wondered how much of Scoop is based on your own childhood?
I am so thrilled you love Scoop! While I wouldn’t say that any part of Scoop is based on my own childhood, I do love and purposely wanted to focus on the relationship between Scoop and her dad. My own father died when I was nine, so it’s kind of like writing about a part of me and my life that I wished I’d had growing up.
The seaside town of Higgity Harbour almost seems to be a character in its own right, is it based on an actual place?
That’s a great compliment, thank you. It’s not based on an actual place but, in my mind, it would be an idyllic place to live. I’ve always been drawn to the seaside and always wanted to live by the ocean. I really wanted Higgity Harbour to come to life for readers, for them to be able to close their eyes and just see the town so clearly with its cherry blossom lined streets and cobblestone pavement. I grew up in a small community so I also wanted to relay the values of such close-knit communities – friendship, looking out for one another, helping each other – in the novel.
Although the story is obviously set in the modern day, with mobile phones, laptops, internet publishing etc, somehow the story gave me a nostalgic vibe – it reminded me of The Famous Five and The Nancy Drew Mysteries that I loved as a child; was this something you intended?
Yes, so thank you again! I tried to add traditional touches to the language and to the story as well; the kids always referring to people as “Mr” and “Mrs”, that sort of thing. I wanted to add an element of wholesomeness from days gone by to the story, while still keeping it modern.
Who would you see as your target readership for Scoop McLaren?
I think Scoop will appeal to both girls and boys from ages nine through to thirteen/fourteen. While some may think of the book as just appealing to girl readers since the two main characters are female, some of the strongest feedback I’ve gotten thus far has been from boys.
I like the tips and tricks for writing at the back of the book, do you hope to inspire a new generation of junior journalists?
Absolutely! I can just picture children in their school holidays interviewing friends and relatives, collecting and researching stories and turning them into their very own newspaper. I really hope my readers will be inspired to consider journalism as a career because it’s such an important job, keeping people informed. But it doesn’t even have to be journalism – I hope the books inspire kids to just write. To tell their own stories.
I am hoping that there will be a long series of Scoop McLaren books; have you finished writing book 2, and how long will we have to wait for publication?
I am in the final stages of editing book 2 at the moment, and I’m so excited about it! I imagine it will be available early 2020.
How long did it take you to develop the character of Scoop McLaren, and was it straightforward to get a publishing deal?
I first mentioned the character of Scoop to a friend of mine who is a librarian and she loved the idea of a girl mystery-solving newspaper editor. I then left it for a while, mainly due to newspaper commitments, but a few months later I thought, “Right. This is it. I’ve wanted to write this book for so long, I’m going to do it!”. Scoop developed over the course of a few weeks. I had scrap bits of paper everywhere with characteristics I wanted for Scoop that would suddenly pop into my head while I was at the supermarket, or out driving. I’d have to stop and get them down. Over the course of that time, I just grew to love this character and I thought her sassiness and her determination would endear her to readers as well.
I pitched the book to a couple of commercial publishers here in Australia and one liked the pitch and requested to read the whole manuscript. I was so pleased about that because it was the first time a book publisher had said, “Hey, we like it, send it over!”. While they did not end up taking it on, the feedback was good and they really encouraged me to keep sending it out which I did and a few months later New Frontier Publishing offered me a contract. I couldn’t be happier to work with a whole bunch of people who love Scoop just as much as I do.
Growing up in Australia, did you mainly read books by Australian authors, or were British and American writers just as accessible and popular? What were your favourite childhood books?
As a young child, I absolutely loved the Snugglepot and Cuddlepie series by Australian author May Gibbs. British and American writers were just as accessible and popular, and I loved Roald Dahl books. Still do! I can’t imagine my childhood without him, really. I remember reading Black Beauty by Anna Sewell and loving it. When I was a bit older I read George Orwell’s Animal Farm and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. While I wouldn’t say they were favourites, they were definitely two books that have stayed with me.
Have you read a lot of MG fiction in recent years, and if so, what have been the standout authors or titles for you?
Australian author Morris Gleitzman is becoming a favourite. I love his writing style and how he can deliver important messages in such fun, light-hearted ways.
Have you enjoyed the launch events at schools in Australia and do you plan to attend any book festivals or publishing events in the UK in the near future?
I have so loved going into schools and libraries and introducing Scoop. The children have been phenomenal with their interest in the book. It’s truly amazing to look out into a sea of smiling faces and to hear giggles of delight when I’m reading from the book. As a children’s author, it doesn’t get much better than that.
I don’t have any firm plans to visit the UK in the near future but if the opportunity pops up, I’ll be on the first plane out!
Thank you for answering my questions. I’m sure that your UK readers will be delighted to learn a little bit about you and the background to your debut book and I hope that Scoop’s adventure will prove to be hugely entertaining, engaging and inspiring to middle grade readers here in the UK.
I am always on the lookout for mystery/adventure books aimed at readers aged 7-11, so I was delighted to receive a copy of this book by Australian writer Helen Castles and sent to me by New Frontier Publishing. Before reviewing the content I’d like to praise the production quality of the book itself. The perfectly named Scoop McLaren is picked out in gold on the beautifully designed cover, the glossy illustrations by Beatriz Castro leave you in no doubt that you are about to encounter a young writer and investigator. The cover is also particularly thick, quality card and the pages are very slightly buff-coloured which make the book a tactile pleasure to read.
Onto the story, which is set in an idyllic, small seaside town named Higgity Harbour, where Scoop’s dad is the editor of the local newspaper the Higgity Harbour Gazette (circulation 900). Scoop has been brought up accompanying her dad as he investigates local news stories and now writes her own daily, online newspaper, Click, with the help of her best friend and roving reporter Evie Andrews. Evie is “feisty, pushy, outspoken and over-confident. All the traits you need to be a successful reporter.” The relationships between Scoop and her dad and Scoop and Evie are perfectly crafted and entirely authentic; one example being that Mr McLaren is the only person in the town to call Scoop by her real name, Henley.
Other inhabitants of the town are similarly well-written and relatable with their distinctive personalities which realistically add to the small-town atmosphere, where everybody has been settled a long time and thinks they know everybody else’s business.
When a new online newspaper begins to be delivered to the inbox of every inhabitant at 1 minute past midnight, always predicting the next day’s terrible news (a plague of frogs, flooding, school mean-girl turned to stone) Scoop and Evie cannot understand why the mayor and even Mr McLaren are unwilling to investigate its editor, Sonny Fink. They are determined to reveal the identity of this villain who appears to be predicting events that are causing the destruction of their previously tranquil seaside community. No-one in the small town is above suspicion; will the two young investigators succeed in discovering who is putting on an appearance to cover their true identity!
Although set in the modern day, with mobile phones, laptops and the internet, this book conjured up a nostalgic vibe which reminded me of The Famous Five and Nancy Drew books which I adored as a child. The young teen characters taking matters into their own hands and doggedly tracking down leads to uncover the perpetrator of the villainous deeds will be engaging for MG readers to read alone, or would make a perfect bedtime story. The junior journalist aspect of the plot is likely to inspire to young writers and I could envisage this being used as a teaching resource, particularly when working on newspaper-writing elements of the curriculum or a model for school news reporters. I think this book will be extremely appealing to lower key stage 2 readers, as an introduction to the mystery/sleuthing genre and a fabulous precursor to series such as Ruby Redfort and Murder Most Unladylike. I am certainly looking forward to the further adventures of Scoop and her friends and I will be recommending this series to many young readers.
I am most grateful to the publishers, New Frontier Publishing, for gifting me a copy of Scoop McLaren: Detective Editor and for inviting me to join the blog tour for this exciting new MG series.