In case you hadn’t already noticed from this, I am a huge fan of this writer’s wonderful book, BEETLE BOY. And I’m not alone. The Bookseller named it their Book of the Month, and it’s getting great reviews left, right, and centre (and even off-centre). So you’ll be very glad you hear the author is just as brilliant as her book – and that she has answered this month’s Friday Five!
1) When did you start writing and why?
I’ve always loved telling stories. I remember being five and prancing around the living room giving the street kids a private performance of Swan Lake. My swan died more times than Bottom’s Pyramus. I danced, acted, painted and sang my way through school. I tried to write, but failed to produce anything that wasn’t riddled with self-conscious angst.
Once I’d lived a little, completed a literature degree, a masters, and read a whole library of books I began to understand what kind of writer I might like to be, and so I started writing scraps, a page here, a paragraph there, which lead to the birth of characters, and from the characters came ideas, but oh, so slowly.
The idea behind Beetle Boy, that the world needs a children’s book with beetles as heroes to engage young readers with the natural world, was powerful enough to force me to make the time to write, in the early hours of the morning, and I began working in earnest about five years ago. Beetle Boy is my first book.
2) What advice would you give writer who aspires to be published?
Writing is its own pleasure, and anyone feeling the inclination should do it. However, if you want to be published you have to write stories for other people – not yourself, and that takes hard graft. A book’s purpose is to be read, and it costs money to produce and purchase, therefore the most important thing is the reader’s experience of the story. You need to know who will want to read your story, and why? You must know what you are doing to a reader with every sentence; are you thrilling them, misleading them, or making them fall in love? Each occasion you unwittingly neglect or abandon your reader, gives a publisher a reason not to publish your book, because first, before they are your publisher, they are a reader.
3) What are your five Desert Island books and why?
1) It is a fact that I cannot live without the Complete Works of Shakespeare, and I’d take the Arden edition to the Desert Island. I have a different edition of the collected works in all the main rooms of my house. On a desert island I’d act out all the plays, and perfect my favourite speeches. I’ve read all the plays at least twice, even King John, and I’m besotted with Shakespeare’s language.
2) & 3) If stranded on a desert island there is no more fitting book to have with you than
The Odyssey and I love both Homer’s epic poems, so I’d take Richard Lattimore’s translation of The Iliad and The Odyssey. With time on my hands I’d attempt to learn them by heart, and in the evenings tell the campfire and the coconuts about brave Hector, or love-crazy Calipso, oldschool style, like a rhapsode.
4) To appease my homesickness, for England, I’d love to have the collected work of Dickens, but I don’t think there’s a book big enough for one volume to exist. Great Expectations is a masterpiece, but if I had to pick just one Dickens title, for it’s epic length, sheer Englishness and episodic nature I’d chose Dombey & Sons.
5) My final choice is Dune by Frank Herbert. I think it is a work of genius. It has inspired many great works of fantasy, but in my opinion has never been surpassed or become dated. The book had a profound impact on me when I first read it, as a teenager. It’s a gripping read, and well written, but the main reason it had such an impact on me was its philosophical nature. It made me think in a way that fiction never had before, and has informed my approach to many real-life situations, although I’ve never gone out into my back-garden with a thumper and called a worm… might try that this weekend.
Here’s my favourite quote:
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” (Frank Herbert, Dune)
This was my mantra in the month before my first son was born, when I was terrified of giving birth. I also think it when coping with panic attacks, which I am prone to.
4) What would your daemon be, and why?
My daemon is an arctic wolf. We have the same unblinking stare, and I’m a dogged fighter. I’ll keep going, even when I’m exhausted and on my knees.
Often, when I meet new people, once we’ve become friends, they’ll admit to having been a bit scared of me at first. This never ceases to surprise me, as I’m a loyal friend, laugh at everything, and rarely loose my temper (maybe, once in a decade). I put it down to my resting arctic wolf face and my capacity to be fierce (in every way, girlfriend).
(The final question is sent to the interviewee thus: What question do you wish I’d asked? And answer it.)
5) Can I buy you a pint of Guinness?
BONUS QUESTION ALERT
What are your three jealous island books, the three books you wish you’d written?
I’ve never wished I’d written someone else’s story. That’s like wanting to have given birth to someone else’s child.
However, I am envious…
- I envy Hilary Mantel’s prose. She is just about as good as writing gets. I loved Wolf Hall and Bringing Up The Bodies, and I am living for book three. I don’t wish I’d written her books for the simple reason that I know I could never create such works of artistry. They are exquisite, and all I can do is pay homage.
- I envy Neil Gaimen’s ideas, each one is a diamond. I don’t always enjoy the direction his stories travel in, but the ideas for his books fill me with excitement and are strong enough for me to have bought and read every single one from American Gods, to Graveyard Boy.
- I envy Frances Hodgson Burnett’s creation, The Secret Garden. I think it’s perfect and it visits my thoughts regularly. Some of what I’m trying to do with Beetle Boy is inspired by her tale of how being outside and having a positive relationship with nature is a healing thing for children, and in fact, everyone. I consider it an anticedant to Beetle Boy.
Darkus is miserable. His dad has disappeared, and now he is living next door to the most disgusting neighbours ever.
A giant beetle called Baxter comes to his rescue. But can the two solve the mystery of his dad’s disappearance, especially when links emerge to cruel Lucretia Cutter and her penchant for beetle jewellery? A coffee-mug mountain, home to a million insects, could provide the answer – if Darkus and Baxter are brave enough to find
Published 3rd March 2016.
M.G. Leonard has a first-class honours degree in English Literature and an MA in Shakespeare Studies from Kings College London. She works in London as the Senior Digital Media Producer for the National Theatre, and previously worked at the Royal Opera House and Shakespeare’s Globe. Leonard spent her early career in the music industry running Setanta Records, an independent record label, and managing bands, most notably The Divine Comedy. After leaving the music industry, she trained as an actor, dabbling in directing and producing as well as performing, before deciding to write her stories down. Leonard lives in Brighton with her partner and two sons.