Hello everybody! Today, I’m delighted to be on another blog tour, this time for the Extraordinary Voyage of Katy Willacott, with my interview with the author Sharon Gosling. Onto the post!
Hi Sharon, thank you so much for being here today! To get us started, can you please describe THE EXTRAORDINARY VOYAGE OF KATY WILLACOTT in 5 words?
Oooh, let’s see… An exciting sea-faring botanical adventure! (Am I cheating with sea-faring?!)
Given the title being about something extraordinary your main character does, I thought it might be nice to ask what you think the most extraordinary thing you’ve ever done is, and why?
Hmm. Not sure I’ve ever done anything extraordinary, to be honest… It would probably be something very unworthy like managing to eat three packets of Jaffa cakes in one sitting… Not that I’ve ever done that. Obviously.
The blurb also mentions Kew Gardens, which is where Katy lives at the beginning of the book. Why did you want to make this her home?
Katy lives there because her mother works in the herbarium (her grandfather is part of the Kew Constabulary, which at the time when this book is set was the private police force for the Gardens). The house is tied to her mother’s job – I wanted to show that Katy doesn’t come from privilege and moreover that it’s her mother rather than her father (an assistant archaeologist at the British Museum) whose work is providing the roof over their heads, however modest that roof is.
On a related theme, what are some nature spaces you love? And of course, what are your favourite flowers/plants?
Well, I live on the side of a fell in northern Cumbria – from our front door I can walk up a track and keep going right over the border to Northumberland. I love it up there – it’s high moorland, so there are very few trees, just marshes and grassland as far as the eye can see. I’ve also got an allotment that I love spending time in. Beyond that, Kew Gardens is beautiful but I do also love the Royal Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh, which is much closer to where I live.
Actually, when I was researching this book I asked if I could visit and see the herbarium. Suzanne Cubey, the deputy director, very kindly said I could. Unfortunately they’d just had an issue with the roof of the herbarium collapsing and the building itself was off limits, but Suzanne was incredibly generous with her time and showed me various specimen sheets, including an amazing type specimen sheet (a type specimen means it’s the first time an example of the plant was collected by a Western scientist and also when it was named) of a plant collected by Charles Darwin himself during his voyage on the Beagle. It had the great man’s handwriting on the sheet. That was an extraordinary experience, for sure!
My favourite cultivated flowers are tulips – we have a very small garden but I plant big drifts of them in pots every year because I love the vibrant bursts of colour. Dahlias are also a favourite and I always plant loads at the allotment so I can fill the house with them in late summer. My favourite wild flower is vetch – I love the blue-purple flashes of them you get on the verges where we live. Katy then leaves home to go on an adventure, a journey to Brazil. Where is somewhere you’ve never travelled that you’d love to see? And which fictional world would you choose to go to if you had the chance? Well, actually, where I’ve always wanted to go is South America – and I’ve yet to make it! When I was little I used to spend hours with my parents’ giant atlas, planning ‘expeditions’ that would travel the whole length of the Amazon river, right from the tributaries in Ecuador to Belém in Brazil. I’ve never been able to afford to go. Maybe one day I’ll get to visit. If I was going to go to a fictional world it would probably be one where Starfleet really existed, to be honest – I’m a huge Trekkie!
Katy is disobeying her dad by doing this, as he thinks girls shouldn’t be allowed to sail, and I’ve noticed all your books have a strong feminist thread. Why do you think it’s important to write about this for this age group?
I just think it’s important that girls see themselves in books doing the sort of things that they want to do. As a child I was always an adventurer at heart and the books I wanted to read were always ones where the characters went off and did extraordinary things in extraordinary places. I think I’m probably writing the kind of books I wanted to read as a child – or perhaps even the kind of adventures I wanted to have!
Although you have written in other genres too, almost all your books are historical fiction. What sort of research do you do when embarking on a new project? What historical period have you not written but would like to?
It was never a particular plan of mine to write so much historical fiction. It’s just the way the stories have turned up in my head so far. I love the Victorian period for storytelling because it signalled such a seismic leap in technology and the sciences, and that’s why I ended up setting my stories there. Research varies depending on what I’m writing – for this I re-read E.F Knight’s The Cruise of the Alerte (the real adventure featuring the ship that I then used in this story). I also had to learn a lot about sailing, which was hard work! I also read a lot about colonial Brazil in this period and the horrors surrounding the rubber trade. There was also research reading about botany and herbaria around the world, of course, as well as information I needed to learn about the Natural History Museum. There was quite a lot of research for this book.
I think if I were going to write more historical middle-grade fiction it would probably also be set in the Victorian period. I’d love to be able to go back to Brazil and see how Lady Sarah and Zinnie (from my previous children’s book, The House of Hidden Wonders) are getting on – perhaps in the company of Fran Brocklehurst and Katy Willacott!
Also on the writing theme, what’s your routine like? Do you have any unusual habits or quirks?
I don’t think I have any particular quirks, but I do get most of my writing done very early in the morning. I’ve always been an early riser and I’ve quite often written my word count for the day before my husband gets up for work. It’s just when my brain works best.
Finally, can you give us any hints about what you’re working on at the moment or will be releasing next?
I’d love to hear about it! I’m currently working on my next adult novel for Simon & Schuster. I can’t say too much about it yet but it does involve a garden! It’ll be out next year.
Would you rather be a skilled magician or able to sail a boat?
Definitely sail a boat!
Favourite adaptation involving Sherlock Holmes?
The radio plays with Clive Merrison and Michael Williams.
Animal you’d most like to be for a day?
A cat. Specifically my very spoiled kitten, Newt.
Top 3 books of 2022 so far?
Day of the Whale by Rachel Delahaye
Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield
Sea of Tranquility by Emily St John Mandel
3 2022 releases you haven’t read yet but are looking forward to?
Ugh, only three?!
Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (I loved The Storied Life of A.J Fikry so much!)
Fairy Tale by Stephen King
Unraveller by Francis Hardinge
Thank you so much for reading! Are you a fan of Sharon’s books? Where would you most like to travel to in the world? I’d love to chat in the comments!