Interview: Children’s librarian and debut novelist Sophie Green

“I’ve always preferred my comedy with a good dose of pathos – some things are too sad to be funny but most funny things are tinged with sadness.” Publication day interview with Sophie Green on writing her sparkling ‘high jinks noir’ debut for kids.

Sophie Green is a children’s writer and librarian with a degree in Zoology and an interest in folklore. Her debut middle grade Potkin and Stubbs was shortlisted for the Bath Children’s Novel Award 2016 and is published today by Piccadilly Press

By day you’re a children’s stock librarian for Suffolk Libraries. What does a typical writing week look like?

I write for an hour each morning before work and for about 4-6 hours each day on the weekends. Plus the story is on my mind all the time so I’m ‘working on it’ whenever I get spare thinking time. I’d say that writing under pressure has got me into a good writing habit for the future and once you know you’ve got it in you to do it then you worry less about getting it done.

How hard is it to juggle having two jobs?

Pretty hard – the writing deadlines have been short and I’m the only person who does my job so I can take leave but I still have to catch up afterwards, but I don’t work frontline anymore so hours are flexible; I can work one around the other. Not that I don’t fantasise about having just one full time job and some spare time, but then hardly any writers can afford to live off their writing, it’s not an easy way to make money.

Describe Potkin and Stubbs in one line

An aspiring young reporter looking for a scoop uncovers more than she bargained for when she partners up with the ghost of a missing boy.

The book reflects your passion about freedom of the press. Can you say why this is so important to you?

My dad was a reporter and I was raised to think critically about the press, it’s something we take for granted I think, but like education, a free press is essential to democracy. Accountability is important too, libraries taught me that; a piece of information is only as credible as its source and news sources should be accountable for the information they publish as well as holding those in power to account. Across the world reporters lose their lives or their freedom to investigate and bear witness to events. They believe that the truth matters and, especially in the current climate, it’s time that we all started valuing that more.

Our Junior Judges loved the sparkling wit within a bleak setting and themes of resilience. Is humour your weapon of choice when the going gets tough?

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Always. I’ve become more resilient as I’ve got older but when I was young I took a lot to heart. As a writer you have to want to be in your story world and humour is a great antidote to darkness but also I’ve always preferred my comedy with a good dose of pathos – some things are too sad to be funny but most funny things are tinged with sadness.

At its heart Potkin and Stubbs is a story about what it means to be believed in, and what it takes to believe in someone else. What does it mean to you to have a publishing team so clearly invested in you and your book?

It means everything, and as a debut author it really makes all the difference too. From our first meeting I knew they were not only invested in it as a book but they were right behind the heart of the story; where I was trying to go and what I was trying to say, and they really helped me to get there. It’s been a very collaborative process with all of us trying to produce the best version of the book possible. I feel like there should be rolling credits at the end of it naming them all.

The love and passion for your book is clear – with early copies even going out hand-wrapped in in beautiful ltd edition maps…

That map! – in my head Peligan City is vast and sprawling, like New York or Paris, I couldn’t see how to translate that into a double page spread and the terrible diagram that we gave Karl, (the one I used to orientate myself around the city with was very rough and chaotic – then to see such a wonderful map created from that – amazing! Wrapping the book in the ghostly see-through map, really embeds the city in the story.

Piccadilly Press have done a stunning job with the production, creating a book any kid would love to own. Is it how you imagined it might look?

They have knocked my socks off. Never in my wildest dreams thought it would look as wonderful as it does – the matte and foiled cover is beautiful but the real treasure is the quality of Karl James Mountford’s illustration. The colours, style the angle of the pictures and characterisation are better than anything I could have imagined – the whole trilogy is going to look amazing side by side.

Book cover for Potkin and Stubbs The cover artwork by Karl J Mountford is GORGEOUS. What did you think when you first saw ‘his’ Lil and Nedly?

It IS gorgeous. I was amazed because of all the characters he depicted in the book Lil and Nedly were the most like I imagined them. It’s strange because it doesn’t matter really – once a book is written I think that it’s exciting to see how characters are interpreted, it means that the book has a life of its own. What was important to me was that he captured the feel of the book – half-comic, half-noir, the illustrations are so stylish like stills from a film, they are perfect companions to the text. I was so excited about getting paired with an illustrator but this has really exceeded all my expectations.

We’ve loved seeing all the pre-publication buzz and blogs. We especially liked “brilliant atmospheric high jinks noir”… Tell us some of the comments you’ve loved most.

I love ‘High jinks noir’ – it conjures it perfectly; an irreverent take on classic noir. I burned through a lot of film tropes and genres in Potkin and Stubbs – so my favourite blog comment so far reflected that. It was from Mr Ripley’s Enchanted Books ‘It has … a very disturbing eerie quality like walking into a spider’s web and breaking the macabre tension with a fantasy knife.’

Kids aren’t generally big online reviewers and Potkin and Stubbs isn’t on general release yet anyway, but naturally as a children’s author it’s their comments that always mean the most.

What plans for publication day?

We’re launching the book in the evening of World Book Day with a big get-together at my old library with lots of friends, family, colleagues and booklovers.

What’s the reaction been like by friends and family?

Overwhelming and amazing. I’m lucky to have so many people in my corner. Everyone who knows me knows how long I’ve been writing and what it means to be to get published so now they’re all on the case.

Seen it in the wild yet?

Only in photos. It will be a wonder to see it in real life, in the bookshop and the library and maybe even in someone’s hand. As a writer, the idea that you have told a story, that someone has published it and now it’s out there ready to be read, that it is perhaps being read at any time, it is very exciting.

The Junior Judges are already eager for the next book in the series. Do you know when it will be out?

Yes! the second book The Haunting of Peligan City is due out September 2019. I’ve seen the roughs for the cover design and it is AMAZING

Interview by Caroline Ambrose

Lil Potkin lives in bleak Peligan City. Her mum works in City Hall and is rarely at home, so aspiring journalist Lil has all the time she needs to explore the city in her bright yellow raincoat, investigating unsolved stories.

One rainy evening Lil meets a sad-looking boy sitting by himself in the bus station and buys him a hot chocolate. That night Lil wakes to find him in her bedroom. He doesn’t want to admit to being a ghost, but when he finally remembers his name (Nedly … possibly) he explains that he needs Lil’s help to find out what happened to him after he disappeared from his orphanage a year ago.

So Lil and Nedly – aka Potkin and Stubbs – team up to solve their mystery, and they call in the reluctant help of once-famous detective Abe Mandrel. He agrees to help them with the Stubbs case if they help him find the criminal who escaped justice and cost him his career.

Except – Mandrel thinks it’s only Lil he’s working with. And Lil realises she is the only person in the whole of Peligan City who can see Nedly. Which can come in handy when trying to solve crime…

Potkin and Stubbs by Sophie Green is out today in paperback by Piccadilly Press

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Read: Sophie Green on her journey from the shortlist to publication