Briefly tell us about your book.
Monty’s island is a happy, peaceful place where Monty often finds very interesting things washed up on the beach. Then the famously wicked pirate Scary Mary and her crew appear on the horizon. Monty and his family of friends—Tawny the Fearless Lion, Clink the Shipwrecked Pirate (a parrot with a wooden leg), Bunchy the Magician (a pink elephant), Marigold the Clever Cook (who runs the island Cafe) and Silent Sir Wise (a very intelligent owl)—are desperate to foil Scary Mary’s plans to take over the island. Bunchy tries magic, using one of Monty’s beach Finds, with disastrous results. Then Monty, who’s always full of good ideas, uses a few of his other Finds to save the day—with a little help from the island’s resident monster, the Hairy Horrible. Filled with warm, lively illustrations by Lucinda Gifford, it’s the first in a series of fast-paced chapter books for early readers and for sharing by reading aloud.
What inspired the idea behind this book?
I’ve always loved islands, which can be little worlds of their own. Making up stories for our young grandson, I often found myself telling tales set on an island where talking animals lived and pirates came to visit. He liked these island stories best. In those days, we used to make our own ‘island’ with play dough and sprigs of leaves from the garden, and use plastic zoo animals to act out the story. When later I wanted to write some entertaining books for children in their first years at school—kids old enough to need and enjoy longer stories read chapter by chapter—it was natural to use our magic island as a setting for the adventures. It also seemed natural to have a resourceful main character who loves gadgets, adores making plans, and is full of good ideas!
What are you hoping young readers will take away from reading your book?
Happiness. Inspiration. Satisfaction. The realisation that books open doors to other worlds—that books and reading are fun!
Does the creative process get easier for you with each book?
I can’t say it does, really. Every idea, every story, has its own challenges. I always think for a long time, and make handwritten notes, before actually starting to write. The beginning is hardest. Once I’m into the world of the story, things go faster. And writing to the end . . . I can’t stop.
How does it feel to hold your book in your hands?
Scary. In manuscript form, the story is mine. In book form, it’s about to go out into the world, unprotected. I’ve felt the same about every book I’ve written over 35 years.
What was the most challenging part of writing this book?
As happens so often, it was finding the ‘voice’, or ‘tone’, in which the story should be told. The big breakthrough with Scary Mary and the Stripe Spell was thinking about the story as a tale ideal for reading aloud. This led to less formal language (contractions like ‘doesn’t’ instead of ‘does not’, for example) and eventually to using the present tense. Both these things helped keep the pace fast, sentences short and vocabulary simple.