In The Snow Lion, Caro has moved to a new home and wishes she had a friend, but she’s too shy to meet the neighborhood kids. With a little imagination, however, Caro finds the Snow Lion. Together, they have all kinds of fun racing, climbing, and playing hide-and-seek. But when the boy next door asks Caro to come play, Caro isn’t so sure. Then, the Snow Lion has an idea! Making new friends isn’t always easy, but it is always worth it in the end.
In Paper Planes, Mia and Ben are the very best of friends. They live side by side at the edge of a great, wide lake. Together they sail, swing, and sing. But what they love doing most of all is making paper planes. They dream of one day being able to make a plane that can fly all the way across the lake! But Ben has terrible news: he and his family are moving far away. How are Mia and Ben going to stay best friends if they’re going to be so far apart? And will flying paper planes ever be the same again without Ben?
Q: What inspired you write The Snow Lion?
A: I was explaining the idea of camouflage to my three-year-old daughter when she suggested that if a polar bear stood against our white kitchen wall, we wouldn’t see it. The initial idea came from this conversation, and unlike other stories I’ve written, it really didn’t change a lot from the very first draft (apart from the polar bear becoming a white lion).
Q: What made you decide to make Caro’s imaginary friend a lion?
A: The original story idea featured a polar bear, but my editor had seen some lion illustrations that she loved by the illustrator Richard Jones. It was her suggestion to change the character to a white lion, which worked perfectly, being that much rarer and strange. The animal had to be large and worldly wise, to contrast with Caro.
Q: The illustrations play a big part in the book, but so do your descriptions of the white walls and their eventual infusion with color. How did you feel when you first saw Richard Jones’s interpretation?
A: Richard’s illustrations are incredibly beautiful and slightly ethereal, which suit the story perfectly. I did have an idea of what the lion might look like, from the original drawing that our editor suggested, but the rest were completely new to me. When I first saw them, they completely blew me away! I love his use of color and texture; it gives the book an almost dreamlike feel.
Q: How did you get into writing?
A: I’ve always loved writing. As a small child I liked to make up stories and create my own books. I’ve still got some of them, rusty staples and all. My favorite was about Santa defeating a bunch of evil elves. I drew my own illustrations back then, but I don’t think Richard has anything to worry about!
Q: What is your writing process like?
A: It differs with each book. The Snow Lion was comparatively easy to write as the idea arrived almost fully formed. Other stories take many, many re-writes and by the end I’m really not sure about them, but sometimes when I look back, months or even years later, these prove to be the stories I’m most happy with. I don’t have a specific writing routine, I just write when I can, when it’s quiet.
Q: What does home mean to you?
A: Safety, warmth, comfort. Somewhere still. When I visit places full of books, it feels like home because I lived in a house full of books as a child. I also grew up by the sea and this reminds me of home too. Living in London, I miss the sea and compensate by filing our house with as many books as possible!
Q: Were you shy as a child? If so, how did the experience inform your story?
A: I was quite shy as a child, especially in new situations or with new people and I think my daughter feels the same. So this story is for her and anyone who might find it harder to make new friendships.
Q: Have you ever found friendship in an unexpected place?
A: Friendships can grow up almost anywhere. As a child you are expected to make friends with other children your own age, but perhaps the most unexpected friendships happen between people of different ages. I’ve learnt and laughed a lot with people twice as old as me. And as an adult, I think that children make amazing friends. They are a constant source of joy and surprise, with their boundless energy and inventiveness. I’d love to be able to live “in the moment” as much as they do.
Q: Did you have an imaginary friend?
A: I didn’t have an imaginary friend, but I did enjoy giving all my animal toys personalities of their own. They were a loyal, happy bunch!
Q: How would you encourage children to break out of their shells and explore beyond what feels safe?
A: Carefully. I don’t believe you should force people to do something they feel uncomfortable with. Perhaps it’s more about making a child feel as confident in themselves as possible, so that they then feel able to explore outside their comfort zones. I hope that by reading The Snow Lion and seeing Caro grow in confidence as she makes new friends, this might help too.
Q: Your newest picture book Paper Planes is about a close friendship after one of them moves away. What inspired you to approach the topic of long-distance friendships like Mia and Ben’s in a children’s book?
A: I had the original idea for Paper Planes when my brother moved to Australia a few years ago. Growing up, we’d always been quite close and I tried to imagine what this type of separation would feel like for a child. We visited my brother recently and my daughter actually made her own paper planes with his son. I still wish that we didn’t live so far away from each other, but it was wonderful to see our two children, who’d never met before, laughing and playing together.
Q: Did you enjoy making paper planes or model planes as a child? What did you enjoy about it?
A: The paper planes that I made when I was small were never the best of flyers, but they were always very well decorated! I love the idea of making something that can fly, and that can be really quite resilient, out of a simple piece of paper.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from The Snow Lion and Paper Planes?
A: First and foremost, I’d like people to take some hope from [The Snow Lion]. We’ve all experienced loneliness and uncertainty at some point in our lives and The Snow Lion is really all about hope and the reassurance that things will get better.
Like my previous book with Richard Jones, I’d like to think that [Paper Planes] carries a message of hope, especially for those children who are coming to terms with losing a friend, for whatever reason. In today’s interconnected world it’s a lot easier for people to stay in touch, but sometimes even a new school just down the road can feel as distant as the other side of the world.