Hello! Today I’m really excited to welcome debut author Jennifer Killick to my blog! I’ve been reading Alex Sparrow and the Really Big Stink, which is so funny: it’s made me chuckle and laugh out loud all the way through. Plus, it’s full of all the vital Middle Grade ingredients for a lively read, so I’ve been wanting to know just how she does it!
Hi Jennifer! Tell us about Alex Sparrow and the Really Big Stink.
It’s a superhero story with a difference. Alex Sparrow unexpectedly gets a super power, but it comes with a rather embarrassing side effect. He meets a girl called Jess, who has also has a power with payback. Together (which is far more difficult than it sounds) they have to find out why the kids at their school are becoming scarily perfect and who is the evil genius behind it all. Oh, and they have some help from a very manipulative goldfish.
What kind of character is Alex Sparrow?
Alex is cocky and self-centred. He’s always taken the easiest route and has never really been tested in life. He came to me very clearly as soon as I’d thought of this super power with its terrible side effect. I thought about what kind of person I wanted to inflict it on, and up he popped. The power forces him to rethink his life – the things he cares about; how he chooses his friends and how he treats people. What I love about him is that when faced with a challenge, he doesn’t let it get him down for long. He thinks fast, comes up with a plan and embarks upon it with a glorious optimism that I totally envy.
I’ve been wondering what the seed of thought was that inspired the story?
The story was born out of necessity, as I had to write a 1000 word short story for children as an assignment for my creative writing MA! I had not been intending to write for children, so it was a bit of a panic. I was thinking about my own childhood and how some of my memories have probably become so distorted through time that a memory in my head could be completely different to a memory of the same thing in someone else’s. I thought about how often the boundaries between fact and fiction blur and that led me to the idea of giving someone the power to detect lies. Then I wondered about how they would know: would an alarm go off in their head? Then came the farty noise, and I thought, ‘well, if there’s a farty noise, there could probably be a farty smell…’
What was your favourite thing about writing it? Did it turn out how you expected?
It was so much fun to write. I loved coming up with the clues and the twists and trying to think of ways to surprise the reader. I really liked having all the strands of a story wiggling around in my head, and finding a way to tie them together in a neat and satisfying way. But most of all, I loved my characters. Hanging out with Alex, Jess and Bob and thinking up new ways for them to annoy and hate and love each other was just a joy. The nuts and bolts of the story changed a lot from the first draft to the final book, but the main elements, the feel of it, and my bonkers characters are pretty much the same as they were in the very first version.
How easy (or difficult!) is it to pack in that much humour?
Once I’d decided that I wanted it to be funny, it was just a matter of going through every moment in every scene and asking what the funniest direction would be. Because I imagined the characters as really funny people, I just let them make the choices and do the talking.
This strikes me as a perfect book for Year 6. Did you ‘road test’ this book on kids before you submitted it?
My sister is a primary teacher, and in the very early stages of writing, I did give sections to her class for feedback, which was really helpful. But for the most part, I trusted my instincts. I spend so much time with children, having two sons and three step-children who are all very different. I’ve done lots of voluntary work at my son’s primary school, and I’ve always been more comfortable chatting to the kids at school events, rather than the other adults. I love hearing their opinions and watching them interact. It also helps that I’m a big kid myself!
What’s excited you the most about being a debut author?
I was excited to see my cover, and am delighted with it. The designer, Alex Dimond, and the illustrator, Heath McKenzie, have done a brilliant job. I was so excited to hold a finished version in my hands, and it really was a dream come true. What I’m most excited about, but also terrified about in equal measure, is my book finding its way into the hands of its readers. Will they love it? Will they hate it? Who knows?!
Tell us about your writer’s journey: how did the magic happen?
Like most people, my writer’s journey has been full of long periods of doubt, interspersed with moments of exhilarating joy. My MA got off to a bad start when everyone in my workshop group hated my writing. I worked hard to turn that around and ended up passing with distinction. I then started submitting to agents and the rejections came in. I entered my first chapter in an SCBWI competition and – hurrah – I was a runner up. One of the judges was Imogen Cooper, and she chose my chapter as her favourite. That was my lucky break. With Imogen’s help, I rewrote my story, and through her Golden Egg Academy I found the support network I needed. I was then lucky enough to be accepted by the first agent (who also happens to be the best agent) I submitted to after rewriting – the wonderful Kirsty McLachlan, and with her help, my story found a home with a fantastic publisher in Firefly Press.
And what’s next for you, writing wise?
I like to keep busy with my writing, because when I stop the anxiety sets in! I’ve just finished a first draft of the Alex Sparrow sequel – ‘Alex Sparrow and the Furry Fury’. I’ve also written the first in another MG series, featuring a formidable duo of protagonists and some very nasty baddies. And I’m working on a couple of standalone MG sci-fi adventures. I’d love to write something beautiful and descriptive but they just never turn out that way!
Thankyou so much to Jennifer, and I hope you all enjoy reading Alex Sparrow and the Really Big Stink as much as I did!
Find out more at www.jenniferkillick.com
You can find Jennifer on Twitter @jenniferkillick
Happy reading everyone 🙂