In my Writing 4 children column this month (issue #221 Mar of Writers’ Forum) Holly Rivers, explained what inspired her to write a story about a stubborn young inventor called Demelza.
The idea struck her in 2016 and she put pen to paper immediately and very quickly realised she never wanted to stop writing.
“I could see her clearly from the very beginning: her red hair, her cosy attic room, her quirky inventions, and her thinking hat.” (Holly Rivers)
For the first time in her life she had found something she wanted to do every single day for evermore. Holly believes this realisation massively changed her life for the better, and revealed sitting down to write always makes her heart beat a little faster. She explained that she spent a year writing the (very long and very messy) first draft of Demelza and the Spectre Detectors, before spending a further year honing the manuscript on The Golden Egg Academy’s Foundation Course.
Holly told me the fact she is absolutely fascinated by anything spooky, macabre and ghostly inspired her to explore how a logical, science-minded character such as Demelza would react to finding themselves in a mysterious supernatural environment.
“Having an inquisitive stem-girl protagonist was really important to me, and I think there’s quite a lot of young Holly in Demelza. A few of her inventions were things I actually attempted to make as a child — namely the ‘Magnificent Belly Button Cleaner’” (Holly Rivers)
A lot of her inspiration comes from the sci-fi and fantasy books/films she enjoyed as a child such as: Ghostbusters, E.T, Labyrinth, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the books of Roald Dahl, The Goonies, Pippi Longstocking, Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles.
Many of her characters are inspired in part by real people, for example Grandma Maeve’s eccentricity, warmth and humour all stem from her own wonderful grandmothers. Ms Cardinal was also inspired by someone, but she wouldn’t say who. Holly said that so much great material can be mined from keeping your ears and eyes open, and I can often be found jotting down snippets of conversations that I’ve overheard, making notes of an unusual mannerism, or sketching an interesting outfit that somebody is wearing.
The children she works with are huge inspirations too and Holly has no doubt that bits of their brilliant (and often mischievous) personalities have found their way into Demelza, Percy and Miranda, and she believes this has made their characters all the richer.
She has also spent a lot of time in Mexico, where Dia de Los Muertos is the annual holiday celebrating the dead and observing the way that different cultures mark death was also a big inspiration for her book.
“Some people can have such a sombre, stiff and austere outlook on death, so I wanted Demelza and the Spectre Detectors to hopefully open up the conversation around death to a young readership in a ‘lighter’ and more accessible way.” (Holly Rivers)
Her writing tip for other children’s fiction writers is to read:
“I try and read or listen to at least one book a week, and I make sure that the titles are diverse and genre-crossing. One week I might be reading a quirky middle grade such as Beetle Boy by M G. Leonard or the latest YA from Frances Hardinge; the next I might be listening to an old Agatha Christie on audio book, and the next I might be dipping back into the Tank Girl comics (for the umpteenth time!) I feel that most of my own development as a writer has come through exploring, savouring and digesting other people’s work.” (Holly Rivers)