As well as being a writer, I’m a bookseller. You won’t be surprised to know that I’m a children’s bookseller and I love it, one of the perks is that it gives me a very good sense of the books that children crave. Of course not all children want the same books, and children read in zig zag lines, jumping all around their age ranges and sucking in different genres, different types, different authors, but an awful lot of them still want adventure. Simple straightforward, lose yourself edge of the seat adventure. Often, they or their parents also want the adventure to be series adventure. To be introduced to a bunch of characters that you will get to stay with. I get that. Those characters will become friends in the room with you so that every time you pick up another story in which they feature it’s like falling back to a bunch of mates you’ve known for years. Reassuring. To be honest, it’s exactly what I wanted as a child. Adventure and friends. I found them in lots of places, the 100 year old wood, The Brown’s warm household, Battersea and Nantucket, and most of all, in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and I cried when I read the last Battle because I knew that I was never going on another adventure with them.
I held that close when writing the Clifftoppers books. I had never got on with the Famous Five – or Mallory towers, I didn’t like the children very much so I tried to make sure that in Clifftoppers there would be someone for everyone. The four Clifftopper children are modern cousins who assemble every holiday at their Grandparents’ house on the Dragon Peninsula. It’s a farm on top of the hill with a small harbour below.
It’s based on a real place, but I’m going to keep that secret.
Mobile phone signals are intermittent, cars are mostly tourists and there are bogs, pasty shops, castles and country houses and criminals aplenty. Josh, aged eight has an older sister, Ava, aged twelve, and they come from Birmingham. Josh is always raring to go and doesn’t always think through the consequences. Ava on the other hand is skilled and clever as well as being brave. She and Josh are often at war but deeply fond of each other. They are mixed race, and have a Caribbean grandfather back in Birmingham who cooks just as Grandpa Edward always cooks at Clifftoppers farm. Aiden, aged eleven is thoughtful and clever and runs very fast, but is hampered by his specs which don’t respond well to sea mist and bogs. He comes from London and doesn’t have any outdoor space so Clifftoppers farm is heaven for him. Chloe, aged nine is scared, but does her best to hide it. She’s an only child who would be quite happy to sit and read books but loves having her cousins around so would never pass up the chance of spending time with them no matter how terrifying their adventures can be. None of these children are exactly based on the children of my childhood, but they share lots of the same features, and I’m pretty sure I’ve met them doing school visits.
The actual adventures are a close blend of my own wild childhood (my parents were far too busy to worry about us charging around the countryside) and all the situations that I imagined as a child. I was, aged ten, ready to capture any band of criminals, weather any natural disaster, and I longed for both to happen. Luckily they never did. But I did ride bikes into rivers, sail boats on ponds, fall off horses, climb trees and steal plums from gardens. I did run free, and I did have “scrapes”, mostly on my shins, knees and elbows, scars that are still with me.
I hope very much that anyone reading the Clifftoppers gets that sense of realness, from the children and from the landscape. Real enough to imagine themselves whizzing down the lanes from the moor, even if they’ve never ridden a bike, or sailing out into Drakes Bay pursued by angry kidnappers in a motor boat. I hope, that they sit up late, that they read with secret torches under the duvet, that they have to get to the end because they care about the cousins and that they experience every bit of the adventure as much as I do when I’m writing the books.
The Clifftoppers series is Published by Nosy Crow.
The views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the FCBG.