Demelza and the Spectre Detectors

Guest Q&A featuring Holly Rivers.

In October last year it was revealed that publishers Chicken House had signed a three book deal with Holly Rivers for a middle-grade mystery series with the first publishing this February. I pitched questions to

1, Describe your book in 5 words.

When science meets the supernatural.

2. In the story Demelza likes to invent things that may prove useful using things lying around the place, How good are you at inventing and DIY? 

As a child I spent a lot of time at my little desk, drawing, designing and inventing. In fact, some of the inventions in the book are things I actually came up with as a child. In chapter 1 we’re introduced to Demelza’s ‘Magnificent Belly Button Cleaning Machine’ — something I concocted when I was about eight using an old electric toothbrush and some cotton buds! For some reason it never got patented…

3. Was there an environmental message behind Demelza’s choice in hobby or was the intention to feature STEM?

Women and girls are still underrepresented in S.T.E.M careers and educational settings, so writing an inquisitive and science-minded female protagonist was very important to me. I also wanted to play with the juxtaposition between science and the supernatural, and to see how a logical-minded character like Demelza might react to finding themselves in the unknown world of spectres. 

4. The book features Spectres (or ghosts), do you believe in them? Have you ever had any experiences with them?

I see the word in a fairly scientific way, so no, I don’t believe in ghosts. But, in terms of literature, art and film, I’m obsessed with the spooky, gothic and macabre! Strange 1980’s children’s films are some of my biggest inspirations, stuff like Ghostbusters, Labyrinth, Return to Oz, The Dark Crystal and Willow. 

5. What are you currently reading?

I’m currently reading Jasbinder Bilan’s Costa award-winning novel, Asha and The Spirit Bird, which is taking me on a beautiful journey through the mountains. I’m also listening to M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman’s The Highland Falcon Thief  on audiobook, which has the feeling of a real classic mystery-adventure. I try to read as many books within my genre as possible — we’re in such a golden age of children’s literature. 

Author Holly Rivers

6. What is your all time favourite children’s book?

I think there are two books that have inspired me more than any other — Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren and The Witches by Roald Dahl. Pippi’s head-strong and anarchic ways were definitely at the forefront of my mind when I was writing Demelza — I love her disregard for the rules and her contempt for the unreasonable adults that she comes across. The way that Dahl balances darkness and humour in all of his books is so clever, especially so in The Witches. It’s something that I really wanted to achieve in my writing too. I hope I have!

7. How much, if any, of your experience as a child actor in popular 90s kids tv series The Worst Witch influenced your book?

Being in The Worst Witch meant that I essentially grew up inside the pages of a wonderful children’s book — something which no doubt influenced my decision to start writing myself. From 14 to 17 years old  I got to ride broomsticks, cast spells, make potions, and hang out with bats, so realistically I was never going to become an accountant, or work in an office all day! Jill Murphy’s stories are magical pieces of work in every sense of the word, and I’m so lucky that I got to spend my youth inside her fantastical world. 

8. What is next from Holly Rivers? – will there be more from Demelza and Bladderwrack Cottage, or ? Can you tell us a little about what you are currently working on?

I’m delighted to say that there’s going be to a trilogy of Demelza books, and I’m currently working on the first draft of the second. I’m throwing Demelza, Percy and Miranda headfirst into an exciting new adventure, which takes them somewhere entirely unexpected. There’ll be plenty of strange inventions, as well as some new characters, both dead and alive!

9. Demelza lives with her Gran, and the pair are a strong female line up for the book. How important was it that the main character in your book be a girl?

The main thing for me was to write a protagonist that didn’t perpetuate gender stereotypes or archaic gender expectations. I wanted Demelza to be a well-rounded character, with both strengths and weaknesses, and I hope that a variety of readers will warm to her. For Grandma Maeve’s character I took inspiration from my own grandmothers. They’re two wonderful women full of wisdom and eccentricities —Grandma Rivers is nearly 90 and still plays on her Gameboy every day, and Mamgu can often be found shouting at the telly during a sporting event! They definitely coloured the relationship between Demelza and Grandma Maeve. 

10. When writing your stories where do you tend to work? Do you have a specific place to avoid being distracted and disturbed?

I write on an iPad which means I can take my work anywhere, and I can start typing when inspiration strikes, wherever that may be. I like writing in libraries, on public transport, in cafes, and in cosy pubs with open fires. I like listening to film soundtracks when I’m working, to block out distractions and to help me channel a specific mood or feeling. Demelza was written to pieces by Philip Glass, Alexandre Desplat and John Williams. Bliss!

DEMELZA & THE SPECTRE DETECTORS by Holly Rivers out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)

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