The House On Hoarder Hill

Guest Post with Mikki Lish and Kelly Ngai.

Collaboration: Hugh Jackman and Great Sister Flick Pass 

We met through Kelly’s brother, Doug Ngai, with whom Mikki had worked on the movie ‘Wolverine’. (Yes, Hugh Jackman is as lovely as he seems!)  Mikki had a bunch of children’s story ideas and was looking for a writing / creative partner to help develop them. She reached out to Doug and he suggested Mikki speak to his sister, Kelly, instead. At first, Mikki thought she was getting palmed off, but we spoke and hit it off creatively. 

Our first collaboration was writing a children’s feature film, ‘Nellie and the Cutglass Treasure’. Although it’s unproduced, it was invaluable for helping us find our writing groove – how we generate, share and work through ideas. 

Kelly lives in Sydney and Mikki is based in California so our collaboration is via email, text, phone calls and Skype calls (for which pyjamas are part of the acceptable working dress code!).

Mikki Lish and Kelly Ngai

The lightning bolt of “Hedy Hoarder” 

Soon after, another concept sprang into being: the name “Hedy Hoarder” and an image of a sister and a brother coming upon a derelict house full of hoarded enchanted objects. We knew immediately we wanted to develop the idea, but life got in the way when Kelly had her second child. Although a few years rolled by, however, ‘Hedy’ was very insistent on having her story told. 

We knew how the story started and ended, and we then had to figure out – in reverse – how to unravel the mystery, planting seeds of clues, obstacles and the unexpected to ramp up the adventure. We also set ourselves the creative challenge of keeping the action largely within one house, striving to make the adventure just as exciting as if Hedy and Spencer were visiting different locations. We saw this fantastic, slightly spooky house as a sort of maze through which the children ascend, to solve the mystery at the heart of their family. 

Inspiration: Magicians, Motherhood and Muppets

Inspiration for the story came from all over the place! Mikki visited The Magic Castle in Los Angeles and watched the magician Eric Jones perform. Those 30 minutes were a revelation because she felt that she was actually SEEING magic, and not just a trick. That later became a strong story thread: both magic and illusions exist but sometimes you don’t know the difference. Some magical support characters were sparked by Kelly staring at the floorboards whilst breastfeeding, and imagining the knots in the wood were eyes watching her. And Doug Ngai (whose family nickname was ‘Bear’) is now immortalised as Doug the Rug! Doug and Stan STILL make us laugh when we re-read chapters and are a very respectful nod to Statler & Waldorf from The Muppets.

Apart from creating an adventure, we were itching to explore what everyone knows: that all families have skeletons in the closet and their own brand of weirdness. Watching sons, nephews and nieces in our families grow, we also wanted to inspire them to imagine the way we did when we were young. 

These ‘itches’ were woven together into our big ‘what if’ for ‘The House on Hoarder Hill’: What if the objects in your family home, the skeletons in the closet and your family’s brand of weirdness were all magical?

The House On Hoarder Hill is published by Chicken House, and is available to purchase now.

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