Guest Post by Jenni Spangler
I grew up in Manchester, and moved to Stoke on Trent about eight years ago. Neither are places that immediately jump to mind when you think of literature and writing. As an aspiring author, living outside of London often felt like missing out on a party, and I didn’t know how to find my way in.
The answer came in the form of the amazing children’s book community I found online. Authors, both aspiring and established, who were kind enough to give feedback and encouragement. The teachers and parents and booksellers working so hard to foster a love of books in the next generation. And the tireless work from non-profits like #writementor, which constantly looks for ways to remove barriers like distance and financial pressures for emerging writers.
Once the fear of missing out faded away, I came to appreciate the gift my northern roots have given me. Both my original and adopted hometowns are overflowing with history and stories. I moved to Staffordshire around the time I started writing The Vanishing Trick, and I was immediately struck by the contrasts here.
In Stoke on Trent you’ll find the remains of the pottery factories where poor workers lived short and brutal lives amongst the heat and the filth of heavy industry, and a few short miles away the huge mansions and manicured gardens of the wealthier classes. It was this contrast that gave me the idea for Leander, The Vanishing Trick’s hero – a desperately poor child who secretly lives in the unused library of Litchfield House, a grand country manor.
As I came to know Staffordshire better, I took inspiration from the landscape and architecture. The winding and narrow country lanes, bordered by muddy ditches and thick prickly hedges seem to have hardly changed in the last two hundred years. Driving them in the dark, it was easy to imagine clattering hoofbeats of a ghostly Victorian coach racing through the night. The little churches cluttered with leaning headstones inspired many character names, and my favourite spooky scene in the book.
I love using real places in my work, especially in magical stories, because it makes it feel like any one of us could stumble across an adventure of our own. It was rare for me to find places I recognised in the books I read growing up, so I enjoyed adding mentions of Stafford and the tiny village of Coven into the book – I hope it gives a little thrill to any children who recognises them. Although the name Litchfield House is made up, it is based closely on the beautiful Shugborough Estate and Biddulph Grange, two classic school trips in our local area.
Setting The Vanishing Trick in Staffordshire felt like a way of showing love for this place and these people. There are a thousand more stories waiting to be told, here. I’ve been saving photos, snippets of historical facts, local expressions – little things ready to be woven into future books. But for book two, I’m heading back to Manchester.
Winner of the Waterstones Children’s Book of the Month in May 2020, and published by Simon and Schuster. Available to purchase from all good booksellers.
Any opinions expressed may not truly reflect those of the FCBG.