Erin Hamilton of the FCBG was recently given the opportunity to ask author Clare Weze a few questions about her debut children’s book, The Lightning Catcher.
Can you tell us about your book in a couple of sentences?
When Alfie moves to a new village and finds freakish weather to investigate, he accidentally releases something faster than the wind, unleashing yet more meteorological mayhem. He needs to blend in like a detective but soon realises that in this village, he stands out like nobody else.
Was it difficult to write from the perspective of Alfie?
No, I fell into his way of thinking and speaking quite easily, although he’s much braver than I am and does things that would leave me open-mouthed and gasping. He felt very real during the whole process, and I miss having him to work with. There are times when I know just how Alfie would sum a situation up, and it’s a shame I can’t get him to write all my books!
What do you hope readers will take from Alfie’s story?
It would be nice if readers were left with an interest in some of the things that piqued Alfie’s curiosity. And to feel that sometimes things are worth pursing, even when life throws obstacles in your way. Alfie has a wacky sense of humour and I hope they’ll find inspiration in his wordplay and his coping style.
The cover promises “Skellig meets Stranger Things”- where did this come from and what are your thoughts on that description?
I think these were the first impressions that came to the minds of the book’s first readers. I can see how boys on bikes solving mysteries in Stranger Things relates to The Lightning Catcher, because Alfie and his friend Sam bike everywhere, and there are high-speed adventures. Skellig is a beautiful and unforgettable book, so the comparison is amazing for me. I love David Almond’s work. I think there’s a similar atmosphere in parts of The Lightning Catcher, but things pan out very differently in terms of Alfie’s humour and the sheer mayhem his curiosity leads him into.
As this is your debut, how long have you been working towards this book? How have you found the journey to publication?
This book has been gestating for ten years, but during that time it’s often been put aside for other projects, and I think that really helped me to live in Alfie’s world and get to know him over a long period of time. An early version was shortlisted for the Commonword Children’s Diversity Prize in 2012, which gave it a huge boost, but a lot more work was needed between then and now. The journey to publication has taken a long time for me, but once smaller pieces of work started to get noticed, things speeded up. Winning a Northern Writers’ Award in 2016 made a huge difference. I started out in children’s fiction, but I’m glad I diversified into short fiction for adults too, because that’s really paid off in terms of visibility.
What was your background before writing?
Science mostly, from the age of 25. My degree in Combined Science led to work in an environmental science and ecology research institute. I then did a Masters in Health Science and went into health research before becoming a freelance science editor working on papers in scientific journals and text books. But from 16 to 25, I was a hairdresser! So I went through a complete career change. Alongside everything, writing was always the main goal, although confining it to evenings and weekends was frustrating.
What did you enjoy reading as a child?
I loved Tove Jansson’s Moomin books, A Dog So Small by Philippa Pearce, and The Giant Under the Snow by John Gordon. I also discovered the amazing books of an Australian writer called Patricia Wrightson, which were very influential. Joan Lingard’s Across the Barricades series, which are set during The Troubles in Northern Ireland, were a real education into what was going on at that time. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle was also a big favourite.
Are you writing anything else at the moment that you are allowed to share?
I’m working on my second book for Bloomsbury, which is which is set in a small down-at-heel seaside town. It’s about a British-Nigerian girl who has been sent to live with her grandparents, so it’s another transplantation theme. I love those, as they give you so much conflict and heightened emotion from the start. My new character is mourning the loss of her home after an eviction, but when she sees someone in the sea who looks like they never set foot on dry land, things start to get more intriguing for her.
The Lightning Catcher is published by Bloomsbury and is available now for £6.99