Twitch is the latest middle grade novel from author extraordinaire, M.G. Leonard. Featuring a young boy with impressive twitching skills and a mystery to solve, readers will find themselves completely hooked! We were so pleased to be able to ask M.G. Leonard a few questions and her answers are fantastic!
There is a new website to accompany this book featuring teachers notes and videos. https://twitchersclub.com/ . You will find plenty of activities here as well. Join The Twitchers Club!
What can you tell us about your latest adventure, Twitch?
Twitch is planning to spend his summer holidays in the hide that he built in his local nature reserve, Aves Wood, watching the nesting birds and their chicks. However, his plans are ruined when a bank robber escapes from a local prison and hides in the woods. The rumour is that the stolen loot is hidden somewhere on the nature reserve. The police and locals descend on Aves Wood frightening away the birds, and so Twitch uses his birdwatching skills as detective skills and tries to catch the thief. There are lots of charismatic birds in the book and brave children. It is a story about friendship and the wonder of the natural world.
From beetles to trains to birds, how much fun do you have researching your books? How much research do you try to do?
I delight in research. It’s one of my favourite things about my job. I am so interested in the natural world, that I write books inspired by it. My new found interest in birds came out of my passion for beetles. Insects are an important part of the food chain for birds. If we take care of our insects then we are taking care of our birds. Birds are such a rich subject matter that I know I’ll be writing more than one book about Twitch and his feathered friends. I spent two years learning about birds before I sat down and tried to write Twitch, but I’m still learning and researching. The interest doesn’t end when the book is finished because learning about the world makes me happy.
What is the most fascinating fact your learned while “twitching”?
I learned that pigeons are much maligned. They should be one of our favourite birds. Pigeons are intelligent: they’re one of a small number of creatures who can pass the “mirror test” and recognise they are seeing a reflection of themselves – not another bird. They can also distinguish between the letters of the human alphabet and match a human face to one in a photograph. They fly at an average speed of 75 mph and have extraordinary navigation skills, combining an internal magnetic compass with referencing the stars and human landmarks. The birds tend to mate for life and both the mum and the dad share the rearing and feeding of their chicks equally. And the idea that they spread disease is a myth, they are actually very clean birds. I love them, and that is why there are four wonderful pigeons in Twitch: Scabby, Maude, Squeaker and Frazzle.
Twitch is an amazing character, does he have any qualities borrowed from men or boys in your life?
Twitch is self-sufficient but not through choice. I think the social world children have to navigate at school can be fraught with difficulty. I have two sons who are working out who they are at school, and what they want their relationships to be with those around them. My oldest son is observant and wary, often seeming shy, and there is certainly a bit of him in Twitch. But there is also a lot of me in Twitch. I wasn’t a birdwatcher when I was young – my “thing” was theatre – but I didn’t fit in at school and found ways to make that not matter. My passion was my saviour, as Twitch’s passion for birds is his.
What can we hope to see from Twitch in future books?
All friendships require give and take, and I think Twitch’s relationship with Jack will be an interesting one to follow. Theirs is a new relationship that will be tested by future adventures. Twitch is excited for The Twitchers to do good conservation work and protect endangered birds, whereas Jack is looking for the next mystery to solve.
If Twitch had a soundtrack, what type of music would feature?
I love music, and always write to instrumental albums. I listened to the soundtrack from “Blue Planet II” by Hans Zimmer, Jacob Shea and David Fleming whilst writing Twitch, so there are sections of the book where this album is the best soundtrack. However, I’d need to add a couple of anthemic summer songs to the soundtrack like “Steal My Sunshine” by Len, and end with an uplifting “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds type song.
Can you give us any hints about what you are currently working on?
Birdwatching and birds are far too interesting a subject for one book. Twitch is the origin story of The Twitchers – a Secret Seven type club of crime-solving birders. Right now, I’m writing the first case that The Twitchers solve together and I’m really enjoying getting to know all of the children better. I’m also continuing to work on the next Adventures on Trains book, which will be set in Australia.
Each book series features a different illustrator, do you get to suggest ideas?
Often I’ll have an idea of what kind of mood or energy I’ll want my books to have, but it is the publisher who suggests interesting illustrators. Designers in publishing houses keep their eyes peeled for exciting new talent and I’ve been lucky that they’ve almost always involved me in that discussion and process for my books. I’m over the moon with the cover for Twitch. I think Paddy Donnelly has done an astonishing job at conjuring an energetic summer scene rich with nature and drama. It’s the perfect cover for my story.
When is your optimal writing time?
Quiet times are the best time to write. Early mornings are best for me, when no one is emailing and the world is sleeping, or late at night, for the same reason. I need long periods of peace in which to imagine and think to create a book. My home is full of children and creatures that make noise, so when I’m pulling and pushing ideas into a book shape, I’ll often go to an Airbnb by myself for three or four days, just to be in a quiet space and think.
What incentives do you offer yourself to keep going?
Deadlines are a good incentive. When you sign a contract with a date by which you must have written a good book, then that drives you to do the work. I have been in situations where a cover exists for a book that I haven’t finished writing yet, and not wanting to let people down really pushes me. Sometimes though, I can only make it over the finish line if I stuff my face with Haribo and drink buckets of tea. I look forward hungrily to the sleeping, the yoga and the fun I’m going to have with my family when a book is finished. I am very antisocial when I’m writing, so it’s lovely to go outside and see friends once a book is written.