Author of the wonderful 'The Secret Wild' in a Q&A about her writing journey from Golden Egg Academy to publication with Walker Books! Plus some tips for growing plants in your classroom.
My review of 'The Secret Wild' is here.
Congratulations Alex Evelyn on the publication of your utterly charming, wonderful 'The Secret Wild'.
Thank you so much! I have been so excited to be involved with your blog, I am in awe of teachers who are so passionate about children’s books, and I can’t wait to read your review.
1) What was the seed of inspiration that led to the beautiful blossoming of 'The Secret Wild'?
The idea first popped in to my head when I was helping at a primary school plant sale. Children were queuing up to buy tiny pot plants and planning what they were going to name them and where they were going to put them in their bedrooms. From there the idea for a girl who has a plant friend grew. The story changed a fair amount through different drafts, but that girl and her plant stayed right at the heart of it.
2) As a fellow Golden Egg Academy member, what did you learn most from the course that helped in drafting your debut?
I am not a natural plotter and I found I was starting stories but not finishing them. The Golden Egg course taught me to put some structure in place which then allowed me to concentrate on the bits I really love – the characterisation and detail. I was actually writing something completely different during the course, an Egyptian time tunnel mystery, and although I was delighted to finish something at last, I put it away as I just wasn’t ‘feeling’ it.
I think the other thing that the Golden Egg gave me was writing friends, and I am still in touch with them most weeks on our Monday Motivation Facebook page.
3) What was the journey like from completing with the Golden Egg Academy to publication with Walker Books?
I pitched my unfinished story idea to Chicken House at a Pitch & Pint event at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, and was delighted when I was asked to submit my manuscript when I had finished it and was then invited to visit them in Frome.
I ended up in conversations with Chicken House and Walker Books about the story, which was still in a very early draft form, and I found it all quite confusing as it was just as the pandemic hit and I didn’t think I had time to find an agent. When I signed with Walker Books we had a lot of work to do on the story and I redrafted through both of the lockdowns which was tough. I found it really hard to feel creative when I was spending so much time in the house and helping my three children with their learning, and sometimes I used to drive my car somewhere pretty and write there instead. My editor Grainne Clear is incredible, she was so patient and trusting and never gave up on me!
4) How much research did you undertake about plants and did you learn much Latin along the way?
I did lots of research! Luckily I enjoyed every moment and sometimes it was hard to tear myself away from it and get back to writing. I read lots of botany books and I watched TV programs and YouTube videos. As soon as I was allowed to after the lockdowns I went to Kew Gardens to breathe the air in the hothouses and wander around looking at the fascinating plants. I spend lots of time at Westonbirt Arboretum as I work at a toddler forest school there.
My grandfather was a keen botanist and gardener and knew the Latin names of thousands of plants, but unfortunately I didn’t inherit that gene! Latin names don’t stick in my head easily, I am definitely like Fern in that way, in love with plants but not able to neatly categorize them.
5) I love the names of all the characters in your book. Did their names and personalities come to you fully formed or did it take longer for them to sprout?
Fern was actually called Flora in the very first draft, but that became her middle name because as I got to know her better she just felt like a wild and tangled fern. Her character was fairly unchanged through all of the drafts, but the other characters changed quite a bit. I am quite an anxious soul and poor Woody seemed to take on some of my more panicky characteristics. I loved writing Uncle Ned who I am very fond of and I would love to meet him in real life.
6) What unusual plants do you recommend that children could grow and nurture in their classrooms?
It isn’t an unusual one, but to learn about plant defences, rosemary is easy to grow in a pot and children can run their hands along it and feel the oils it gives off. The strong smell is actually a weapon against predators. To learn about healing, aloe vera is really easy to grow on a sunny windowsill and looks funky. Children can learn that people use it to soothe burns or help with other skin problems. To learn about the flower and fruit cycle, a chilli pepper plant is easy on a windowsill, and the fruits are so bright and shiny (there is always going to be that child who tries to eat one of course!)
7) Which contemporary children authors do you admire most and why?
That is a really tough one! There are about forty contemporary authors I could name whose books I have loved recently but as there isn’t room for all of them here, I am going to pick just one book that I have really enjoyed, which is Darwin’s Dragon by Lindsay Galvin. I loved the way the history melded so easily with the magical realism, and the story stayed with me long after I had finished it.
8) What can we expect from you next? Any teases for future books?
I am writing a second book at the moment, another love letter to the natural world with a sprinkling of magical realism like in The Secret Wild. The setting of the adventure couldn’t be more different though! I have an agent on board this time, the wonderful Clare Wallace of Darley Anderson, and it has been brilliant having her involved editorially from an early stage. I can’t wait to talk about it more as soon as I am able to.
Thanks for answering my questions and all the best with the 'The Secret Wild's release into the wild!
Thank you for having me!