Let’s Chat with H.J. Blenkinsop

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1. What motivated/ inspired you to write this story? I was inspired to write Kitty Tweddle and the Wishing Well after a series of real events that occurred while I was living in an Edinburgh basement as a Doctoral student. For a start – there was a well in the basement and it did flood while I lived there. The old well was still visible on the bottom of the garden wall, and the homeowners believed the underground stream feeding the well flowed under the house. During a long and rainy summer, the water table rose and the basement flooded!
2. Do you see yourself in Kitty? I don’t see myself in Kitty. Rather, she is the young girl I wish I had been, filled with quiet confidence and a strong sense of self-value. She’s the kind of role model I would like young girls to get to know. A few years back, a colleague and I worked on a project called the Cult of Hotness. We explored the phenomenon of ‘hotness’ in western society. Our findings were grim indeed. Not only does a woman’s worth appear to be tied to her perceived ‘hotness’ as opposed to her intelligence, creativity, contribution or even beauty, but this emphasis on hotness begins long before puberty. Pink princess culture, our research indicated, is a precursor to hotness culture, priming young girls to emphasize physical appearance and a very narrow definition of attractiveness. We were horrified! I wanted to do something back then to help turn the tide. It wasn’t until years later when my Edinburgh basement flooded that the idea clicked into place. Create a protagonist that young girls will want to know. Create a cool girl who is everything pink princess culture isn’t. But also a girl who is real and has feelings, who makes mistakes and has to fix them.Someone readers can identify with. That’s how the idea for Kitty Tweddle was born.
3. Did you create the world for this story as you went or in advance and what research did you do?  
Although Kitty Tweddle and the Wishing Well is a fictional story and the village of Dribble is a made up name, the setting is very real. It’s a lovely neighborhood just outside Edinburgh in Scotland. My descriptions of the house, the street, the library and even the little graveyard are based on what I saw. The three cats really do live in the neighborhood and I did meet Roger in the library, sitting on a black chair in the junior fiction section. The librarians told me he would sneak in on warm summer days when they left the back door open. Even the bit about the library being built over the church foundations is true. It’s all real. It all exists. I simply described what I saw and then added some extra characters like the gargoyles, the night stealers and the bogeyman. And they might have been there too, hiding in the shadows, who knows?
4. What do you hope to accomplish with your story?  
I hope that Kitty Tweddle and the Wishing Well will entertain and keep readers turning the page. If it gets people reading and makes them happy, I’ll call it a job well done. And if her character inspires girls to be creative, to trust themselves, to really value themselves, even when they get it wrong or make mistakes, to get back up and keep going, I’d call that a win.
5. What practical applications could be used in a classroom if using this story as a class read?  The practical application of Kitty Tweddle and the Wishing Well as a class read is simply to engage students enough to keep them turning the page, to get them reading. I was a poor reader as a youngster. I found the books written for my age group boring and patronizing. So I didn’t read. As a writer, I wanted to craft a story that my younger self wouldn’t have been able to put down. To do that, I borrowed many of the devices I noticed in adult fiction and wrote a story that was mysterious, filled with twists and turns, plenty of cliffhangers and surprising characters. A book that would inspire young readers, not patronize them. Then, I made sure it was age appropriate.
6. What motivates you to write?   The stories in my mind motivate me. They want to be out of my head. The best I can do is wrangle them into some kind of order and let them loose. Make no mistake, it’s not easy. I wouldn’t want anyone to think these well-formed characters and stories tumble out of my head and onto the page – they don’t. It’s messy work, writing…
7. What books/ authors do you like to read?  I love page-turners with a magical or supernatural bent – Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman and James Rollins spring to mind. I absolutely loved The Lord of the Rings and read it long before the films came out. I’m also a huge Harry Potter fan. When the last book was published, my flatmate had it pre-ordered from Amazon. I almost missed the post woman knocking on the door and had to chase her up the street in my pajamas! She took one look at me in my bare feet and red tartan pj’s and knew I must be after Harry Potter. Her mailbag was full of them!
8. Which author/ book character would you like to meet someday?  Granny Weatherwax. She’s the scary, wise and practical witch in Terry Pratchett’s books. I’d love to sit and have a cup of tea and a chat with her. Although I think I’d be quaking in my boots if I did, because Granny Weatherwax can see through everyone. She sees who’s really there, not who we pretend to be. That’s scary.
9. What is the first book you ever read?  Well, like I said earlier, I didn’t read much as a kid. I found kids books boring. But one day I was up in the attic. It was a scuttle type of access with a tiny trapdoor and you needed a long set of ladders to get in. It was freezing up there and only used for deep storage like Christmas decorations and old stuff that no one wanted to throw away. My dad must have left the ladders set up for some reason so I got up there and found a box of books, old paperbacks. Not kids stories, books for grown-ups. I picked up a fat, well-thumbed book and started reading. Remember, I wasn’t a reader, not at all. Anyway, I couldn’t put this book down. My fingers were getting cold and I could see my breath so I took it down from the attic and into my room. I read this doorstopper of a book in about two days. I can’t remember the name, but I think is was some Jacki Collins novel. I was eleven.
10. If you could only have five books on your bookshelf, which ones would they be and why?  This is tough. I am an avid reader and five books are not enough! I usually have at least three on the go at once. One fiction, one non-fiction, and a wild card… I’ll list my most recent five reads instead.

  1. Hogfather by Terry Pratchett. It’s a story about the origins of Yule or Christmas. Sort of… Santa Claus goes missing and DEATH has to take over or Christmas will be canceled… Pratchett’s books are the only ones I have ever read more than once. They’re hilarious and I love the way he twists folklore. Pure genius.
  2. The Gates by John Connolly. A fantastically clever middle grade book. Demons are coming in through the next door neighbor’s basement and only one small boy and his dog can stop all Hell from breaking loose. I think I might actually read this one again someday.
  3. Giants, Monsters and Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend, and Myth by Carol Rose. I have a lot of books on folklore. A lot. But this is the most recent addition to my bookshelf.
  4. Nine Lives: The Folklore of Cats by Katherine Briggs. There’s a wealth of feline folklore in this book and as that’s what I blog about the most – catlore – I refer to this book often. Just for the record, black cats are very lucky.
  5. The Earthsea Trilogy by Ursula K. LeGuin. I’m on book three right now.

HJ Blenkinsop Ph.D. writes books for girls with gumption and is the author of Kitty Tweddle and the Wishing Well. When she’s not cooking up strange tales, HJ dabbles in soap making and potion mixing. She also blogs about folklore, cats and the bizarre at HJBlenkinsop.com. Find her on Twitter here: @hjblenkinsop

 


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