Q&A with author Lauren St John.
We got on the phone to children’s author Lauren St John to learn more about her writing process and why she loves animals.
What do you enjoy most about being a writer?
Being a children’s writer is such an amazing opportunity to do for children what I feel was done for me by children’s writers when I was growing up. They inspired me and gave me the courage to live my dreams, but also I feel like they provided sanctuary. When you’re a kid, so often you need a friend when there’s not necessarily anyone there, or you perhaps don’t have the courage to talk to your friends about things that are worrying you. I remember waking up in the middle of the night and just needing some comfort and that’s when I would turn to my favourite stories. It’s amazing how books give you sanctuary by showing you that there are other people who have been in similar situations, or other people who have been in worse situations. There’s also the opportunity as a children’s writer to show children the world and to open their eyes to the many extraordinary experiences out there, and to the many extraordinary people. The fact that you can help kids walk in different shoes and in other people’s footsteps is wonderful. With the world the way it is now there are so many incredible things about it but there are also so many disturbing things so now more than ever it’s incumbent on us to show the interconnectivity of everything. That’s interconnectivity with each other and with nature.
That interconnectivity with nature is such a key part of your work. Can you expand on why you like writing about animals and nature?
I lived on a 1,000 acre farm and game reserve in Zimbabwe. I had a pet giraffe and we had lots of rescue animals; everything from little antelopes to pythons to warthogs. We also had lots of ordinary animals as well; we had eight horses, eight dogs and six cats, so I grew up surrounded by animals. I think if you are a child who is a bit different or doesn’t necessarily fit in the connection with animals can be an important one. Adults often underestimate the power of the emotional connection between children and animals; it can be something so much deeper or more profoundly affirming than we perhaps imagine. So stories immersed in a world where there’s a strong connection between animals, nature and the human world are a real cornerstone of my work.
Laura Marlin and Kat Wolfe are both wonderful heroines. Tell us about how you developed them as characters.
I don’t think I’m ever really conscious of developing characters in that way, as such. When they come into my head they feel incredibly real from the beginning. Plot and character often come at the same time but everything depends on the characters. They have to be like your friends and you have to completely believe in them, what they do and how they think. With Laura Marlin, I was thinking one night that there hadn’t been a really good girl detective since Nancy Drew millions of years ago and I found that really weird. Then the idea for Dead Man’s Cove literally came fully formed into my head because at the time I was reading a book on modern slavery and the two kind of coalesced. In the funny way of books, and I suppose in life, things often happen together, so at the same time as I was having that thought so many other writers were thinking the same thing and we got this wonderful influx of lots of girl detectives created by wonderful people in the children’s book market and it was really fantastic. With Kat Wolfe, the inspiration came from two places: I had spent a year when I was 17 working as a veterinary nurse so she partly came out of that experience but she also emerged out of an investigation I did years ago for a newspaper on Russian spies!
What can audiences expect from your event at the Shakespeare’s Telling Tales?
Well, I’m very much looking forward to answering questions from avid readers or budding writers out there. Being a writer has been such an amazing career for me and I’m looking forward to sharing stories and tips with young people and adults who enjoy my books. I’ll also definitely be discussing Africa and animals with Imogen Russell-Williams, who’s chairing the event. I’m an ambassador of the Born Free society so any excuse I get to talk about saving dolphins and leopards I jump at the chance!