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A Guest Post from Looking for Emily author, Fiona Longmuir

This month we’re absolutely delighted to have published Looking for Emily – a hugely gripping, fast-paced mystery adventure, with brilliant twists and turns, from a fresh and exciting new voice in children’s books, Fiona Longmuir. And today we’re very excited to be sharing a guest post from Fiona!

Just like the book itself, the story of Looking for Emily starts with the discovery of a strange little museum. When my partner and I go on holiday, we like to look for the most obscure local museum we can find. In Bratislava, we visited the clock museum. It was a weird little dream of a building, all strange angles and spindly staircases, scattered ticking bouncing off elaborately wallpapered walls. I snapped a photo of it, narrow and yellow as a pat of butter, and I thought that looks like something straight out of a storybook.

I started to turn over the idea of a story set around a museum in my mind. I could picture a glossy green door, a stamped brass sign, a spiral staircase. The entire seaside town of Edge grew out of that door. At first, I was playing with the idea of a museum of lost things and that became the museum of a lost person – an ordinary little girl called Emily. When I started writing, I didn’t have much more than that. I walked in the footsteps of my main character, twelve-year-old Lily, discovering alongside her who Emily was, why she disappeared and who created the secret museum filled with her things.

Everything in the Museum of Emily is ordinary – well, almost everything! It’s all books and buttons and scribbled notes and family photographs. And that’s because I think these are the things that make us who we are. The things we surround ourselves with every day. Your favourite recipe, or poem, or t-shirt. That’s what makes up a life. Those are the real treasures.

I’ve always had a soft spot for stubborn oddball little kids, probably because I was one – and still am at heart! Lily wandered into my brain pretty much fully formed: adventurous, hot-tempered, so afraid of being disappointed that she refuses to get her hopes up, ever. I created Sam and Jay to be the kind of people and the kind of friends that Lily needed most. The three of them are so different but they really bring out the best in each other. The adventure in Looking for Emily gets pretty scary sometimes, so Lily definitely needed the support of her friends to make it through. Looking for Emily is a story about finding where you belong, and that can be a person as much as a place.

I didn’t realise how much food was in the book until other people started reading it. Almost everyone commented on it! There are chips galore, because you can’t have a seaside trip without chips. My grandad lives in a little seaside town in Scotland, so I spent most of my childhood eating chips while getting rained on and I loved every minute of it. There’s an apple pie, which Emily and her sister make from their mother’s recipe, and which is based on an apple pie I learned to bake from my great granny. There’s lasagne at Sam’s house and tea in Ms Hanan’s classroom and hot chocolate in Lily’s kitchen and hot dogs by the bonfire. I think food is one of the greatest expressions of love we have. Nothing makes me feel safer or more cared for than a really delicious meal, and I love to cook for people I love too. So many of the things I cook, I learned from my family. And when I use their recipes, it’s like I can feel their hands squeezing mine. That’s what I wanted the food in Looking for Emily to feel like.

I write exactly the kind of stories I like to read most. I’ve never been able to resist a mystery or a grand adventure, but I love books that pause for little cosy moments too. Some of my favourite books strike that balance beautifully. Books like Time Stops for No Mouse and the Pages & Co series have so many lovely, warm, gentle moments that it makes the stakes of the adventure feel even higher. You know what everyone has to lose! In Looking for Emily, you get little glimpses of the beautiful life Emily lost – the life that’s just at Lily’s fingertips if she can gather the courage to grab it.

Thank you, Fiona! You can order a copy of Looking for Emily from Waterstones here, Bookshop.org here, or Amazon here.

Read the first few chapters below:

Themes in The Insiders – a guest post by Cath Howe

This month we’re absolutely delighted to have published The Insiders – a wise, heartwarming story of friendship and family from Cath Howe, the highly-acclaimed author of Ella on the Outside, Not My Fault, and How to be Me. And today we’re very excited to be sharing a guest post from Cath on the main themes in the book!

I’ve been doing some thinking about what made me want to write The Insiders. Here’s some thoughts on the big themes in the book.

School at night

I’m fascinated by places at night: how different they feel. There’s a word for this, kenopsia-a place which is normally full of people so you feel weird being in it when it’s deserted. Everything’s changed at night; distances are confusing and sounds are magnified. When I was writing The Insiders, I thought a lot about other places at night; stadiums, shopping centres and office blocks. I suppose you’re always asking the question, “Is anyone else here too?” Much of the book was written in lockdown so many places which would normally have been full of people were eerily empty.

Friendship

A big theme for me is friendship. How do we support our friends? What would we do to help them if things got tricky? How does someone turn into a friend? My books test friendships; you don’t really know how strong a friendship is until you test it. And then there’s family- what happens when you keep something secret from your family to protect a friend? I love to create plots that give the characters key choices and then show to results of the choices they make.

 Thrillers

I like stories where the reader is the one who knows the most about what’s going on. The Insiders is a thriller; there are moments of Oh no don’t do that and then sometimes the viewpoint switches so the fate of a character is left hanging and you keep wondering about it. That’s one of the things that keeps you reading.

People are icebergs

Callie says, right at the start, that we think we know people but they are really icebergs with loads going on under the surface. I do think it’s true that we only ever know a small amount about a person and, as a result, we can easily jump to all the wrong conclusions. By having three narrators, the book lets you see deeper into the lives of the children and the mistakes they have made and go on making about each other.

Bullying

Bullying takes many forms. It affects a wider group than just a bully or victim. There’s a trickle- down effect from bullying which affects the whole community. This story begins with a practical joke on Ted but it also contains: cruelty in the way that Billy has been bullied, the power of the group in the way that people tease Ted, Ted’s revenge on Billy and a teacher who is harsh with his class. There are also inspiring moments of kindness and friendship. These are a balance to bullying and we see them everywhere in schools.

School

Schools should be places where we feel safe and happy. The Insiders was based on one actual school where I’ve done a lot of teaching over the years. I used the layout of the school and details of the library, hall and playground to help my descriptions and scenes feel real. There are gardens backing onto this school playground too. I’ve often thought about the children in the houses looking out onto the deserted playground at night-time and in the holidays and hearing the place come to life each day as it fills with people. And it’s definitely true, in my experience, that the children who live nearest to school are the most often late.

Thank you, Cath! You can order a copy of The Insiders from Waterstones here, Bookshop.org here, or Amazon here.

Read the first few chapters below: