A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
I’m delighted to interview Sarah Baker about her second novel, Eloise Undercover.
1. Sarah, does your background in film help as a writer and if so in what way?
Having worked as a Story Editor, I do tend to ‘see’ my stories as films and that really helps when it comes to editing, when I want to make sure all the details (the smells, sounds and tastes) have translated themselves from my brain to the page and hopefully, the reader.
2. Strong female protagonists are at the forefront of children’s publishing at the moment with books like Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, Great Women who Changed the World and Women in Science, were you inspired by these to create a brave girl of your own?
It’s rather a happy coincidence though I’m inspired by bravery full stop, whether it’s battling anxiety on a daily basis or German soldiers during WW2. I always wanted to write stories about girls who thought for themselves and who didn’t need someone to ‘fix it’ for them, even if they don’t realise it at first. I love that there are so many strong female protagonists in children’s books at the moment.
3. Why do you think we’re so drawn to war and World War Two as readers and writers?
War stories are important and WW2 is a period of history that’s close enough to feel real. Both my grandfathers and my great-uncle fought in WW2 (Two Majors and a Spitfire pilot). My great-uncle would tell me stories (he was there on D-Day), which I turned into school projects. My Grandfathers, however, couldn’t bear to talk about it, so we didn’t. That led me to read everything I could, to understand why. I think the scale, the magnitude of what happened, the horror, the bravery and the sheer human experience of it all draws us as readers and writers. We remind ourselves, and each other, how important it is not to forget.
4. Tell us about your research process for Eloise Undercover.
I read a lot of books: a lot of middle grade and adult books, either set or written during WW2 (I’ll be blogging my bibliography soon). I also did a lot of internet research. I work visually so I create Pinterest boards (LINK BELOW) for each book to help me ‘see’ the characters and place settings. It’s really handy to be able to check the correct uniforms, weapons, vehicles and boats used too. I spent quality time at the Imperial War Museum in London and I also asked my Dad a lot of questions. (He’s a bit of an unofficial WW2 expert.) It was really important to me to make sure I got it right, or as right as I could. My editor helped too. Any mistakes are mine.
5. How did the experience of writing Eloise Undercover compare with your debut, Through the Mirror Door?
Oh my goodness. You spend years working on your debut novel before you even get an agent and then, bam, book 2 is due in a year. That sounds like a long time, but I’d just had a baby so I took 3 months off before I started writing Eloise. I’d pop baby in a sling, rest my laptop on the kitchen counter (he seemed to sense if I sat down) and began writing. I wrote and edited when he slept and, luckily, that seemed to work out ok.
6. Who is your favourite character in Eloise Undercover and why?
I can’t tell you without giving away a major spoiler! But that one. I loved writing that one. The intrigue, the glamour, the shoes!
7. Which character was the most difficult to write?
Amma. She’s the one I had to work on in edits. She’s so important to El and I didn’t want her to be incidental. She withholds herself, keeps a lot of secrets and she can be very strict, but I wanted to show how much she loves Eloise, and why she does what she does to protect her. I needed to make sure Amma’s warmth shone through even when she didn’t seem so nice.
8. How did you come up with the title?
That was down to Georgina Hanratty at Bounce. We’d all been emailing each other titles for about two months. Then George came up with this and we all loved it.
9. Did you have much involvement with the cover design?
Not so much, though I was asked my opinion on a draft sketch. I knew I was in good hands though because I loved Jess and Will’s work on Through the Mirror Door. I’m so pleased with it.
10. Do you hope that Jessica Courtney-Tickle and Will Steele will design your next cover?
Well once was amazing and twice is incredibly lucky. If I could be so fortunate as to have them both design my next cover I’d be very happy indeed.
11. Author branding is quite important, do you see yourself writing more historical novels or would you like to try something else?
I’m already writing something different – a contemporary middle-grade story of two sisters, one of whom has Downs Syndrome. Think Mean Girls with a dash of Wonder.
12. I read in your acknowledgements that you took a baking course as you wrote Eloise, can you tell us a bit more about that?
Oh I loved that. It was a bread-making course at Bread Ahead in Borough Market. We made sourdough, fougasse and a baguette and I learned so much. Amma bakes in the book so I wanted to get a real sense of the baking bread process – the smells, the touch, the meditative aspect. Also, it was 3 hours of pure fun.
13. You’re part of the Book Bound family, how has that helped you as a writer?
Family is exactly the right word. Apart from helping me get my first book into a good enough shape to get an agent (thank you!) they continue to be wonderfully supportive. We message each other, ask each other questions, share highs and lows, attend each other’s launch parties and cheerlead each other on. I wouldn’t be where I am now without them.
14. What’s next?
Ah well, there’s Different (working title), the contemporary middle-grade novel and then there’s a picture book called Robo-Gran (think crime-fighting Inspector-Gadget-style Granny with her rather surprised Grandson).
ABOUT SARAH BAKER
Sarah Baker has worked extensively in film, with roles at Aardman Features and the Bermuda Film Festival, and as Story Editor at Celador Films. She has also been a writer and blogger for vintage fashion magazines. Sarah currently lives in London with her son. Her first book, THROUGH THE MIRROR DOOR, is a time-slip novel for 9+ that’s perfect for fans of Emma Carroll, Katherine Rundell and Robin Stevens. Her second novel, ELOISE UNDERCOVER, is a thrilling middle-grade adventure set during WW2, available September 2017.