Spotlight on ... Emily Kenny, author of The Extraordinary Adventures of Alice Tonks
We are so very excited that our first spotlight post focuses on the author of Inky Blog's book of the month for May, Emily Kenny.
Although Emily Kenny is a debut author, she is no stranger to children's books. With a degree in English literature and creative writing, and a Masters degree in children's literature, Emily shares her love of books with teenagers and young people as a teacher of English.
Drawing on her love of animals and her own experiences with autism, Emily Kenny has created a charming and riveting story of friendship, bravery and unlikely heroes. She was particularly keen to feature a neurodivergent character as the hero in her own story – and Alice Tonks is quite the hero.
Emily has very kindly answered our questions about her journey to becoming a published author and her creation of the world of Alice Tonks.
BG: To get us started, can you describe the Extraordinary Adventures of Alice Tonks in 3 words?
EK: Magical adventurous fun!
BG: What have you most enjoyed about writing the book?
EK: I loved bringing the animals to life and conveying their individual personalities through their voices. I also really enjoyed imagining the school, Pebbles, and the surrounding countryside and beach. The school for me is the beating heart of the story and I wanted readers to be transported there.
BG: How important do you think Alice will be for children with autism?
EK: I don't pretend to speak for all autistic people but I know that growing up there were no books whatsoever with characters who were autistic or neurodivergent. As an adult, books started appearing but until very recently they were always issues-driven so I hope that autistic children will love having a heroine who just happens to be neurodivergent. It was so important to me that Alice has adventures, explores magic and gets into danger just like neurotypical characters have always traditionally been able to. Young people with disabilities deserve to see themselves as the hero or heroine and it is just as important for neurotypical readers to see that too!
BG: After Alice (of course) who was your favourite character to write and why?
EK: This is a really tough one as I loved so many of the animal characters but Tim has a brilliant sense of humour and is wonderfully quirky. My villain is also super slippery and it was really good fun trying to not give too much away!
BG: I love a book with a map! Where did you get the idea for the location? Is it all imagined or is it based on somewhere you’ve been in real life?
EK: I had the privilege of boarding as a teenager and I loved exploring the huge, sprawling grounds and the surrounding countryside which gave me the inspiration. My school wasn't at the beach though and I really wanted to include the seaside – a seaside boarding school is such a classic location too!
BG: My absolute favourite line is ‘a terrier on his lap and a twinkle in his eye’ (although it was a toss-up between that and ‘the doors opened with a hiss and a fart’). Do you have a favourite line you are particularly pleased with?
EK: I don't have a favourite individual line but both Tim and the villain have some real corkers that made me giggle when I was writing!
BG: The artwork and jacket design are incredible. Did the design of the book match how you had envisioned it?
EK: To be completely honest, no! I'm not sure what I had in mind but it wasn't anywhere near as beautiful as the finished product! I am enthralled by what the design team at Rock The Boat have achieved with Flavia Sorrentino's incredible artwork. It totally took me by surprise but I absolutely wouldn't be without it.
BG: As a debut author, how did it feel when you finally held a copy of your book in your hands?
EK: Unbelievable. I honestly feel like the luckiest person alive. Having a book published has been something I have been dreaming about since I was a child.
BG: You mention in the acknowledgements that the ‘edits seemed endless’. What advice can you offer beginning writers when thinking about first drafts.
EK: Don't do what I do! I am so slow at drafting because I edit and tweak as I go. I really ought to just write the thing then come back and edit it but my brain won't let me work that way. What does help me, however, is to have a very strong sense of the ending, both in terms of the way everything will wrap up but more importantly the mood and atmosphere I want to create. Holding that vision in mind helps me work backwards and see what I need to include at earlier stages. So, my advice would be: know where you want to end!
BG: You’ve dedicated your first novel to your mother for giving you the gift of books. What were your top three favourite books when you were a child?
EK: I loved the Little Women books and felt a real affinity with Jo March. She was socially clumsy, highly strung, a bit of a misfit and obviously book mad! I must have read and re-read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe dozens of time – it was totally immersive, transportive reading! Finally, I have very fond memories of reading Edith Nesbit books in my mum's Volvo Estate before school. Whilst aspects of them haven't aged too well, I loved the sense of adventure and camaraderie. I've cheated – that's more than three!
BG: If you could be any character from children’s literature – past or present – who would it be?
EK: Ooh, tough question! I recently read Elle McNicoll's Like A Charm and Ramya really stuck in my head so I choose her! Things aren't easy for her but she sticks to her guns and knows her own mind.
Support a local bookshop and buy a copy of The Extraordinary Adventures of Alice Tonks today!