Without a doubt, Clover Twig and the Magical Cottage is my new favorite middle grade fantasy. It’s fun, quirky, light-hearted and enchanting, with characters you simply can’t forget. Such a vibrant new book just must be celebrated, and I was thrilled when Kaye Umansky agreed to be interviewed for the BookKids blog. Here’s what Kaye has to say:
BookPeople: First things first, who is Clover Twig and where did she come from?
Kaye Umansky: Ah. Where does any character spring from? She came from my head, but she’s certainly not like me. I’m not tidy, or sensible or brave. And I’m TERRIFIED of heights. I’d like her as a friend, though, especially in a tight spot. Perhaps she’s the girl I would have liked to have been when I was eleven, instead of the silly, rumpled, soup- stained kid I actually was.
BP: I love that this is a book about magic that is mostly light-hearted, not dark like so many current middle grade fantasies. What made you take your book in this direction?
KU: I like funny books. All my favourite books as a kid were either funny or about the theatre. And magic, of course. Always magic. And scary stuff, I like that. I try to write the sort of book I like to read. Fantasy, with jokes.
BP: Your witches – Demelza and Mezmeranda – are quite the pair of sisters! Did you have sisters growing up, or did you base their relationship on something else altogether?
KU: I’m an only child, which is probably why I read so much. But lots of my friends had sisters and they fought like the blazes. I always thought it was a shame. Sisters should be friends. But then, I never had to share a room with one.
BP: Having a magical cottage that could take you anywhere would be pretty amazing. If you lived in Demelza’s house, where would you want to go?
KU: Oooh. That’s a hard one. I think I’d go to a perfect, secret beach where I’d swim in a warm blue ocean then lie in a hammock under a palm tree and watch the moon come up, while my husband cooks me my favourite dinner and someone in the background plays saxophone music. That can be my daughter. And the cats could eat the fish bones.
BP: I adore your writing style and your use of language. School Library Journal has compared you to Roald Dahl and Eva Ibbotson (high – and deserved – compliments indeed!), but what authors do you think have most influenced your style?
KU: I am a huge admirer of both and really flattered to be mentioned in the same sentence. I also love Terry Prachett and Douglas Adams. I read lots of science fiction too. But more than anything, I loved the William books as a child. They are the funniest books ever. Richmal Crompton didn’t write down to children. I can quote bits from them. Utterly hilarious.
BP: The clumsy neighbor boy, Wilfred, was one of my favorite characters in your story. And I suspect he has a crush on Clover. Do you think there’s any hope for him?
KU: Wilf really likes Clover. He’s hopeless in some ways – clumsy, scared of heights, not brilliant in a crisis, a bit silly on occasion – and Clover is just the opposite. But he does make her laugh sometimes. If he calms down and stops being so irritating and Clover learns to lighten up a bit, I think they might get married when they grow up.
BP: Clover Twig and the Magical Cottage has a lot of cats in it, between Demelza’s beloved Neville and Miss Fly’s brood. Do you have any special creatures in your life?
KU: Oh my! My cats. How I love ‘em. Right now we have two – Heathcliff and Jeremy. They visit me when I’m writing and walk on the keyboard. We’ve got tropical fish too. They all have names. Valerie’s the latest. I wish I had a parrot, but I don’t. If I did, I’d call it Hank.
BP: The illustrations by Johanna Wright, who wrote and illustrated The Secret Circus, are truly enchanting. But I can only imagine the nail-biting anxiety of having any artist interpret my story. What was it like having your characters come to life through Ms. Wright’s art?
KU: I never know what an illustrator will do. I usually look at the first proofs and cry, “Hey! So that’s what they look like!” or occasionally I give a despairing “Whhhhhaaaaat?!!?” But usually, I’m thrilled and in awe. I can’t draw at all. I hear the characters’ voices in my head, but I don’t really visualise them. Johanna’s deceptively simple style is truly amazing and very different.
BP: Of course with so many fantasy series on the market, and with an amazing character like Clover Twig (not to mention Demelza et al.) I have to ask: Will there be any more Clover Twig stories coming our way? And what are you working on now?
KU: I’ve finished the sequel and it’s coming out in the UK next year. It’s called Clover Twig and the Perilous Path. Right now, I’m working on a series about Pongwiffy the Witch Of Dirty Habits, which is popular over here. I’ve been writing stories about her for 21 years, so we’re celebrating her 21st birthday.
BP: Finally, given Clover’s lean toward tidiness, do you have any advice for disorganized young witches?
Always label your potions. If it’s green and murky with lumps in, chuck it away – don’t try tasting it.
Don’t catch your sleeve on fire when using candles.
Keep dangerous items in a locked cupboard and don’t let the key out of your sight.
If you go on a day trip to a Haunted Castle, don’t eat all your frog paste sandwiches in the first ten minutes.
Don’t even think of putting live animals in your brew! Worms, spiders and beetles have feelings. And feelers, in the case of beetles.
Thanks so much to Kaye Umansky! If you haven’t already, hurry into BookKids and pick up a copy of Clover Twig and the Magical Cottage – I promise, you will be instantaneously enchanted. And who doesn’t want that?