Sophie takes to the Sky – Guest Post with Katherine Woodfine

Being the author of two hugely successful book series’ is something Katherine Woodfine relates well to, yet her most recent venture has taken her in a slightly different direction which sees her writing a novella for Barrington Stoke. Her latest title Sophie Takes to the Sky is one of their Little Gems September releases and is one of many things we discussed when Katherine kindly agreed to participate in a Q&A that I am delighted to share with you all.

Q: Katherine, You are known for writing book series’ Taylor and Rose: Secret Agents and the Sinclair Mysteries, how does writing a standalone novella for Barrington Stoke differ?
Writing a standalone is very different from a series: with the Sinclair’s Mysteries and Taylor & Rose I have an established world and characters to draw on, whereas with a book like Sophie Takes to the Sky, it’s all completely new – which can be a fun opportunity to experiment and play. The text for these books is also much shorter which presents an interesting challenge in terms of telling an evocative and atmospheric story in fewer words. As it’s fully illustrated, I also like thinking about making the story as visually exciting as possible, to give the illustrator lots of possibilities for the artwork.

Q: Can you describe Sophie takes to the Sky in five words?

Meet a high-flying historical heroine!

Author Katherine Woodfine

Q: You have written a novella for Barrington Stoke before – Roses’s Dress of Dreams, what do you like about writing novellas for Barrington Stoke?
Barrington Stoke’s Little Gems are designed to be dyslexia-friendly and help build confidence in reading. I really enjoy working with the team to create a story which is entertaining and as accessible as possible: it’s fantastic to think that books like Sophie Takes to the Sky and Rose’s Dress of Dreams can help to break down the barriers that may prevent kids getting into reading, and help inspire a new generation to love books and stories.

Q: The title character in Sophie takes to the Sky in based on famous female aeronaut Sophie Blanchard, what inspired you to choose her story?

After writing Rose’s Dress of Dreams, which was inspired by fashion designer Rose Bertin, I got thinking about other heroines from history that I might write about. When I found out about Sophie, I was immediately intrigued by the fact that this intrepid adventurer had apparently once been an incredibly timid child. The woman who became famous for single-handedly flying hot air balloons through storms and over mountains had, as a young girl, reportedly been so nervous she didn’t even dare to ride in a horse-drawn carriage. I began wondering how Sophie might have taken the first steps to overcoming her fears, and that’s where the story really began. 

Illustrator Briony May-Smith

Q: Sophie’s character grows as the story develops, how important are books in mirroring relevant behaviours for children to learn coping techniques from?
I was quite a timid child myself, and I definitely think a story like Sophie’s would have resonated with me when I was growing up. Often the heroes of children’s books are brave and bold, which is brilliant – but I think it’s also helpful for children who might struggle with fears and anxieties to see a character that shares that, who they can connect with. The Sam Wu series by Katie and Kevin Tsang are an example of books that do this particularly well.

Q: Sophie is undoubtedly an idol, who are your literary idols and why?
I have so many, but one writer I’ve loved for many years is Jane Austen. People often think of her as a writer of romantic stories, but there’s so much sharpness and wit in her writing. Recently, I was very excited to have the chance to retell my favourite of her books, Pride and Prejudice for a young audience: Awesomely Austen: Pride and Prejudice is published this October, with fantastic illustrations by Églantine Ceulemans.

Q: What book are you currently reading?
I’ve just started reading Fierce Bad Rabbits: The Tales Behind Children’s Picture Books by Claire Pollard. It’s a really fascinating read for anyone interested in children’s books and their history. 

Q: If you could be any character from a children’s book who would you choose and why?
There are lots I could choose – but I think I’ll go for Maria Merryweather, the heroine of classic children’s book The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge. I’d love to explore her home, the wonderful and mysterious Moonacre Manor – and especially to eat one of the delicious meals provided by its eccentric cook Marmaduke Scarlet. For example: “plum cake, saffron cake, cherry cake, iced fairy cakes, eclairs, gingerbread, meringues, syllabub, almond fingers, rock cakes, chocolate cakes, parkin, cream horns, Devonshire splits, Cornish pasty, jam sandwiches, lemon-curd sandwiches, lettuce sandwiches, cinnamon toast, and honey toast to feed twenty and more” – delicious!

Sophie Takes to the Sky published on 15th September and is priced at £6.99.


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