Interview with Nicola Penfold, author of Between Sea and Sky (Blog Tour)

Congratulations on the publication of your latest children’s title, out 8th July. How does it feel seeing Between Sea and Sky out in bookshops?

It’s really exciting to think about! I haven’t seen it in shops yet, only here at home, but I have a bookshop trip planned to Central London on publication day. I’m going with my lovely writing friend, Julia Tuffs, whose fabulous teen debut Hexed also comes out that day with Hachette. We’re hoping to find copies of our books to sign! And somewhere for a sneaky glass of champagne to celebrate!

The books cover is dazzling, with so much to draw your eye to, who is the talent behind the design?

Isn’t it gorgeous?! I absolutely adore it. It’s designed by the very clever senior designer, Pip Johnson, at Little Tiger. And the amazing artist is Kate Forrester, who also illustrated my first book, Where the World Turns Wild.

What can readers anticipate from Between Sea and Sky?

Sea swims, sunshine, bike rides, mud larking. Secrets to be kept and rules to be broken! And a storm is brewing.

The book has an environmental theme running through its core, how important is it to you to bring awareness to such a worthy topic?

Oh so important actually! I love writing about the natural world, and I think if you do that, the climate and biodiversity crisis is just really hard to ignore. When I was a teenager, I used to read science fiction books about spaceships leaving a devastated earth, to find a new planet to start again on. I wonder if naively I even thought that if things ever got really bad, that’s what would happen, that space science and engineering and all these things would save us, and there would be somewhere else to go. But we know there isn’t. As loads of climate strike placards have told us, there is no Planet B. We have to protect this one.

Sisters Pearl and Clover have very different characters within the story, what is the dynamic like between them?

I mean I think they love each other dearly, but like some sister relationships, and especially one as close and claustrophobic as theirs – they don’t go to school, they have no other human playmates – there’s a tension there too. Pearl’s desperate to keep things the same. She fears the land, and Clover’s hunger for it scares her. Clover’s desperate for change. She wants to meet new people, explore new places. I think she feels Pearl and her dad stand in the way of this.

The location of the story, a floating oyster farm, sounds incredible. Where did the inspiration come from?

I have to credit a young adult book called The Gracekeepers by the fabulous Kirsty Logan. This book features a flooded future world, and a girl called Callanish who lives alone on a tiny island, tending the graves of people who die at sea. There’s also a floating circus, and a bear! It’s beautiful. This remoteness, the bleak drowned world, but life nonetheless persisting on the edges, really drew me in. I’m not sure why I made it an oyster farm in particular – I imagined I think that in a flooded landscape, people would need to live off the sea, so oysters made sense. And then I found out oysters are actually really good at filtering seawater and removing excess nitrogen. And then add seaweed into the mix, which absorbs CO2 and helps deacidify the sea, you’ve quite a sustainable ocean farm going on.

What did the research for this book involve? 

I found out about sustainable ocean farming. I also researched growing salads and vegetables hydroponically – that is in nutrient solution and controlled conditions. This is what’s going on at Edible Uplands, the old repurposed power station in my book. To make my world credible, it felt important that there were ways of producing food that didn’t rely on the land, which, in the book, has been contaminated with saltwater and many years of intensive farming.

Is there a moral to this story that your hoping readers will appreciate, and if so can you elaborate 

I think it would be that the natural world has all these incredible, clever, beautiful solutions, we just need to give it more space. Like seaweed – it has huge potential for helping counter climate change. We need to be investing in it. And then from the land thread of the story, the butterflies, we need to recognise the importance of pollinators. Again, that comes back to giving nature more space. I think the days of a pristine close-cut green lawn should really be over – we need to rewild our gardens, parks, road verges, roundabouts, farms, and plant for pollinators. It’s not too late, there’s so much to be hopeful about, but we must act fast.

We couldn’t not ask, as we absolutely love your books, and highly recommend Where the World turns Wild too, so can we get any info on what you are working on next?

Yes! My next story is going to be set, very excitingly, on the Arctic island of Spitsbergen. It’s strange to write about somewhere far away, and also strange to be writing a wintery, icy story in summer, but I’m very excited about it. For years I’ve been drawn to this kind of landscape, and finally I get the chance to explore it. In a book! 

Be sure to check out the additional content on the blog tour, information can be found on the tour banner below. A huge thank you to Nicola for the opportunity to host such a fabulous interview, and to Little Tiger for allowing us to participate in the blog tour.

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