Five orphans looking for a home
14th Jul 20

Five orphans looking for a home

An orphanage, a wicked matron, and five children who plan to escape; these are all the ingredients you need for a stupendous adventure story - HANA TOOKE's THE UNADOPTABLES!

We asked HANA TOOKE to tell us more about THE UNADOPTABLES, and how she started to write for children.

Q: What did you like to read as a child?

A: Anything with animals or anything spooky/scary. I was a big fan of the Goosebumps series, The Witches by Roald Dahl, and any book that featured horses.

Q: Have you always been a storyteller?

A: Yes, more or less. As a child, I was always lost in role-playing (mis)adventures with my friends and then from my teens I started writing my own songs and short stories.

I think I started taking the story-writing more seriously after my son was born. We'd read together every night - either rediscovering books I'd loved when I was his age or discovering the abundance of amazing new children's books.

I realised I enjoyed children's fiction a lot more than adult fiction. To me, they're so much more magical, playful, and full of hope.

Q: Can you tell us in one sentence what your new book, The Unadoptables, is about?

A: Five determined children face down huge odds to carve out their own place in the world and find themselves tangled in an unusual mystery-adventure along the way.

Q: What drew you to writing about a set of 'unadoptable' orphans?

A: I wanted to write a story about belonging and about feeling empowered to be yourself in a world that often tries to tell you that being different is a bad thing, as this is something I experienced very keenly (in a myriad of ways) when I was younger.

Q: Can you tell us what marks out each of the orphans, and how they developed?

A: Milou: an overly dramatic girl prone to flights of fancy, whose antics often gets her (and her friends) into trouble.

Sem: a tall, clumsy, awkward, but fiercely loyal boy with exceptional skills in sewing, whose only wish is to see that his friends are well cared for.

Lotta: a defiant, clever, and determined girl with six fingers on each hand, who refuses to accept that she (as a girl in 1892) cannot become the scientist she's always dreamed of being.

Egg: a talented artist and cartographer, with clothing that is always stained with paints and charcoal, who is determined to travel the world.

Fenna: a timid girl with selective mutism, who is more comfortable with animals than with people (even the rats that roam the orphanage).

In terms of how they developed, I realised quite a while into the first draft that there was a 'misfit' element to each of them that came from my own experiences. Once I homed in on what these were, exactly, for each of them, I was able to work out how this would affect their motivations and the dynamics of their collective relationship.

Q: Why is it set in the Netherlands?

A: I'm dual national Dutch/English. I was born and grew up in the Netherlands and I go back there regularly. It was on a trip back there in the summer of 2017 that I realised I wanted to write an adventure story set in Holland - the landscape and setting of my own childhood adventures.

Q: There are a couple of colourful villains in the story - who is your favourite, and why?

A: Probably Gassbeek [the matron]. She's an 'unadoptable' who let her circumstances mould her into someone filled with bitterness and resentment, which she takes out on others.

I think the best villains are more complex than merely plain evil. There's usually something about their own story that has, unfortunately, warped their sense of right and wrong.

Q: There are also lots of puppets and a theatre; how did they find their way into the story?

A: The puppets were there from the very first moments Milou appeared to me - the cat puppet in particular. My stories always start that way: with a setting, a character and an unusual object that belongs to that character.

Q: What's next for the orphans - does each of them have a story to be told?

A: Every character in every book has a story to be told, whether that happens on the page or is left to linger in the reader's imagination. I'm not sure yet which will be the case for Lotta, Sem, Egg, and Fenna.

Even though this book followed Milou's perspective, it was still very much a story about all five of them. They all grow in some way. I think there is some magic in allowing readers to make their own conclusions as to what happens next. That said, I'm not entirely adverse to the idea of writing more about these children.

Q: The orphans were on a mission to find their true home. If you could choose to live anywhere you wanted, where would that be?

A: After 20 years of living in the UK, I finally feel like I've found a home in Bath. That said, I have a long-lived yearning to live in Amsterdam which I'm hoping will one day happen. A townhouse overlooking a canal, near to Vondelpark, would be the ultimate dream.

Q: Where is your favourite place to write? What are you writing now?

A: All I need is a comfy space, a quiet-ish room, and some coffee - be that at home, or in a cafe. I also like writing in the locations I'm writing about. I wrote several scenes by the canals in Amsterdam.

My next book (similar time and style to The Unadoptables) is set in Prague, and several chapters were written around the city, and even sitting on a bench in a very large, very gothic cemetery.

Q: Any favourite recent reads you can share with our members?

A: I am a huge Neil Gaiman fan. I think The Graveyard Book and Coraline are exquisite stories and if you haven't yet read them, you must.

There are so many great children's writers around at the moment. Some more recent favourites are Kirsty Applebaum (The Middler and Troofriend), Katherine Rundell (in particular, Rooftoppers and The Wolf Wilder), Struan Murray's Orphans of the Tide is fantastic, as are all of Emma Carroll's books.

At the moment I am reading and thoroughly engrossed in a book called Storm by Nicola Skinner. I could go on and on and on and on.

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