AUTHOR INTERVIEWS

  • Holly Rivers

    Holly Rivers

    DEMELZA AND THE SPECTRE DETECTORS

    CHICKEN HOUSE

    FEBRUARY 2020


    DEMELZA AND THE SPECTRE DETECTORS is a colourful, warm adventure story that has a science-loving young inventor at its heart. Demelza loves working on her adventures but then discovers that she has a very unscientific ability; to summon the ghosts of the dead....

    We asked author and actress HOLLY RIVERS to tell us more about her debut children's book:


    Q: Your early career was acting, so what has brought you into writing for children?

    A: As a teenager I spent three years playing the role of Drusilla Paddock in ITV's adaptation of The Worst Witch, so yes, I literally grew up within the pages of a magical children's story! It was a wonderful experience which inspired me no end, and I guess I've been a storyteller, in various guises, ever since. I've worked as a video journalist, performer, and drama facilitator, but when I discovered writing for children I knew that I'd found the thing that I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

    Having done a first draft of Demelza and the Spectre Detectors, I spent a year working on the manuscript with the wonderful Golden Egg Academy, before getting an agent and signing a three book deal with Chicken House. I feel so lucky to be able to call myself a children's author now, and can't wait for the journey ahead.


    Q: What about your reading journey - what kind of books did you enjoy as a child?

    As a child I was lucky enough to live in a house full of books. My earliest literary memory is Mum reading Burglar Bill by Janet and Allan Ahlberg to me at bedtime. I remember the wonderful voices she did for each of the characters so vividly, and I hold that memory very dearly.

    At primary school I devoured everything by Roald Dahl. I can picture myself walking around the playground one lunchtime with my nose in a copy of George's Marvellous Medicine, and hoping that the end-of-break bell wouldn't ring anytime soon! I loved the anarchy in his books, the mischief, the humour, and the rebellious nature of the child characters.

    As an adult I still read children's books voraciously, and try to get through one a week. Favourites include The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell, Malamander by Thomas Taylor, Beetle Boy by M G Leonard, Gaslight by Eloise Williams and The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge . I'm also excited to read Z for Zoe by Eloise Smith which comes out this Spring with Chicken House - it's the story of a secret band of sword-fighting children set in New York.


    Q: Can you tell us what your new book, Demelza & the Spectre Detectors, is about?

    A: Demelza and the Spectre Detectors is the first in a spooky, mystery-adventure trilogy. It's the story of Demelza Clock, a young inventor who spends all her time in her attic bedroom working on weird and wonderful contraptions.

    She doesn't have many friends, in fact she prefers the company of her screwdrivers and soldering irons. But one night, Demelza's scientific world-view is rocked, when she discovers that she is actually a Spectre Detector - someone that can summon the spirits of the dead.

    When Grandma Maeve is kidnapped, Demelza, with the help of her best friend Percy, must use both her inventions and newfound supernatural skills to solve the deadly mystery.


    Q: Did anything specific spark the idea for Spectre Detectors, people who can bring back the spirits of the dead?

    A: I love Halloween and anything spooky or macabre, so I knew I wanted my book to be set in the Autumn and to have a cosy gothic feel. I also wanted to write about an inquisitive STEM girl character, and I thought the clash of these two worlds would be interesting. So I started thinking about how a logical, science-minded character such as Demelza would react to finding themselves in a mysterious supernatural environment.


    Q: Feisty Demelza is at the heart of this story, but why did you make her a scientist and an inventor?

    A: Demelza was the starting point for the whole book, and she arrived in my brain fully formed, wearing her lab coat and thinking cap! I liked the idea of her being an inventor, as I think inventing beautifully combines science, creativity and ingenuity.

    As a child I loved Chitty Chitty Bang Bang which is also full of weird and wonderful machines and contraptions; in fact, some of the inventions in my book are things that I tried to make when I was younger!

    Even though Demelza takes her work very seriously, a lot of her inventions actually offer solutions for problems that don't really exist! So it was so much fun coming up with all of her contraptions - the more bizarre the better.


    Q: What makes Demelza a great Spectre Detector?

    A: To be a good Spectre Detector you need concentration, strength, sensitivity and empathy. Even though Demelza isn't sure if she wants to become a Spectre Detector at the beginning of the story, she quickly realises how helpful the process is to people who are grieving. By seeing the spectres of their loved ones for a final time, mourners get the chance to say a proper goodbye, and feel a sense of closure.

    Being an orphan, Demelza has an understanding of how painful losing a loved one can be. And who knows, at some point in the trilogy, she might even get to meet the spectres of her own mum and dad...


    Q: Did anyone help inspire the character of Demelza's fabulous grandmother?

    A: Grandma Maeve was hugely inspired by my own wonderful grandmothers. They both played a big part in my upbringing, and I couldn't help but be inspired by their warmth, wisdom and eccentricities. Grandma Rivers, my Dad's mother, still plays her Gameboy at nearly 90 years old, and reads voraciously. Mamgu, my maternal grandmother, has bags of energy, and makes the most wonderful dinners - her gravy is legendary!


    Q: Which of the supporting characters stands out for you and why?

    I loved writing Lord Balthazar, Demelza's talking head! He's the skull of a dead aristocrat who has massive delusions of grandeur. Even though he's a cadaver he still thinks that he's lord of the manor, and I loved writing his pompous one-liners. I think he adds a nice amount of comedy relief in some of the darker scenes.


    Q: Was it difficult exploring the subject of death and bereavement in a story that also has a lot of humour and adventure?

    A: The way that different cultures mark death was an important area that I researched for the book. In the UK I feel we have quite a sombre and austere outlook on death, whereas in other cultures death is seen as more of a celebration of life, and a natural part of the human cycle. For example, I've spent a lot of time in Mexico, where Dia de Los Muertos is the annual holiday celebrating the dead.

    I hope that Demelza and the Spectre Detectors can open up a conversation about death and dying, and make a sensitive topic a little more accessible and easier to discuss.


    Q: What next for Demelza, and will her friends Percy and Miranda be involved?

    A: I have just written the first draft of the second Demelza book. I can't reveal too much at the moment, but she'll definitely be heading off on another oddball adventure with Percy and Miranda, and meeting lots of new characters, both dead and alive.


    Q: Where is your favourite place to write, and what are you writing now?

    A: Most of Demelza and the Spectre Detectors was written in various libraries across London. They're magical spaces, and I love sitting in a quiet corner with my laptop and thermos flask, basking in the wonders of the surrounding bookshelves. I can also often be found writing in cosy pubs with open fires and real ales!

    As well as working on the Demelza trilogy I'm currently putting down ideas for another stand-alone novel. It's a mystery-adventure set during a family camping holiday in France, and revolves around a young girl-scout who discovers a magical castle out at sea.


    Q: When you're not writing, what are you most likely to be found doing?

    A: My partner and I love food, and one of my favourite things is spending a lazy Sunday cooking a roast dinner with all the trimmings. It takes hours and hours and hours to prepare, and is usually polished off within 20 minutes, but it's always worth the effort!

    I also love watching films (especially 80's children classics such as Labyrinth, Return to Oz, The Dark Crystal and E.T!), camping, reading, drawing, listening to podcasts, collecting things, playing ukulele, walking, circus skills, charity shop shopping, having long baths, and sleeping.


    Q: Demelza loves having adventures - do you? What's been your biggest adventure to date?

    A: I love adventures! Travelling is one of my biggest passions, and my partner and I adore putting on our backpacks and getting off the beaten track. I've climbed glaciers in New Zealand, visited tea fields in Malaysia and trekked through the jungles of Thailand.

    Most recently I've spent time in Mexico, where I zip-lined through pine forests, explored Mayan ruins, swam in cenotes, and ate my body weight in pork tacos! Seeing different places and experiencing different cultures makes my heart beat faster, and the next destination on our list is Nepal.


    THANK YOU FOR TELLING US MORE ABOUT DEMELZA AND THE SPECTRE DETECTORS! (now out now in paperback from Chicken House, 6.99)