Q&A with Hazel Allan

Today we share with you our interview with Hazel Allan, author of the Bree McCready books:

What were your favourite childhood books?

My earliest memory of falling in love with a book was when I was about ten. I was off school with chicken pox and I picked up “The 101 Dalmations” by Dodie Smith. After about two pages I completely forgot about my itchy spots! I read that book in one day and it inspired me to write my first novel about a family of hedgehogs.I was very fortunate to have an elderly friend (Grace Burton) who introduced me to books at an early age. She gave me “The Little Prince”by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. A heartwarming tale full of poignancy and hope it tells the story of a little prince who falls to earth from a star and of an airman, stranded on a desert, who seeks to understand the prince’s secret. I remember crying when my mum told me the author died in action during World War 2, just one year after the book’s publication. This certainly is high up on my list of all time favourites.I was (and still am) a massive fan of Hans Christian Andersen. My favourite story is “The Little Mermaid”. If I close my eyes now I can conjure up the smell of the pages from the book I had as a little girl. I also loved “The Yearling” by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, “The Magic Faraway Tree” by Enid Blyton and Aesop’s Fables.

With a background in childcare, and of course, being a mother, what finally prompted you to put pen to paper and write a children’s book?

I have always loved books and making up stories. My head has buzzed with ideas for as long as I can remember and my imagination never rests. During the 1990′s I worked in a school situated in an area of multiple deprivation where literacy levels were staggeringly low. Most of the children had very little contact with books and were therefore intimidated by the written word. I found that they responded well to me TELLING them a story rather than reading from a book. I had this knack of being able to conjure up stories out of thin air and keep the children spellbound. I used to get a thrill out of watching their mouths hang open as I took them on an adventure. I stored all those stories at the back of my mind and promised myself that one day I would write them down. However, it took another eight years and a personal crisis to prompt me to pursue my dream of being a writer. I was thrown unexpectedly into the world of single parenthood and for some reason this cracked open a part of me that had been hidden away for a very long time. I found myself trying to grab onto something that really mattered to me in order not to fall into a very dark hole. And so began what is now “Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket” It is really important to me that my son is proud of me and knows how hard I have tried to make life better for us both. That always provides me with the inspiration to keep going with my writing.

Tell us how the character Bree McCready took form.

“Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket” actually started out as a short story about bullying called “In Her Shoes”. Bree was not the first character I thought up. It was another girl called Alice Renshaw. Now, Ms Renshaw is probably the nastiest person you can imagine so I needed someone who was the exact opposite of that to enable me to show her in all her nasty glory. I wanted a strong, wise, kind and clever girl who would help to cancel out Alice’s vileness and also provide opportunites for some interesting confrontations. Bree came to life very quickly in my mind. In her are all the parts of me that I felt were misunderstood as a child with a few extra bits and bobs chucked in for good measure. Once I had a firm idea of who Bree was it became easy to write about her. In fact she now does all the hard work for me! I always knew I wanted Bree to be someone who, despite all her amazing qualites was a bit ‘down on herself’ but who would ultimately grow to accept herself warts and all. I think Bree and I continue to grow together in that respect.

What will Bree be getting up to in her next adventure?

Where do I start? I think the second book is even more fast-paced and exciting than the first. There is quite a lot of humour in there too but the dark elements of the story remain. The story starts at the end of the summer holidays. All seems calm until Honey’s little sister, Mimi, disappears from the school library. Bree, Honey and Sandy realise trouble is afoot and return to aisle 142 to retrieve the magical book carried in their previous adventure.Soon they are crossing a land divided by centuries of misunderstanding. Its citizens have been tricked into thinking that The Flame of Irenus brings peace, when it fact it fuels hatred. Realising they must extinguish it, the three friends set off on another perilous journey. Fans of the first book will recognise some familiar faces and there are some new ones too, including a love interest for Bree. My intention was always to have a Bree McCready trilogy so I am nearly two thirds there!

Who are you, or your son’s, favourite current children’s authors?

My son is six, so anything with bogeys and poos goes down well! For that reason he is a massive fan of the Horrid Henry books and Dirty Bertie series. One of my favourite things about being a mum is reading to my son and it’s important that we find books which appeal to us both. My heart has to be in it if I am required to do silly voices and make a fool of myself! For example all the Mr Men have different voices, which is no mean feat considering there are 46 of the little blighters! Mr Uppity sounds like the Queen with a nervous twitch and Mr Small veers close to Graham Norton with a lungful of helium (that gives you an insight into my mad world!) I am currently reading him “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B White and he also loves anything by Spike Milligan or Roald Dahl. We still love picture books too, my all time favourite being “Shhh!” by Sally Grindley. It is full of suspense and terrific to read aloud.

Describe yourself to us in 5 words.

Well, this changes on a daily basis. I’ll try to imagine what my best friend would say about me to make it easier. Determined, loyal, stubborn, independent and strong.

Thanks, Hazel! Hope you all enjoyed our chat with Hazel. We’ll shortly be bringing you our review of Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket, and have added it to our ‘reviewed’ shop for you now. You can find Hazel on Facebook here.