I am delighted to welcome Karen McCombie to the blog today on my stop on the School Wars Blog Tour. ‘St Grizzle’s School for Girls, Goats and Random Boy’s is the first book in the hilarious new series from Karen McCombie with illustrations by Becka Moor. Meet Dani, who finds herself dumped at a stuffy old boarding school whilst her Mum heads off to the Antarctic to look at penguin’s bums. Just when she think things can’t get worse St Grizelda’s School for Girls has had a drastic makeover. Gone are the uniforms, the rules and ….er. ,most of the pupils and staff. In their place is TOTAL CHAOS. Funny, warm, crazy and featuring a wonderful diverse cast of characters St Grizzles is a must for fans of boarding school series who love to laugh a lot.
Q & A – Karen McCombie
- I’m a huge fan of boarding school series and was excited to read St Grizzles. Did you have a favourite boarding school series when you were growing up?
I LOVE ‘A Little Princess’ – both the book and the beautiful film version. Poor Sara didn’t have a great time in her particular boarding school, but her riches-to-rags experience there makes for a pretty gripping story! And the transformed attic scene… *happy sigh*
2. What was the inspiration behind the St Grizzles Series?
You’ll often find me mooching in my local children’s bookshop – Pickled Pepper Books in Crouch End, North London – as it contains books, coffee and my friends Urmi and Steven, who own the place. One day, I idly asked which books they’d sold so far that morning, and Urmi replied, “Oh, all stories set around school. School-based books are always popular.” It was a *ping!* sort of moment. I’d been planning on dreaming up a new series, and I realised I’d never set a story exclusively at a school. I scuttled off and watched a box-set of ‘St Trinian’s’ movies; the originals that I’d adored as a kid. I began doodling notes and ideas to myself, and as I’m a bit of a hello-trees, hello-sky kind of person, my bonkers boarding school turned out a lot more hippie-fied than old skool St Trinian’s!
3. Becka Moor’s illustrations wonderfully enhance your hilarious story. When you wrote the book was it always planned to be illustrated fiction and has Becka captured the characters as you had envisaged them?
The illustrations that featured in the credits of the original ‘St Trinian’s’ films (and book) were amazing – Ronald Searle was a stunningly brilliant and funny artist. I kept my fingers crossed that my publisher (Stripes) would find someone who’d have a modern take on that animated, ink-edged style, and I was SO pleased when they suggested Becka Moor as the illustrator of ‘St Grizzle’s’. I think her drawings and my words are a really good fit!
4. My favourite character is Granny Viv, I would love to be as cool as she is when I’m older. Who is your favourite character and were they inspired by anybody?
I have a soft spot for Twinkle, the school mascot goat. We have a cat called Dizzy who looks absolutely gorgeous – she has long grey fur and amber-green eyes. But behind the pretty and fluffy exterior lies the feral soul of a Scottish Wildcat. Perhaps I was channeling Dizzy when I came up with Twinkle!
5. Like the OMG Blog, you have included a wonderfully diverse cast of characters. Do you think there is enough diversity in children’s books?
I think diverse characters do seem to be seeping into the mainstream more and more, thank goodness. A few years ago I wrote the first draft of a book which featured a boy in a wheelchair; he was a classmate of the main character. I was told it was a bit gratuitous to have him in there, as his disability wasn’t part of the plot. But that was my point – I didn’t want it to be part of the plot, I just wanted him to be a normal kid, who happened to be in a wheelchair. I was thinking about my daughter and her classmates at the time; there was so much diversity in the group… the kids were a muddle of middle class and working class, different ethnicities, Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim, kids with behaviour and learning issues, with Down’s syndrome, on the Autistic spectrum, with gay parents, divorced parents, who were adopted and fostered and who knows what else. The interesting thing to me was that they didn’t have much curiosity about each other; they just accepted everyone on face value and got on with it.
Anyway, with that previous book, I was overruled, which was disappointing, and had to rewrite the character. But now – in St Grizzle’s – there’s sweet, shy Zed! There’s no back-story with Zed, no explanation about why he uses a wheelchair. And he does what everyone else does, with the odd exception. So there, for me, is a very specific example of the fact that when it comes to diversity, things have moved on…
6. You have written over 80 books what advice to you have to aspiring authors?
Give yourself a deadline; nothing galvanises you like a looming deadline. If you don’t, you can just drift on for aeons, spending too much time noodling, tinkering and – worst of all – losing confidence in what you’re writing. Obviously, as a jobbing author, I have an editor breathing down my neck and a set date to hand in my manuscript by or I don’t get paid, which is VERY motivating! But if you’re just starting out, then initiatives like NaNoWriMo are great.
7. What are the best and the worst things about being an author?
My 3-part Best Thing: a) having a new, exciting book idea ping into your head, b) getting a big thumbs-up and green light on the project from a editor, and c) writing the very last paragraph of that project, with all of it now completed.
Worst Thing: At some point during the writing of the first third of the new book, I will inevitably hit a gloomy spot, knowing I’ve got SO much ahead of me. It feels like there’s a mountain (of words) to climb. *Gulp*
8. What have you got in store for 2017 and when will we be able to get our hands on the next book in the series?
The second in the ‘St Grizzle’s’ series will be out in June ‘17. It’ll have a similarly hard-to-hashtag title… ‘St Grizzle’s School for Girls, Ghosts and Runaway Grannies’!
Apart from that, I have a novel from Scholastic coming out in the summer, called ‘The Pearl in the Attic’, and a short read – ‘The Mystery of Me’ – for dyslexia-friendly publishers Barrington Stoke.
9. You have visited many schools, do you think it is vital for schools to have libraries and librarians?
Absolutely! And I just wish all primary schools had access to a librarian, who could get kids into the reading habit early, so there’s less of a drop-off at secondary, when the students naturally get overwhelmed by homework etc. In Tower Hamlets, East London, the schools’ library service have part-time, visiting librarians going into local primaries, which is a brilliant resource.
10. There have been so many fantastic children’s books published this year. Do you have a favourite that you have read this year?
I wish I had time to read more… #somanybooks #solittletime. But I’ve just finished ‘Little Bits of Sky’ by SE Durrant, which was gentle, moving, funny and hopeful. A lovely book to finish the year with…
You can find out more about Karen by visiting her website or follow her on Twitter @
A huge thank you to Karen for taking part in this Q & A. Thanks also to Beth Ferguson and Stripes books for sending me a copy of this fab book and inviting me to take part in the blog tour.
You can join in with the rest of the #SchoolWars blog tour for more fantastic guest posts.