Today I am delighted to welcome Emma Fischel to the blog with a special guest post about her witty, warm and totally mind boggling new book, ‘Walls.’ Meet Ned Harrison Arkle-Smith who had a good life, a perfect family and a true best friend, but when he returns home after the summer holiday is life is officially ruined. His hopes of his parents reuniting after their split is destroyed when he is faced with the reality of a wall that has been built right through his home separating his life into Mum time and Dad time. While his sisters try to get used to this new way of life, Ned refuses to and his rage builds up to the point where unwittingly he makes something truly extraordinary happen. But having a special power doesn’t make Ned feel better, he decides to use it to exact revenge on everyone and anyone who stands in the way of his happiness. Emma uses a clever mix of humour and magic to deal with an incredibly difficult and sensitive topic of families being separated by divorce and has created a story that is genuinely warm and funny. ‘Walls,’ is a wonderfully, empathetic read which allows children to understand that it is fine to feel confused, annoyed and frustrated when dealing with difficult events in their lives.
Ten Questions About Wallboggling – Emma Fischel
Ned Arkle-Smith likes to make lists: Seven Ways to Annoy a Teenager…Twelve Reasons Mum Should Get Me a Pet Goat… Thirty-Two Reasons Custard Should Be Banned… And, the night he discovers he has the astonishing new skill of walking through walls: Ten Questions About Wallboggling.
Wallboggling – the name Ned gives his skill of walking through walls – comes about through extreme anger. Ned has been away all summer while a wall has been built down the middle of his house, Ivy Lodge. Now Ned’s back, with Mum living one side of the wall, and Dad the other, and Ned is not happy. Especially as, while Ned’s been away, his best friend Bill has been busy making lots of new friends, which is ALL the fault of the wall.
But then, one night, raging with anger at the wall, Ned discovers he can walk right through it. Which is when he makes his list of wallboggling questions. And that got me thinking… If I made a list right now, what would it be? So here it is!
Five Key Moments In Writing Walls
The wallboggling moment
Walls started life with one idea – the wall down the middle of the house. I wanted to write a story that tackled both the practical difficulties when a family breaks up and needs one household to become two, and the struggles of a child to adapt to that changing family dynamic. The wall was a physical symbol of the split and, Ned realises, also physical proof that his secret hope – Mum and Dad getting back together again – will never happen.
But it all seemed too earnest. There wasn’t enough fun, enough excitement in the story. It needed something more… but what? That’s when I decided Ned should have a magic skill. I wrote a long list of skills Ned could get, but none seemed quite right. Then it came – the wallboggling moment. Of course, Ned can walk through that wall, and not just that wall – any wall!
Now Ned could wallboggle, the book came to life. What would a character like Ned do with that skill? Would he use it wisely and well? No, of course not! So many more possibilities opened up. The book could be action-packed, exciting and funny! And there is no better way to tackle sad or difficult themes in children’s books than through funny. As Elaine Wickson put it so well: ‘Sad and funny are practically married, as demonstrated in the final episode of Blackadder goes forth.’
The Clodd moment
I decided Ned needed a new neighbour his own age. Enter, stage left, Maddie Clodd – or the Clodd, as Ned calls her. Ned first meets her when he leaps over the wall at the end of his garden to go to his secret spot by the river. To his horror, there’s a someone there. Maddie Clodd. They clash straight away. The Clodd is tough and straight talking, more than a match for Ned. And, worse, she turns up at his school. There is no escaping her…
The Clodd acts as a commentator on Ned’s behaviour with Bill, continually calling Ned out – because Ned does NOT behave well. He’s grumpy, a control freak, and exasperating. But we have sympathy, because he’s struggling. No one is behaving how he wants, nothing in his life is going right, and wallboggling is just making things worse. (For a while, at least…)
The Clodd shows Ned another point of view, another way he could be. And she can see there is good in Ned, even if he does have a LOT to learn about the right and wrong ways to behave. ‘Cheer up,’ she says. ‘You may be an idiot – but it’s curable. You don’t have to stay an idiot. Not for ever and ever.’
It’s the Clodd who gets to the heart of what Ned needs to learn. ‘You’ve got no power over changes,’ she says. ‘The only power you have is how you deal with them.’
The ‘what-if’ moments
There were a lot of ‘what if?’ moments when I was writing walls. The first was when I was thinking about the kind of walls Ned could boggle through. What if, I thought, there was a big cellar running under the whole of Ivy Lodge? What if there was a room in that cellar that was locked – the key long lost? What if a wallboggling boy found his way in? What if, tucked away inside, were all sorts of intriguing documents relating to an earlier family member? And so the first sub-plot emerged.
Other what-ifs and other sub-plots followed swiftly. What if I change the location from countryside to a seaside town? What if there was a long beach with a network of caves at the end? What if there was a secret wreckers’ tunnel from the caves to the cliffs? What if the town had a legend of a roaming poltergeist haunting all the children? What if Ned had a one-time friend who – but no more. No spoilers allowed.
The sister moment
Sisters, I thought. Ned needs sisters. Older and younger, with different perspectives on the wall and the split.
Four-year-old Isabel arrived fully formed, her first line of dialogue at the ready, bellowed at a sleeping Ned: ‘If a witch on a broomstick flied as fast as she could, and so did a dragon – who would be winner?’ That’s the sort of concerns Isabel has in life. Really, as long as things carry on much the same, as long as she can still go elf-hunting in the garden, and still do her paintings, she’s not that bothered about the wall. She even tells Mum: ‘I like the walls. You and Daddy don’t do shouting now. Only Ned is sad about the walls.’ And her painting, Pink Bunny Wakes the Singing Rainbow, pretty much sums up her feelings that first week. (Although she has yet to experience Handover Day – the day it shifts from mum-week to dad-week, the day she moves to the dad-side of the wall…)
Grace is a teenager, far more preoccupied with the intricacies of her teenage life and friendships, than the world of her family and walls. She does, though, have more understanding about the efforts of the adults to make things work. ‘Don’t you think Mum and Dad tried to stay together?’ she hisses at Ned when he’s being particularly troublesome. ‘Don’t you think they tried to split the best possible way they could?’
But it’s Ned, as usual, who has the last word. ‘I’m a kid,’ he says. ‘I don’t have to think about things like that.’
The best moment of all
The moment I signed the contract with OUP!
So now Walls is out there, and if I have two hopes for it, it’s these. First, that children will enjoy it as a romping tale of friends and family, magic, mayhem and wallboggling, with lots of laughter and a few tears. And to have fun imagining all the walls they could boggle through if they’re ever lucky enough to get an astonishing magic skill, like Ned does.
Second, that any children going through a family break-up – or friends of those children – can share in Ned’s anger and sadness, and know that it’s OK to have all these feelings, it’s just how you deal with them that you have to work out. And to take hope from Ned, to see how he adapts to the wall and the changes in his life. First hating the wall for keeping his family apart then, by the end, seeing the wall as a way of keeping his family together. ‘Together,’ as Ned says himself, ‘…in a new way. Not my chosen way, but the best way possible.’
Emma Fischel grew up in the country, the middle of five children, and
had a happy muddy childhood. She now lives in London and has three
children of her own – two boys and one girl, all very tall, and extremely
useful at changing light bulbs she can’t reach. Emma is an experienced
author and has written several fiction and non-fiction books for children
of all ages, including the Witchworld series for Nosy Crow. Walls is her
first novel with Oxford Children’s Books.
Thank you to Emma for her insightful guest post and to Hannah and OUP for inviting me to take part in this blog tour. ‘Walls,’ is available to buy online now or from any good bookshop.