I was lucky enough to be able to visit the school of St Helen & St Katherine in Abingdon today, where children’s author Sally Gardner came to talk to the girls. Her new book is The Silver Blade, the follow-up to her brilliant novel The Red Necklace which I reviewed here last month. Having so enjoyed the first of these novels set during the French revolution, I’ve been waiting for the second to hit the shops, and was even more delighted to be able to hear her talk and get it signed too. She has done masses of research on the revolution and gone back to many original diaries and sources in order to be as accurate as possible, and I’m looking forward to reading it immensely.
Sally introduced herself and told us a little about her school experiences. Severely dyslexic, she was repeatedly expelled because she couldn’t read and ended up in a special school for maladjusted children, where one day aged fourteen she picked up a copy of Wuthering Heights and a love of reading was born.
She then studied art and was a talented set and costume designer, but turned to books to make a living when left alone with three small children. As an artist, her first books were picture books for little people based on nursery rhymes and fairy tales which showcased her skills in illustration. From there she moved on to picture books with stories – we liked Fairy Shopping, which imagines a bustling town full of shops catering to every fairy’s needs. Then she moved on to writing illustrated novels for children including her Magical Children series which my daughter really enjoyed.
Growing in confidence, she got an idea for her first novel for 9+yrs. I, Coriander, a tale set in 1650s London and suffused with fairy magic was the result and won the Nestles Children’s Book Prize, and has now been followed by her two French revolution ones. She told us she’s currently working on a novel set in the 1930s and featuring a Lancaster bomber which she’s researching at the moment.
What I’ve enjoyed in particular about her books is that she has a really deft touch with magic. It seems entirely natural and doesn’t intrude. Her illustrations for younger readers are beautifully detailed and gently hued. Hearing her talk about her triumph of her imagination over her dyslexia was inspiring and the girls asked her some interesting questions. She’s been through some rough times, and throughly deserves her success.