Here it is, My Cousin Faustina, Bea Davenport’s second children’s book – and this one’s a novel with a difference. Commissioned by Fiction Express, it’s aimed at (reluctant) readers age 10-plus. Bea tells us more about it in the Q&A section below, but I think encouraging children, especially reluctant readers, to interact with a book in this way is a fantastic idea.
So without further ado, here are my questions and Bea’s answers:
Q: Where did the idea for My Cousin Faustina come from?
A: It came from the name ‘Faustina’! It was one of those funny moments of inspiration that is hard to explain. I was watching a TV documentary about seventeenth century music and they mentioned an opera singer of the time, Faustina Bordoni, who was very famous for also being something of a diva in the modern sense. She was known for her beauty, but also for a famous rivalry with another singer and had a well-documented fight with her. I was very taken with the name, I think particularly because of the ‘Faust’ bit of it, and after just a few minutes the character of this very spooky girl came into my head. Faustina appears in the home of a boy called Jez one day, claiming to be his distant cousin. Everyone is charmed by her except for Jez – whose life starts going horribly wrong…
Q: Tell us a little about Fiction Express and how it works.
A: Fiction Express is a brilliant idea to encourage reading in schools. They commission authors on the strength of an idea, an outline and a first chapter. This first chapter goes out to schools on a Friday afternoon at 3pm. The pupils then read the chapter and the exciting part is that they get to vote on what happens next – by Tuesday. Then the author writes the next chapter in time for the following Friday! ‘No pressure then…!’ The other brilliant thing is that all the e-books come with teaching resources so the class can do fun related activities to keep them thinking about the story.
Q: Were there any problems during the writing process?
A: For me, this was quite a challenge – and funnily enough, it wasn’t the deadline that was the issue. As a former journalist, I love deadlines and respond to them very well. It was partly a challenge because I was writing for a younger age group that I ever have before, so I had to think even more carefully about the content and language. And because there was an educational element to the e-books, there are some language choices that I wouldn’t usually have made – such as the use of lots of adverbs and well-known sayings, that I would usually cut out of my own writing.
Q: What’s the best thing about writing for children?
A: Children are the most honest of readers. They don’t feel the need to be polite to you, so they will tell you the truth about whether they’re enjoying the book or not. So when a child reader tells you they love the story, you can be pretty sure it’s a genuine compliment! And with Fiction Express, the readers could leave comments on a blog, so it was fantastic to get real connection with the pupils who were saying how much they loved the story and couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. I think one of my proudest moments was when a young reader told me she’d been acting the chapter out with her friends. I’d have loved to have seen that!
Q: And the worst thing?
A: I don’t think there is a worst thing, as such, but there are things you have to consider about content, language, complexities and endings that I think are less fraught when you are writing for adults.
Q: Any funny moments?
A: I had one young reader contact me via the Fiction Express blog who said they were loving the story as it went along. Then they innocently asked me, ‘What happens in the end?’ I had to find a polite way of explaining that I couldn’t tell them!
Q: Are you planning any further children’s books?
A: Definitely. I have lots of ideas – but of course the perennial problem is finding the time to write them! I do have a completed novel for teens/ Young Adults and so one of my priorities is to see if I can find a publisher for that.
Bea Davenport is the writing name of former print and BBC journalist Barbara Henderson. Bea’s debut children’s novel, The Serpent House, was published by Curious Fox in 2014. She has written two adult crime/suspense novels, In Too Deep and This Little Piggy, both published by Legend Press. She is currently training as a 21st Century Author with the National Literacy Trust.
The paperback edition of My Cousin Faustina is published by ReadZone Books, and can also be bought on Amazon.