We are delighted to share our interview with children’s writer Lesley Parr, author of The Valley of Lost Secrets, on the featured content section of our website. Join us as we chat to Lesley all about her writing, inspiration for her books, and what you can expect from her next.
You can catch the full interview here in our spooky issue of PaperBound – all our issues are completely free!
Can you tell us a little about your novel, The Valley of Lost Secrets, and what inspired you to write it?
It all came from a writing task when I studied for a Master’s Degree at Bath Spa University. We were asked to write a short historical piece. When previously researching a different story, I discovered the true account of children finding a skull in a tree. So I used that as a starting point for my own characters, setting and mystery.
How did it feel to put yourself into the shoes of your main character, Jimmy, while writing this book, and why did you decide to set it during wartime?
I found it surprisingly easy to write from the point of view of a 12-year-old boy! I only realised after I’d written it just how much of me is in Jimmy. His loyalty to his dad and nan, his resistance to change, his love of comics, his fear of small spaces is all me!
Oddly, I didn’t ever see myself writing historical fiction, even though I’ve always been interested in history. This whole book came from the chance to try a new genre. Once I’d started, I knew it was a story I wanted to tell.
Your main characters go through a lot of change and emotional challenges in this book. What was the hardest part of writing it?
The emotional stuff isn’t what I found difficult – my writing is very character-led and how they feel and what they think pulled me through the story. It’s pace and structure I found hard. The skills of my tutors and my editor got me through that! But that’s okay – my husband calls it Writing Top Trumps…I have accepted that no one can have a 10 in every category. And it’s great because I’m learning with each new book.
The landscape is a big part of this book and Jimmy reacts to it strongly – particularly where he’s from, and where he is evacuated to. Did you always want to use setting as a strong driving force for this novel?
I didn’t plan to, I don’t plan much to be honest! I need to write to get a feel for all aspects of my stories. I suppose the setting was bound to come alive for me (and therefore hopefully the reader) as it’s what I know – a small, close-knit Welsh valley community. Because it’s all so alien to Jimmy I was able to show it through his eyes and take the reader there with him. In one scene, Jimmy is on the mountain with his new friend Florence (another evacuee):
‘I love being so high,’ she says, looking out over the valley. ‘I’ve never seen anywhere as lovely as this.’
And Jimmy says he tries to see what Florence sees. This is perhaps the first sign he’s beginning to want to be there.
Are there any writers that have inspired you in your writing and life?
David Almond is always an inspiration as he writes so beautifully about working-class characters in working-class settings. He was a professor on the MA for which I studied and it took me about three times of meeting him to be able to have a conversation because I was in awe! And I love books by Patrick Ness; like David, he writes with such simplicity to show real heart and grit. Emma Carroll is someone else I admire, as she proves historical fiction can be authentic to its era and feel fresh at the same time.
If you could share one writing tip with an aspiring young writer, what would it be?
The simplest words are usually the best. It’s easy to fall into the trap of overwriting when you’re new to it (I definitely used to). Writing in 1st-person from the point of view of a 12-year-old, I often have to simplify my language. So I tend to use a thesaurus in the opposite way to how people usually do. I think of a word and look it up to find one a child would be more likely to use. This is especially important in dialogue. Think about how people really speak! Adult characters, too!
Sum your book up in three words:
Can you tell us about anything else you’re working on?
My next book is called When The War Came Home (out January 2022) is about a girl called Natty who, with her mother, moves to live with distant relatives. It’s set in the early 1920s when the world was still reeling from the Great War. It’s about boys who lied about their age to go to war and how Natty helps them. And it’s about how she learns to fight for something. It’s quite political.
Lesley Parr grew up in South Wales, at the bottom of a valley and quite near a seaside steelworks. Now she lives in the middle of England (almost as far from the sea as it’s possible to get) with her husband and their rescue cat, Angharad.
She shares her time between writing stories, teaching at a primary school and tutoring adults. Apart from books, rugby union is her favourite thing in the world, especially if Wales is winning. Lesley graduated with distinction from Bath Spa University’s MA in Writing for Young People. The Valley of Lost Secrets is her first book.
The Valley of Lost Secrets was released in January 2021, published by Bloomsbury Children’s, and available in the UK, India, Australia and New Zealand. You can keep up to date with Lesley on Twitter, Instagram and on her website.
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