Children’s author Hannah Gold chats to us about her debut novel, The Last Bear, and the inspiration behind it. You can read the interview here, or in the latest issue of PaperBound Magazine by visiting our issues page.
Could you tell us a little about your novel, The Last Bear?
The Last Bear is the story of 11-year-old April who accompanies her scientist father to a remote Arctic island. There are supposedly no polar bears left but one endless summer’s night April spots something distinctly bear-shaped loping across the horizon. He is starving, lonely and a long way from home. Determined to save him, so begins the most important journey of April’s life.
HarperCollins (my wonderful publisher) describe it as a celebration of the love between a child and an animal, a battle cry for the environment and an irresistible adventure with a heart as big as a bear’s. I always love that last line!
The Last Bear deals with important issues that are very relevant right now and close to a lot of people’s hearts. Could you share a little about what inspired you to write it, and what you hope readers take from it?
The Last Bear is a book very close to my heart and is basically about everything I love most in the world – nature, the planet and that unique, instinctive bond that especially exists between children and animals.
Although, it’s first and foremost an adventure story, there is a very important environmental message to the book – and this reflects my values and my own attempts to live as greenly as possible. I set the book on a real-life Arctic Island called Bear Island – so-called because of the polar bears which once lived there. But these days, because of the melting ice-caps polar bears can no longer reach the island which bears their name. Once I discovered this – there really was only one story to tell – and that was April’s desperate quest to take Bear home.
Many teachers have already used the book in the classroom to showcase the dramatic loss of sea-ice in the Arctic and how this is impacting the polar bear population. This just makes my heart sing because one of my primary goals behind The Last Bear has always been to empower our children to find their roar and know that no-one is too small to make a difference.
But it’s not just a book for the classroom. There’s a line in the book which a lot of readers seem to pick up on. It’s when April challenges someone who is questioning what impact she, as a little girl, can make. She replies: “But imagine if every person on the planet just did one single thing.”
And yes, imagine if everyone reading the book made one positive ecological change to their lives? I wanted to write a book with hope. A book that would inspire change. That would encourage children and grown-ups to realise it’s not too late. We don’t have to sit and wait for someone else to make change – we can be that change first.
Your book is beautifully illustrated by Levi Pinfold. What was it like working with an illustrator to bring your story to life?
In truth, I didn’t have that much direct involvement with him! The art designer is the one who mainly communicates with the illustrator and decides what art the book is going to have and where any illustrations sit within the text. I was shown a rough copy and gave feedback but they were so stunning, there really wasn’t much to say other than just gasp. Levi has perfectly captured the bare, sweeping Arctic landscape, but at the same time the heartfelt bond between April and Bear.
For me, this was a book written with love and it feels like it’s been illustrated with an equal amount of love too. And when I peel off the jacket to reveal the gold bear underneath, there are always gasps!
The Last Bear has been likened to books by Philip Pullman and Michael Morpurgo. How does it feel to hear comparisons like these? And, are there any writers that have inspired you in your writing and life?
If I’m really honest, I only think I was compared to Philip Pullman because we both have polar bears on the front cover!
Although I am a massive Dark Materials fan, if I had one author hero, it’s definitely Michael Morpurgo. The themes he covers in his books – such as nature, helping animals, and our bond with animals – are those which deeply resonate with me. When I signed my deal with HarperCollins Children’s Books (who also publish him) I mentioned how much I admired his writing.
Fast forward a few months and they asked me if there was anyone they would like me to approach to endorse the book? Obviously there is never any guarantee but straight away I said that I would LOVE Michael Morpurgo. Things went very quiet and I put it out of my head, thinking he would be too busy . . . until one Friday afternoon I received an email from my editor with the subject header: Endorsement.
It was the best start to a weekend ever.
To be honest, I still feel like such a newbie that to be mentioned in the same breath as him in various reviews actually makes me laugh. I can only hope my career has his longevity and that readers still embrace my 50th book just as much as they have this one.
If you could share one writing tip with an aspiring young writer, what would it be?
It took me a LONG time to get my breakthrough, so don’t be hard on yourself if your earlier effects don’t gain much traction. It’s a process rather than a race. Also don’t be self-conscious or worry too much about how good or bad you are. When we worry too much about our writing and what anyone else might think of it, we are thinking too much about other people’s opinions or judgement of us. But writing, first and foremost, is about finding some spark of joy for ourselves and that’s never been more important than now.
Sum your book up in three words:
Courage, heart and adventure!
Can you tell us about anything else you’re working on?
I am on a 2-book deal with HarperCollins so I am currently editing my second book. I can’t reveal too much about it other than it features another very large wild animal!
What other books for young people have you enjoyed recently?
Too many to mention as I really think we are in a golden age of children’s literature right now – but ones which immediately spring to mind are Starboard by Nicola Skinner, The Swallow’s Flight by Hilary McKay, and I LOVED Boy, Everywhere by A.M Dassau.
Hannah Gold grew up in a family where books, animals, and the beauty of the outside world were ever present, and is passionate about writing stories that share her love of the planet. She lives in Lincolnshire with her tortoise, her cat, and her husband and, when not writing, is busy hunting for her next big animal story as well as practicing her roar. The Last Bear is her debut novel. You can keep up with Hannah on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, or by visiting her website.
The Last Bear was released in the US on the 2nd Feb and in the UK on the 18th February, published by HarperCollins Children’s. It will be coming out in various other countries in 2022.
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