Catch our interview with children’s author Anthony Burt, as featured in the latest issue of PaperBound, as he tells us all about his middle grade debut The Animal Lighthouse from Guppy Books. Packed full of adventure, this is one book you don’t want to miss.
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Can you share a little about your book, The Animal Lighthouse, and the inspiration behind it?
The Animal Lighthouse is a middle-grade adventure story with a classic Treasure Island-Jungle Book feel to it. Set on a secret island somewhere in the Caribbean in 1704, it’s about a boy called Jim Rogers who washed up on the beach (as a baby) in a barrel of rum.
Jim has been brought up by animals and he knows no other life but that of a lighthouse keeper. The animals are his family, and have kept him safe, until one day a thief steals the lighthouse bulb filaments. Whilst on a mission to find the thief, Jim learns secrets about his family’s piratical past and pirates invade the island to try and take him away.
A warm-hearted adventure with lots of animal antics, gross stuff, and action-packed moments, The Animal Lighthouse came about because I spent all my childhood playing and walking around Portland in Dorset, under the watch of the Portland Bill lighthouse. I also used to live near Moonfleet, where Blackbeard smuggled his loot, so – along with my love of animals – I combined all the elements I love to create the kind of fun-filled, epic middle-grade story I’d want to read!
One of the main characters is Oskar the orangutan, an older animal who loves to invent things and is always showing Jim how to repair the lighthouse. Oskar is based on my late grandad, a very special and magical man, who I spent many happy years learning skills with, like gardening, painting, building, fishing, and cooking. Oskar is Jim’s father-figure until he discovers who his real pirate father is …
This is your first book for middle grade readers, but you’ve also written a picture book. What is it about writing for young people that you enjoy?
Yes, I’ve also done a STEM-based picture book for young children called The Wish Fish. That’s about two kids who want to fix their grandad’s broken old boat but don’t believe they can. Until, that is, the Wish Fish comes along and shows them they do have the skills to do it!
I love writing for children because you can let your imagination run wild, have lots of weird stuff happen in your stories – like talking animals – and children will go along with it. I think there are a lot more rules in depicting ‘real life’ in adult novels, so I much prefer the freedom that writing for children gives me. I love to create worlds that are fun and magical too – worlds children want to be in.
This issue of PaperBound is an action/adventure special, and The Animal Lighthouse sounds full of action and adventure with pirates, animals, gadgets, and mysteries. Can you tell us a little bit about how you prepared for writing in this genre?
I did A LOT of research on lighthouses and how they work! This included discovering how different metal filaments work inside lighthouse bulbs for the thief part of the story. And, because my book is set in 1704, I needed to depict very old lighthouses, so I visited one of the oldest in the world in Portland, Maine, USA. The Portland Head Light was built in 1791 and it has an amazing museum inside it with loads of information about the lights, structures, and internal gadgets. Most people don’t realise that lighthouses were invented over 2000 years ago, but I found some amazing examples that were in existence in the UK at the time my book is set.
The lighthouse in my book is very special too, because beam ‘three and a half’ does something a bit magical, using line-of-sight illusions, to hide Jim’s island. This ‘magic’ is based on a real-life, light-bending phenomena called a Fata Morgana Superior Image. Look it up, it’s very cool! I also learnt loads about how different animals move in real-life for this story as I wanted each one to have their unique personality and movement.
There are several illustrations in this book that complement the story. How important are they to you as the author?
There are an amazing 50 illustrations in this book, and I am utterly blown away at how beautiful, fun and clever they all are. Ciara Flood is so talented, and she has the kind of classic adventure illustration style that really help bring to life the characters’ personalities and exotic settings. Although not all middle-grade fiction has illustrations, I personally think when they’re done really well, they add a level of intrigue to the story as well as an accessibility to the book itself for more reluctant readers.
What are your top middle grade recommendations for readers right now?
I adored October, October by Katya Balen – it has such beautiful writing and gives the reader a really different point of view on the world. My fave comedy series at the moment is Knight Sir Louis by the Brothers McLeod, and Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly about a deaf girl’s struggle to help a songless whale be heard is beautiful too.
Do you have any tips for anyone thinking of writing an adventure story?
With adventure stories, even though it’s often about exciting action scenes you really mustn’t neglect the ‘quieter moments’. These are the moments where we get to know the characters and what they want, and of course why they’re on this adventure in the first place. Without this motivation and depth of reason for doing the adventure, the action scenes will feel emptier and almost pointless. So, write fast-paced scenes, but make them matter!
Anthony Burt is a qualified teacher and experienced youth worker of 17 years, working across primary, secondary and college education ages, mostly with children with SEND. He has been a book festival host at the Edinburgh Book Festival, written for Disney, BBC Doctor Who magazine, Nickelodeon, CiTV, and Macmillan. He lives in Frome, Somerset with his black cat, Watson.
The Animal Lighthouse will be released 12th May 2022, published by Guppy Books.
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