Karla Brading speaks to a novelist who has written variously in Welsh and English, for adults and children, has a Wales Book Of The Year award to her name – and a new title Seed, her debut kids’ novel, out this month.
Imagine having very little, and yet you’re surrounded by so much… well… stuff. It would be daunting. Claustrophobic. And at times, a little frightening. Marty deals with all this and more: the topsy-turvy trials of his school days, all sandwiched between life at home with a single parent, lost among hordes of clutter.
But when young Marty’s grandad gives him the gift of a seed, his little world of clutter is turned into one of wild adventure, new friends, and the whispering of dreams. What will his mysterious seed of hope bloom into?
Multi-award-winning and bilingual novelist Caryl Lewis is no stranger to the written word, with Seed – her latest tale and debut children’s novel– set to capture young hearts everywhere. So, how has writing for a younger generation compared to other creative ambitions and triumphs?
“In the Welsh language culture, it is very common to write across disciplines and genres,” says Lewis. “I used to love painting and am often told that my writing is very visual. I think this might be an advantage when adapting novels for screen or when creating new works for TV. If I were pushed though, I think that I am a novelist at heart. I fall in love with locations and worlds first.”
Seed’s two main characters, Marty and Gracie, undergo serious personal battles, as does Marty’s grandfather. “My grandad was a farmer and amateur inventor. He was endlessly optimistic and very funny!” explains Lewis. “I thought it would be great to give Marty, a child who is doubting the wonder in the world, a role model like him.
“With Gracie, it was more about representation. I think representation is often reserved for minor characters and I think that it’s unfair. I wanted her to be rounded, to be funny and cheeky and talented.”
The subject of hoarding is prevalent in the story, with Marty’s mum a compulsive hoarder. How did Lewis approach it?
“As a child, I knew a man who hoarded – he kept everything, so much so that he ended up sleeping in his car. I thought it would be interesting to place a child in this situation, a burgeoning human being, growing in a place full to the brim with stuff. I think it’s realistic to portray that adults are not perfect, that they have issues they need to work through, and that’s OK.”
With any book there are challenges to overcome. Were there any that Lewis battled with in order to produce such an enchanting story? “There are always new challenges,” she agrees, “that’s the wonder of writing books! It’s a case of continually learning. It was tricky tonally to pull off the more mundane and the more fantastical elements of the book together, but that is the joy of it.”
Marty’s seed is a mystery waiting to root and grow into something marvellous. But has Lewis ever dreamt of growing something fantastical from a seed? “I love gardening,” she says, “and am currently trying a grow a ginormous pumpkin! I’ll let you know how it goes!”
With Lewis’ successes in fiction (in both Welsh and English languages), what advice does she give to anyone thinking of writing their own work of children’s literature? “It’s such a tempting thing to try and fit in, to emulate other people’s success. To write a certain type of book that you think will suit. My advice is to be yourself. Be honest and embrace what’s inside of you. You won’t go far wrong.”
Seed is published by Macmillan Children’s Books on Thurs 12 May. Price: £7.99. Info: here
words KARLA BRADING
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