She popped into my head one day several years ago after a conversation about favourite book characters. My daughters were complaining about the lack of leading characters that looked like them – especially in chapter books – so I started to build stories around her.
Each story develops in the same way. Items I’ve bought from charity shops help me to imagine where Laurella goes and when. I start by researching the origins of each object, for example, where they came from and the history associated with that area of the world, and gradually a story unfolds.
Laurella Swift and the Voyage of Discovery is dedicated to my Mum, so I’d like to tell you a little bit about her and how she inspired me to write this story. My Mum was called Mollie Griffiths, and she was kind, vivacious and funny. She died many years ago, but I think of her every day.
One Mother’s Day, I felt the need to go out and buy something that reminded me of her. I was looking for a small hazel shrub for the garden (because my Mum had beautiful green/hazel eyes), but I couldn’t find one anywhere. I ended up in a charity shop and was drawn to a stunning blue/green shell, which had a small sticker on it with the words ‘Paua – New Zealand’. It immediately reminded me of her, but I didn’t know why. I bought it and hurried home to see if I could find out more about the shell on the internet.
Imagine my delight when the first thing I discovered was that the Māori regard paua as treasure and associate the shell with the stars, regarding them as the symbolic eyes of ancestors that gaze down on us from the night sky. As far as I was concerned, this was a clear message from my Mum, letting me know that she was still keeping an eye on me!
As the paua shell came from a charity shop, it was the perfect ‘key’ for me to research Laurella’s second adventure, and before I knew it, I found myself in New Zealand in the 1700s! Incidentally, the shell necklace that takes Laurella back in time is real. It’s one of my favourite necklaces – and guess what, I bought it in the Isle of Wight!