Today we travel to North East England to chat with Rachel Coverdale about how a school librarian, gardening, living every moment, English literature, Karate, judging others, puppy farms, an over-active imagination, a stealthy night outing, fresh cow poo, squealing with delight, a Norwegian mountain, early mornings, and being an English teacher come together as part of Rachel’s past and current life. You’re in for treat!
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Hi there, lovely to e-meet you! I come from North East England. Most people in England think the North East is a grim place to live. Us northerners happily perpetuate that falsehood as we, rather selfishly, like to keep its beauty and wildness as a selfish secret – much to the dismay of our local tourist board! I’ve lived here all my life and I still find the area stunningly beautiful.
When I’m not wandering around daydreaming and admiring the view, I have a multitude of jobs: mother and grandmother being the two most important, I also own a dog and a husband! For money, I am a school librarian, which I must admit, is a great way to earn money, although, no, I don’t sit around reading all day and stamping books! It’s a surprisingly busy and pressured role, although very rewarding. Other jobs I say I do are gardening and cleaning the house, but that’s a bit hit and miss.
Then of course there’s my writing. I love writing. I mostly write picture books for toddlers and middle grade books for tweens and teens. It’s such a treat to be able to make up places and characters and play about with what they do, where they go and how they react. It’s sort of a blend between carefree creativity and complete control freak behaviour! Something I intend to spend a lot more time doing . (Writing not the control freak behaviour.) 🙂
In which genre do you write?
Although I also write picture books for small children, my favourite genre to write is action-adventure for approximately 10 – 14 year-olds. It is so much fun to imagine myself in scary places and getting the better of dangerous criminals. I totally live every moment I write – sometimes I have to take a rest because my heart is racing. I even make myself cry at times – much to my husband’s utter confusion. “But Rachel, you know it didn’t really happen – you literally just made it up right now!”
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what ignited your author’s flame?
I’ve always made-up stories, even as a young child, I used to tell my little brother stories that I made up in my head on demand. As a child and a teenager, I was always reading. Unfortunately, life got in the way, priorities got muddled and before I knew it, I was a divorcee with one child. I decided to study English Literature with the Open University on an evening while my daughter was asleep. This rekindled my love of literature and I became an English teacher. As I kept teaching the children how to write stories, I started to question myself – why didn’t I write a story? I dabbled in picture books, but it wasn’t until a particular incident that my author’s flame was ignited.
My son came home from the park extremely upset. (Oh yes, by this time I was remarried with a son – keep up! 😂) He’d had a fight. I was surprised as my son isn’t a fighter. The boy who had attacked him was also surprised – he didn’t know my son was 1st dan black belt in Karate. Nor did he know that my rather scrawny looking son, packed the hardest punch in his club. Appearances can be deceptive! I was rather pleased that he’d “taught the lad a lesson”. We explained the circumstances to my son’s sensei who said he hadn’t disgraced the club as the other boy had started the fight and had not heeded my son’s three warnings that he’s a black belt (which by the way, the sensei said was unnecessary when you’re actually under attack – my bad advice!)
Unfortunately, my son didn’t go to the park for months in case the boy turned up with a gang seeking revenge. When he eventually did venture back to the park, the boy was there. This time it was my son who was surprised, as the boy went straight over to him, apologised for his behaviour and shook his hand.
This news jarred with my perception of the boy who I had dismissed as a thug and a bully. Speaking to some mums a little later, I discovered that the day the boy hit my son was the day his violent father had returned from prison. I began to wonder what had happened in their house and what thoughts and emotions were running through the boy the day he hit my son. I also felt shame for judging someone I knew nothing about. I wondered what the boy would be like when he grew up – would he be violent like his dad or shun him and become the person he wanted to be, not the person people expected him to be? I wondered if circumstances were different, would he be different?
A variety of scenarios ran through my head and before I knew it, a story began to develop: I loved writing “The Boy Who Couldn’t” although I often cried for Greg and his situation, I was so grateful for the Taylor family who take him under their wing. Eventually though, Greg has to make a choice, between his father and the Taylors. One is blood and we don’t always make the right decisions in life…
Where did the idea for the current book you’re writing come from?
The book I’m writing now is a sequel to “The Boy Who Couldn’t”. The same three boys are on another dangerous adventure. In the first book, the boys try to save a badger clan from a baiting gang with fighting dogs. This time they stumble upon a puppy farm. The idea that they would need to save puppies is something I think about all the time. Every time somebody posts on social media that they’re looking for a puppy, I can’t stop myself from warning them to make sure they are buying from a reputable breeder or supporting a rescue charity. I watch lots of animal rescue programmes and the conditions that the breeding dogs and puppies are in on these illegal puppy farms is unbelievable and heart-breaking.
I hope that through this second book, readers will be less naïve and understand the horrors of puppy farming so they can make sure they never accidentally support these cruel businesses. The idea has been brewing for a while, but during Lockdown the whole country seemed to buy a puppy. Immediately I worried that so many people would unwittingly support these terrible heartless, greedy businesses.
I had to do something and this is the best way I know how. Reading a book is so much more than just pleasure – we’re learning all the time. The readers will learn exactly what these places are like. Good luck to Greg and his friends in this one!
What’s the strangest thing you’ve done or experienced to help create a scene or plot?
Sometimes an over-active imagination can be a terrible burden to bear. For example, if somebody nearly hits my car but we manage to miss, I’ll spend the rest of the journey imagining “what if?” and it becomes more and more exaggerated until I arrive at my destination absolutely furious at the injustice of my prison sentence for not having avoided a collision which caused the other car to mount the pavement and hurt a child and… and…
However, at other times, it can really work to my advantage. The very first two weeks of lockdown in the UK were the most extreme lockdown weeks. I don’t suppose we’ll ever experience anything like it again. We were told we could only leave the house once a day and make no unnecessary journeys. Every company that could possibly close for two weeks did so. Due to the pubs, restaurants and night clubs being closed, the roads were eerily silent at night. I used to just stand in my back garden, straining my ears for any human or mechanical sounds but all I could hear were owls and foxes. It was wonderful.
One night, my young dog needed a wee and I’d already had my one allocated outing. I could let him in the garden but we’ve been training him not to use the garden. I decided to sneak out with him – the stealth would be like method acting a scene in my next book.
My dog is completely black and I tend to wear dark clothes. Despite the warm Spring evening, I pulled my black balaclava over my head (it’s for skiing – I’m not a burglar). I also pulled on my black driving gloves and tiptoed to the end of our drive with him. A solitary car passed as I waited, crouching down behind our wall. Once it was completely out of sight, Monty (my dog) and I ran across the road and into the covering of the trees opposite. The trees are widely spaced and fairly thin, so I couldn’t hide completely. As we heard another car approach, I turned my face away – the only light part of either of us. I also held my breath – I don’t know why! The car slowly crept by.
Once it was gone, I needed to run 200 metres from the relative safety of the trees, past a few buildings, to the safe darkness of the pedestrian bridge over the railway. I hesitated. What if I set off and a car came? I might not make it. But the longer I put it off, the more likely a car would come. I listened carefully. Silence. Running fast without stamping your feet is a new skill I acquired on the spot.
Monty was really excited and nearly tripped me up, but we made it. I then had to walk even more lightly over the concrete bridge as it echoes as you cross. I also had to catch my breath without panting loudly. On the other side of the bridge, the path is adjacent to the road for another 150 metres before leading away from the road. We waited in the shadows listening for cars but none were about. I could feel the adrenaline surging through my body and it needed releasing in the medium of a scream but I kept my lips firmly pressed shut and set off.
Again, we sprinted on tiptoes and made it to the complete blackness of the path that led away from the road. At this point, I could finally walk on the grass which completely muffled my footsteps. Thankfully Monty relieved himself right next to the bin, so we could turn and begin our treacherous journey back. I know now, what people mean when they say their heart is in their mouth. My blood was being pumped so hard around my body I could feel my pulse in my throat.
By the time I got home my body was shaking with an overdose of adrenalin. I’ve never felt so scared and so elated to be home! In reality, what I did wasn’t scary – of course I realise that, but my imagination took hold. The feelings I experienced will now feed into Greg and his friends as they spy on the puppy farm and the dangerous men guarding it.
What is the most amusing, crazy or inspiring thing that has ever happened to you?
Karma loves to have a joke at my expense. I have to toe the line at all times, because it is constantly watching and waiting to bite my behind. For example: I was 12 years old. I had a new pony (I know – I had a pretty privileged childhood). My best friend Tessa had come to visit. Of course, I couldn’t wait to show her my pony, so we went straight into the field to see her. I could have and should have left it at that, but no, I couldn’t resist showing off. I leapt onto the pony to ride her around – without a saddle and bridle because – yep, showing off!
What I didn’t know was the pony had never been ridden bare-back before. She began leaping around like a buckaroo and I went cartwheeling through the air. I opened my mouth to scream and landed, mouth open, in fresh cow poo. I have the unhappy privilege of knowing the difference between fresh cow poo and old cow poo – this was san-crust – squelch if you please! As well as having a mouth full of excrement, it was also up my nostril. As I tried to pick it out, it just pushed further up. It felt like it was going to come out of my eyeball.
What was my friend doing all this time? Was she concerned for me and helpful? No, she was laughing so hard she had fallen on her back. Eventually, between peals of laughter, she managed to recommend I block the other nostril and snort. Her tip worked and a cylinder of poo shot out of my nose and onto my tee-shirt. Tessa couldn’t breathe for laughing. This little escapade made it into “The Boy Who Couldn’t”. If ever I say something tastes like sh**, please know that I’m not talking metaphorically – I actually know!
What do you miss about being a kid?
I miss spending the whole day playing in the woods and not once feeling hungry and needing to pour coffee down my throat. I miss the excitement of creating dens with my friends and not seeing how rubbish and impractical they are, but thinking they’re the best construction known to man. I miss going to sleep with an empty head, no worries (except homework 🙁), no money problems, no planning meals, no thinking of emails to send.
I miss the sheer thrill of life itself and the expanse of an unknown life ahead of you, when you’re young enough to think you can conquer the world. I miss being able to run around screaming and shouting without people staring at you and calling the doctors. Sometimes I watch how my grandchildren interact and think, what would happen if I did that? How long would it take for someone to call for help? A child squealing with delight at the snow falling and then running flapping their hands and throwing themselves on their backs with their legs peddling invisible bikes in the air is cute, yet when I do it…
At this stage in your life, what advice would your young self give to your more mature self?
Well first of all we have to assume I’ve matured! Oh, you mean got older 🙁 Yes, I’ve got older!
Although I’ve had some emotionally tough times, I’m not sure I wouldn’t want my younger self to go through them as it has shaped both me and my imagination. I think I would have liked to know that I would be alright in the end though – just a little glimpse of how it all pans out would have been encouraging. As a child I felt quite frustrated at being left out of certain games just because I was a girl (it was the 70s) and so I would always fight harder and be more daring than any boy I hung out with. I think that earned me a bit of respect, unfortunately it meant that none of them really looked on me as a girl, so it backfired by the time I was a teenager and wanting a boyfriend.
On the upside I think my laddish behaviour is the reason I write action-adventure stories – no girly dolls or love stories for me! I have had some real adventures in my life – not all can be admitted to in print, but what a laugh I’ve had having them. So, in summary, I think my advice would be – you’re okay as you are Rachel. You don’t need to pretend to be anyone else, keep being you and it will all work out in the end. Oh, and for goodness sake, start a pension plan early – you don’t die young!
What does your ideal writing space look like?
My ideal writing space would be a log cabin on the side of a Norwegian mountain. I would have evergreen fir trees above and either side, laden with thick heavy snow. There would be a real log fire with a (fake) animal fur rug in front of it. I would be typing on my laptop looking straight out of the window down the mountain to the valley below; thick snow everywhere. No roads would reach my log cabin, you’d have to walk windy paths, or ski. The sky would sometimes be blue or sometimes that white sky that looks like it’s about to collapse to the ground as one thick layer of snow. I would have about five large husky type dogs relaxing in the room (I love all dogs, but they’ll cope with the snow). Have I mentioned I like snow? It’s currently snowing here in England and I love it! Perhaps my next adventure novel should be set in winter.
What is your favorite time of day and why?
I love early mornings. At the risk of sounding like an ageing hippy (which I probably am), I feel most at one with nature early in the morning. If I start walking my dog before sun rise, I get to hear the morning bird chorus, see the most beautiful sun rises and often happen across our shyer animals such as deer before they hide away from the rest of the humans as they surface from their “stinking pits” (as my dad would refer to them).
Nature features strongly in all my stories, even though I didn’t intend it to. I guess my dad instilled my love of nature and wildlife in me, he could name all the flora and fauna and tell me interesting facts about them. Dad and I used to ride our horses for miles on the wild moorlands of North Yorkshire and I always felt completely at peace with the world. To this day, if modern living becomes a bit too much for me and I’m drowning in stress and hectic chores, I’ll take an extra-long walk in an extra-wild part of the countryside and return feeling far more relaxed and at peace.
Just like Dad, I can’t resist educating people about nature, so when the three boys in “The Boy Who Couldn’t” discover a badger clan, I made sure I wove in lots of information about badgers, (having all the facts checked by Craig Fellowes of The Badger Trust). There’s even a fun quiz at the end of the book to discover how much you’ve learnt about badgers!
Tell us about your most recent book and where we can find it.
My most recent middle grade book is “The Boy Who Couldn’t”. The story is told through the perspectives of two very different boys. Greg’s home life is abusive and chaotic whereas James is rather spoilt and thinks he’s badly off simply because he’s embarrassed that his dad is a stay-at-home dad and looks a bit odd. Initially Greg bullies James, but James’ parents force him to befriend Greg when they realise what an awful life he has. Along with James’ friend Ahmed, they begin to bond through their shared love of badgers which they watch from a nature den in James’ garden. One night however, badger baiters come with fighting dogs. Can the three boys rely on each other and their tenuous friendship to save the badgers? It gets pretty scary – these men are not the type you would want your boys to be challenging. And there’s a shocking twist…
It was fun learning more about you and your writing style, Rachel. Wishing you all the best, and hopefully no more stealthy night outings with Monty!! – Camilla
The school bully is the only one who can save them.
James’ life has been turned upside down and now the local bully has made him a target. So why would his mother insist he should invite him over? Especially when they’re hiding a secret badger clan at the bottom of the garden.
Now the badgers are under threat from a gang with fighting dogs and the badgers aren’t the only ones in peril.
Danger is approaching and it will make the most unlikely of heroes.
A story about becoming the person you can be, not the person you are expected to be.
Where to find the book:
“The Boy Who Couldn’t” is available through all good bookstores and on line through Amazon.
Connect with Rachel:
You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as well as on my website. Just search Rachel Coverdale, author and you’ll find me!
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