Andy Sagar previously worked as a teaching assistant in a primary school and has just finished studying for a Master's degree in Law at the University of Cambridge, where he spent lectures daydreaming about stories of witches and dragons and cake.
He's now pursuing a PHD on the role of law in the witch-hunts, which has helped inspire his fiction. He grew up in Yorkshire surrounded by green fields and cows, and now lives in London with his boyfriend, where there are fewer cows but more bookshops.
Find out more at: www.andysagarbooks.com
Yesterday Crumb and the Teapot of Chaos (Farshore)
Yesterday Crumb has magic running through her fingers and, in a London where magic really exists, this leads to plenty of adventures and no small amount of tea drinking! We find out about Yesterday Crumb's world from author Andy Sagar, and discover what he has planned next for his heroine.
Q&A with Andy Sagar
1. How did you get started in writing books for children? What other kinds of work do you do?
When I was young, I spent as much time in books as was practically possible. As I grew older, this made me the sort of person who paid a lot of attention to daydreams, wondering if they could be spun into stories of their own. I knew the only job I wanted to do was telling stories; it was just a matter of finding the right one.
One day, Yesterday and her friends appeared in my head, and her story seemed like it could only be a children's book. In that sense, writing books for children chose me, rather than the other way around.
Other than writing for children, I am currently working at a university. I do research about the witch-trials, a dark period of English history in which hundreds of people were executed for committing the impossible crime of witchcraft. I find that learning about our past, and dreaming about other worlds, often feel like two sides of the same silver coin.
2. Can you tell us about your Yesterday Crumb books, and what happens in The Teapot of Chaos?
Yesterday Crumb tells the tale of a girl with the unlikely name of Yesterday. She spent the first twelve years of her life as an outcast on account of the strange fox ears with which she was born. But when she is discovered by a witch named Miss Dumpling, she learns that she is herself a witch too, and she takes up a post as Miss Dumpling's apprentice. But Miss Dumpling is no ordinary witch (if such a thing exists); she is a tea witch. She runs a magical, walking teashop named Dwimmerly End, where they sell teas that let one turn into beasts, or read the thoughts of others, or conjure lightning and flame.
In Yesterday Crumb and the Teapot of Chaos, Yesterday, Miss Dumpling, and the other residents of Dwimmerly End find themselves in London. There, they get involved in a magical baking competition called the Wild Feast, run by the vicious Faerie Queen. When competitors start going missing, Yesterday gets the blame. Now, she must not only win the tournament, but also identify the kidnappers before she's arrested as the queen's lead suspect …
3. What inspired the spell-making, tea-drinking world of Yesterday Crumb? And is a plentiful supply of tea what helped you write it?!
One of my favourite things in the world is baking. Mixing ingredients, putting them in the oven, and producing something wonderful that didn't exist before feels like alchemy. It's a magic of its own. While writing Yesterday's adventures, that feeling of magical creation is something I drew upon heavily, and with great joy.
My personal current tea obsession has to be bubble tea, which has fuelled many a writing session. There is a lovely bubble tea shop around the corner from where I live, and it poses a serious threat to my wallet.
4. Why is she called Yesterday Crumb, and what inspired her name, and her fox ears?
When Yesterday was a baby, she was abandoned by her parents to the circus. In her possession she had only a book. The first page of the book was torn, leaving only a single, handwritten word: Yesterday. Who knows what the rest of the page said? But the circus ringleader presumes that is her first name. And, since he considers her so small and easily overlooked, he adds the surname Crumb.
The simple answer to the question of Yesterday's fox ears is that I, simply, love foxes. The longer answer is that Yesterday's magic holds listening at its heart. A tea witch must be an excellent listener: to her customers, to her ingredients, to herself. I loved the idea that the very thing that made Yesterday feel different all her life - her highly-attuned fox ears - would one day be the thing that makes her powerful.
5. What is your favourite Yesterday Crumb brew? And which one would you like to have in the tea caddy at home for emergency use?
My favourite Yesterday Crumb brew is absolutely the Jumbling Jasmine, also known as the Zoo in a Brew. This is the tea that allows its drinker to turn into any beast she wishes - a bird, a whale, a lion, a wolf, whatever. Yesterday endeavours in Yesterday Crumb and the Teapot of Chaos to make a certain improvement on this tea. I love the resulting brew perhaps even more, but no spoilers!
6. Is the cafe where Yesterday lives, Dwimmerly End, based on any tea shops you have visited?
Dwimmerly End draws inspiration from Betty's in Harrogate, a teashop my parents used to take me to quite a lot when I was much smaller. It has glass-fronted counters bursting with cakes, shelves full of strange teapots, and is always bustling with customers and waiters. These are absolutely optimal conditions from which to conjure a story setting. Indeed, these elements swirling around in the back of my mind are what eventually gave rise to Dwimmerly End, and Yesterday's story (with a pinch of magic added, of course).
7. How did you go about creating this world and the magical characters in it? Which part of it would you visit, if you could?
The way I build a world is quite embarrassingly simple. I like to take something very plain and ordinary and mix it together with something exceptional. In the first book, for instance, Yesterday and her friends visit the Museum of Entirely Unnatural History. This was, of course, based on the Natural History Museum in London. Only they have a sea serpent on the ceiling instead of a whale skeleton. And the museum flies. And its curator is a dragon. Naturally.
I think the place I'd most like to visit is Dwimmerly End itself. I have an appetite for gingerbread that only Miss Dumpling's baking could satisfy, I suspect.
8. Who is your favourite supporting character, and why?
My favourite supporting character is the tea witch Miss Dumpling. On the one hand, I love how she talks, how she sees the world, how she is always keen for adventures and foolishness. But on the other, she is the picture of non-judgment. Nothing surprises Miss Dumpling. Nothing (well, almost nothing) would make her turn on you. She's a theatrical whirlwind, brimming with compassion, whom my younger self would have adored.
In fact, Miss Dumpling lived inside my head for many, many years before I ever came up with Dwimmerly End and Yesterday. I'm so glad I was able to find her a story to call home.
9. In the Teapot of Chaos, we get more answers about where Yesterday is from. What do you have planned for her in book 3?
Book 3 will delve more into Yesterday's heritage - the mystery of her mother's identity, the wrath of her vengeful father, and more. The collision of these great forces will shake the world. Indeed, Yesterday will be forced to fight to save the world of faeries and humans from foul, hateful forces. She will need to draw upon old friends and new alliances. She will need to master tea witchery, and become a more powerful witch than ever before. More than that, she will be forced to question what it means to be a tea witch - and whether real monsters are ever beyond redemption.
Can tea and cake stop the end of the world in the face of hopelessness and endless darkness? Perhaps, ordinarily, no. But these are tea witches we are talking about.
10. Where do you do your best writing, and - given all the foodie mentions - what snacks see you through your writing sessions?
I am quite migratory when it comes to writing. One day, I will write in the library; the next, in a café; the one after that, at my desk, or in bed, or on the floor, or on a train. The only constant I need is change.
Meanwhile, I have a weakness for muffins; muffins are very much critical to the writing process. At this point, I think I've eaten enough muffins while writing the Yesterday Crumb books to sink a small ship.