Hannah Gold worked in the film and magazine industries before taking time out to pursue her dream of writing.
She lives in Lincolnshire with her tortoise, her cat and her husband.
The Last Bear is her middle grade debut.
The Last Bear, Harpercollins Children's Books
Hannah Gold's heartwarming novel THE LAST BEAR takes us to the frozen Arctic landscape and explores the unexpected bond between a stranded polar bear and a girl. It is an astonishing and powerful debut that both children and adults will enjoy, with links to the environment, making a difference, and family.
In this video, Hannah tells us how the story developed - and gives her top polar bear facts - followed by a more in depth Q&A.
Q&A with Hannah Gold
1. What is The Last Bear about?
It's the story of how a lonely 11-year-old girl befriends and then rescues a wild polar bear.
2. Was there one thing that sparked the idea for the story?
I figured I would just write about everything I loved most in the world - our planet, animals and the bond, we as humans, have with them. And then one day, this image of a polar bear came to me. There he was, staring at me with his sad chocolate-coloured eyes and it became clear there was a story he had to tell and I was the one to tell it.
I sat down to research a book about polar bears, and that's when I stumbled across Bear Island - a real island that exists somewhere between the mainland of Norway and an archipelago of islands called Svalbard, much closer to the North Pole. Then, when I discovered how polar bears could no longer reach the island that bore their name, it became apparent there was only really one story to tell - how this brave, big-hearted girl rescues a lonely, starving polar bear stranded a long way from home.
3. Was it a difficult book to write?
I absolutely loved writing about April and Bear and would happily go back to Bear Island in a heartbeat. If there was a hard part, it was finding out just how much polar bears are suffering. That still keeps me awake at night sometimes.
4. Why did you want to write about the impact of climate change? How optimistic / pessimistic are you that we can still change things?
In truth, I'm not sure I deliberately set out to write a climate change book, but once I had chosen a polar bear as the main character (or in truth, he had chosen me), it was impossible to write about them without talking about the melting ice caps. Not just the fact they are melting at an extraordinarily frightening pace, but the effect this is having on all our Arctic animals, especially the polar bears who rely on the ice caps for hunting.
At the time of writing, most of the children's books which featured climate change were dystopian, but I deliberately chose to set The Last Bear in the current day, because I wanted to give a message of inspiration to our children. That it's not too late, that we can all do our bit and that, with a little bit of bear courage in our hearts, we can still save the planet.
5. Did you need to do a lot of research into polar bears for this story? What's your top polar bear fact?
To be honest, I deliberately didn't research too much about polar bears before writing as I wanted to make Bear feel as real as possible - rather than weigh the story down in facts which might depersonalise him. But, my favourite polar bear fact is that their fur isn't even white! It's actually translucent and so looks white because it reflects the light. I also like the fact they can smell their prey from about 15 miles away!
6. Does Svalbard in the story exist?
All the locations in The Last Bear exist in real life. Bear Island is a real island off the coast of Norway, and Svalbard is an archipelago of islands much closer to the North Pole. There's a population of around 3,000 polar bears who live there.
7. Why did you decide to have a father and daughter at the heart of this story?
It was just one of those instinctive story-making decisions. I wanted to give April's dad a reason why he would suddenly take off for this remote Arctic outpost, other than just work, and so adding in that personal background gave it more resonance. Also, narrowing down the book to just a father and daughter gave the story space to breathe.
8. You also tackle grief and loss in the story - do writers need to research issues or big emotions like bereavement before writing about them?
I think once you get to a certain age, it's inevitable that you will have experienced grief in some form - be it the loss of a loved one, or witnessing a close friend suffer the loss of a loved one. But it can also be the grief of moving away from your best friend, changing schools, your dad moving out of home, or losing your pet. There is also the grief we feel collectively as a human race when we mourn the loss of habitat or another animal becomes extinct.
There are some stories I wouldn't attempt to write as I don't feel I have experienced them authentically, but something like grief is so universal and something that we all experience in some form, that's it's actually relatively easy to write about.
9. What do you think of Levi Penfold's illustrations for The Last Bear? Do you have a favourite?
When I first saw the cover I was absolutely blown away! With the cover and the inside art, he has captured the emotion of the book so perfectly whilst at the same time, showcasing the sweeping Arctic landscape. There are so many inside illustrations I just love - but my favourite is probably the one of Bear and April on top of the mountain. That was a lovely chapter to write and it was pivotal in the direction of their story.
10. What are you writing about for your next book?
My next book is set off the west coast of America and may feature a rather large sea mammal!
11. April gets very close to Bear - were you like that with your pets as a child? Which was your favourite?
Absolutely. This book was completely born out of my own love for animals. At seven, I used to wear my cat around my neck as a scarf and she was my best friend. I am fascinated by the bond that some children can have with animals - just how instinctive and beautiful it is, even without words.
12. What's the best children's book you read in the past year, and where is your favourite place to read?
Oh, this is such a tough question as I have read SO many fantastic books. Can I cheat and name three? A Clock of Stars by Francesca Gibbons, Bloom by Nicola Skinner and The Girl Who Stole an Elephant by Nizrana Farook.
I can literally read ANYWHERE! But my favourite place is snuggled up in front of the fire with my cat on my lap.
13. When we can all travel again, what's going to be your top destination?
I would love to go to Svalbard to see the polar bears in real life and to raise even more awareness of their plight.