Jess Kidd

Everyday Magic: The Adventures of Alfie Blackstack
Jess Kidd

Biography

Jess Kidd wanted to be a writer before she could even write. She comes from a big, noisy (and nosy) family where storytelling was a favourite pastime. Jess was quite shy when she was little so she learnt to write down the stories she imagined. Then she gave them to her friends and relatives to enjoy.

Jess has received praise for her books and always aims to give her readers an 'experience'.  She is currently writing her fourth novel, teaching at her local college and working on TV and film projects. Oh, and playing tug-of-war over socks with Wilkie the dog.

 

Interview

Everyday Magic (Canongate Books)

April 2021

All Alfie Blackstaff wants is a quiet life and some good books, but instead finds himself orphaned and shipped off to a rather strange village where magical things seem to happen. 

Jess Kidd introduces Everyday Magic, a story where magic is part of everyday life:

Q&A with Jess Kidd

1.   What is Everyday Magic about?

Alfie Blackstack isn't surprised to find himself an orphan. In life, his parents pursued flappy birds up cliff faces and teased hungry lions with strings of sausages. Alfie was a disappointment to them because he preferred quiet corners and nice books, being neither brave nor adventurous. Only now it appears his newly orphaned life will require just those traits. Alfie is dispatched to his hitherto unknown Aunt Gertrude and Aunt Zita, who live in a big draughty house in a spooky forest near a village called Little Snoddington.

Alfie hopes for a peaceful life but Switherbroom Hall, his new home, has a snake-headed staircase and glow-bug lights and pots that mutter and hiss on the hob. His aunts' chemist shop in the village is just as odd, here bottles and jars shuffle on shelves and blinds close themselves - to say nothing of a sign-writing cat and a bat that masquerades as a broken umbrella...

Welcome to a world of warring witches and sly familiars and spells and potions that actually work and Alfie's first BIG adventure.


2.   What is your main character, Alfie, like? What are his biggest challenges in the story?

Alfie is quiet, maybe even a bit timid. He's not a fan of adventures but he's landed smack bang in the middle of one. His biggest challenge in this story is to realise that he can be extremely brave when it counts. Alfie is also funny and potentially a great friend to Calypso.

It's through Alfie's eyes that we explore the strange world he's landed in. Although Alfie might think he's the worst person to go on an adventure with he's actually one of the best because he (sometimes!) thinks things through and proves to be loyal to his friends.

 

3.   Do you enjoy writing about places where the 'real world' and magic can meet?

Absolutely! I love to bring magic into a real world setting. All my books have a magical element but I still want to tell stories set in places we can recognise. Although I love stories that are set in completely different fantasy worlds, I enjoy the challenge of mixing the fantastic and the everyday.

 

4.   Did anything from your own life make it into this story?

I first began to tell 'everyday magic' stories to my daughter, Eva, who encouraged me to write them down. I'm glad I did because years later I came across them and I still found them funny and exciting so I decided to share Alfie's world with other readers.

When I was small, I dreamed of joining a circus as a trapeze artist. I would spend hours hanging upside down on swings and trying to do stunts! Writing about Calypso's life in a travelling circus is the next best thing.

Everyday Magic is also a book about bravery and friendship, these are two very important subjects to me because when I was younger I was quite shy. My family were these great noisy storytellers and adventurers while I was a bit more like Alfie, content to hide away with a book! Like Alfie I had to learn to trust myself and allow a more dare-devil side - like Calypso's - to emerge!

A further theme I wanted to explore was bullying, like many children and adults I've come across bullying in various forms. How to triumph over bullies becomes one of Alfie's major challenges in the story. I wanted to find out how unkindness made him feel and how he could deal with it.

Writing a children's book was the tremendous fun I hoped it would be - freedom to imagine and the challenge of mixing the scary and funny parts of the story together. I enjoyed inventing spells and thinking up familiars for my magical characters. The idea that every witch has a familiar, her best pal and partner in crime, has always intrigued me. I find myself picking creatures for everyone I know!

 

5.   Can you tell us how you developed the village of Little Snoddington, where Alfie moves to. If you found yourself there, which shop would you want to visit?

I wanted Alfie's new home to be a contrast to his life before so he goes from a neat London townhouse to a spooky old place in the middle of a forest. I wanted the village to be a little magical and odd, so I filled it with strange and wonderful characters.

I would definitely visit Blackstacks' Chemist shop to see if I could spot the bottles and jars moving. I'd also love to call in at Mrs Mention's Tea Room, which is shaped like a giant strawberry meringue and is run by the formidable Mrs Mention.

 

6.   There are lots of spells in Everyday Magic, which have to rhyme in order to work. Does this make them quite hard to write?

It makes them very tricky to write! But this also makes me laugh as I try to come up with ridiculous rhymes! I always read them aloud to my dog, Wilkie. He's not a great help as he often falls asleep. Writing the spells definitely took the longest but I think all the best spells rhyme!

 

7.   What are your top tips for writing a fantastic spell?

Think about what you'd like your spell to do and make a note of all the ingredients that could go into it. I like to combine everyday things with magic - so turning a caterpillar into a teapot is the perfect spell for me. You might also think about how your spell might work. Magic in Alfie's world takes place with a green flash. Sometimes it's fun to draw the result - what would a caterpillar teapot look like?

 

8.   Which of these spells would you like to have tucked away in your pocket?

I would definitely have a copy of Great Aunt Murgatroyd's No-Risk Floating spell in my pocket. I would use it to float up above the clouds and just lie about there.

 

9.   Who is your favourite witch in the story? 

I love all the witches but I think Zita Blackstack is a particular favourite. When we meet Alfie's aunt first, she's spiky and scary and seems more intent on pickling him than getting to know him. Zita appears to be an all-out baddy but she is more complicated than that and this is what made her an interesting character to write. I also enjoyed writing about her familiar, Magnus, a fang-filled bat who hangs on her arm like a broken umbrella.

 

10.  Why do your witches ride on vacuum cleaners?

My witches ride on vacuum cleaners because I thought it would be an upgrade from a broomstick! It's also another way to combine the everyday and commonplace with the magical in a way that made me laugh. Then I just had fun imagining what all the different flying machines would look like.

 

11.   The witches all have a 'familiar'. If you could choose your own familiar, what would it be?

I think my dog Wilkie is probably my familiar, he follows me everywhere. As I write this he's sitting on my lap! Otherwise, my familiar would probably be a very loud and greedy crow. I love the way they shout down from trees and squabble.

 

12.   What's next for Alfie and his friends, Calypso and Nova?

More adventures! I am plotting the next Alfie story right now and it will be scary and thrilling and full of old friends and new.

 

13.   What else are you writing?

I am working on my fourth book for adults and on projects for TV and film. I hope one day you will see my stories on the screen!

 

14.   What are your favourite magical adventure stories?

I love anything by Roald Dahl, James and the Giant Peach is a great adventure story. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien is one of my favourites too, it's a wonderful magical world. Add a wizard and a dragon and I'm very happy and in Bilbo Baggins we have a reluctant hero - much as Alfie is!

Author's Titles