Katya read English at university and then completed an MPhil researching the impact of stories on autistic children's behaviour. She has worked in a variety of special needs schools as a teaching assistant, and more recently co-founded Mainspring Arts - a not-for-profit organisation that provides mentoring and creative opportunities for neurodivergent adults. Her novel October, October won the Carnegie Medal 2022.
The Thames and Tide Club: The Secret City (Bloomsbury Children's Books)
Come down to the banks of the River Thames and find mysteries, friendship and adventure in The Thames and Tide Club, the new series for younger readers by award-winning author Katya Balen. In the first book, The Thames and Tide Club: The Secret City, mudlarkers Clem, Ash and Zara make an unexpected discovery and have to venture beneath the Thames' waves to solve a mystery that threatens London itself. There, they discover an unexpected world and its quirky inhabitants.
Katya Balen says, "I just think mudlarking is fascinating. There are all these stories and histories hidden away in plain sight. You can find beauty and death and life and hope and love and loss all tucked up on the foreshore."
Q&A with Katya Balen
1. What is your new series, The Thames and Tide Club, and the first book The Secret City about? Why did you decide to write a story for younger readers?
The Thames and Tide Club is a mudlarking caper! It's about three friends who love searching the river shores for treasure and secrets - and they discover something magical.
I think, like most writers, I like to stretch my writing wings a bit. I fell in love with reading when I was six or so, and it made sense to try to write for that age. I also really wanted to have a go at writing something funny and less serious that my usual books.
2. Why did you want to do a 'deep dive' into mudlarking in this story? What sparked your own passion for mudlarking - isn't it a rather cold and wet hobby...?
Ah there's no such thing as cold and wet - only bad clothing! I just think mudlarking is fascinating. There are all these stories and histories hidden away in plain sight. You can find beauty and death and life and hope and love and loss all tucked up on the foreshore. I first got into it just by seeing a group of people wandering along the foreshore and I asked them what they were up to…
3. What kinds of things do you find when you're mudlarking, and what has been your best find to date?
I'm not the best mudlark in the world. I love collecting smooth riverglass for a jar in my study, and I find bones very beautiful. I've also found Roman coins, apothecary bottles, teeth (!), Victorian pottery and much more.
4. What can children learn about London's history through mudlarking?
I think that they can learn everything about how people lived and what they loved. But I actually prefer the idea that the objects can inspire children's own imaginations. They can imagine who owned this? What were they like? What magic might this object contain? How did it get lost? What will happen if I take it home…?
5. Who are your group of mudlarkers in this story and how did the characters develop?
My group are a lovely bunch from the same inner city estate in London. I wanted to reflect a range of ages and backgrounds, because mudlarking is something everyone can do. I focus on the three best friends, but I loved drawing out the closeness and love in that community as a whole.
6. Who is your favourite supporting character in this story?
Gerald the behatted iguana, for sure. He's got sass and beautifully painted toenails.
7. Your novels are generally rooted in reality - so why did you decide to give this fantasy element to the book?
Just for a bit of fun and a bit of a challenge!
8. Can you describe your special 'mudlarking museum' on the banks of the Thames, and tell us what inspired it?
The mudlarking museum is a magical place - full of strange objects and locked doors. It's mysterious but also warm and welcoming. I based the building itself on a little film studio that put on an amazing mudlarking exhibition in Rotherhithe, but the rest is pure fantasy!
9. Which moment of this adventure did you most enjoy writing?
Queen Barbara's appearance was such fun to write.
[Note: Queen Barbara is a porpoise who wears a pink ballgown...]
10. What else do you have planned for The Thames and Tide Club? What kinds of things will they discover during their mudlarking adventures?
Squid Invasion is out next year - Clem, Ash and Zara must save the museum and the world against an army of slobbery squids who are wannabe overlords!