M.A. Bennett, bestselling author of STAGS, introduces her time-travel adventure series, The Butterfly Club, for middle grade readers.
M.A. Bennett was born in the north of England to an English mother and a Venetian father. She loved history so much she studied it at four different universities. She also studied art and worked as an illustrator, an actress and a film reviewer. Now she has her dream job of being a writer and her books have been translated into more than 20 languages. Her first YA novel, STAGS, was published in 2017 and was shortlisted for the YA Book Prize 2018. She lives in London - the home of Greenwich Meantime - with one husband, two children and three cats.
The Mona Lisa Mystery (The Butterfly Club, Book 3) (Welbeck)
M.A. Bennett's The Mona Lisa Mystery is a gripping time-travel adventure story that takes us to the Louvre at the turn of the century, and the theft of what was, at that time, a little-known painting... The Mona Lisa! M.A. Bennett tells us about the true historical events, and the people, that helped inspire this and her earlier Butterfly Club books.
M.A. Bennett introduces The Mona Lisa Mystery (The Butterfly Club) for ReadingZone, and reads from a chapter of the book :
Q&A with M.A. Bennett
1. Can you tell us what is the Butterfly Club, and what inspired the idea? How did you choose which year to base the Butterfly Club in?
The Butterfly Club is a collection of the finest minds of Victorian society - people like Arthur Conan Doyle and H.G. Wells. They've invented a time machine called the time train, and they are able to travel to the future in order to steal inventions and artifacts in order to speed up progress.
The club meets in secret every Thursday at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, the home of time. Their work is based on a very brainy scientific idea which states that everything is connected - that the flap of a butterfly's wing in Mexico can start a tornado in Texas. It's called the Butterfly Effect and it suggests that a very tiny change can have a very big result. So it's a warning really - if the time-thieves change too much when they travel they might alter the whole of history - which of course, they do!
I chose the year 1894 because something very dramatic happens at the Greenwich Observatory in that year. But I can't tell you any more because it would be a massive spoiler!
2. Who are the three children who become involved with the Butterfly Club, and why do they work so well together?
Their names are Luna, Aidan and Konstantin, and they are all children of Butterfly Club members. They work well together because they are so different. Luna is quite privileged, and she comes from money, so she understands how society works. Konstantin has been an invalid all his life so he has gained a lot of knowledge from reading books on his sickbed. And Aidan is the son of a navigational engineer, so he has grown up working with his hands and understanding machines.
3. What kinds of adventures have the children already had with the Butterfly Club? Are they all inspired by true events and real figures from history?
The time thieves have already been to 1912 to witness the sinking of the Titanic, and to 1922 to see the excavation of Tutankhamun from the Valley of the Kings. The series takes as its subject very well-known events, but largely unknown heroes.
Everyone has heard of the Titanic, but Guglielmo Marconi, whose wireless radio saved hundreds of lives on that doomed ship and countless lives over the following century, is unknown to many. Everyone's heard of Tutankhamun, and most people think that he was discovered by Howard Carter; but not many young readers will have heard of Abdel Rassoul, a boy their own age, who was actually the first person to discover the greatest archaeological find of all time.
4. What is their latest time-travel adventure, The Mona Lisa Mystery, about?
Most kids will have heard of the Mona Lisa, but most won't know that the painting wasn't famous at all until it was stolen from the Louvre in Paris in 1911 by a man named Vincenzo Peruggia. More people came to see the wall where the Mona Lisa had hung, than had ever been to see the actual painting! By the time the Mona Lisa was returned two years later, it was the most well-known and valuable artwork in the world.
In my book it is the time thieves who steal the painting for Vincenzo, with the help of the one man from their time who could make anything disappear - the master magician Harry Houdini.
5. Do you try to visit the places you mention in the books?
I always try to visit the places I write about if possible. I think it makes things much easier to describe if you've actually seen them!
6. Which character from history did you most enjoy bringing to life in writing this book?
I loved writing Harry Houdini. I think he relished a challenge, and in this book I've given him the most difficult art heist in history. The Louvre Museum was like a fortress - in fact its director actually boasted that it would be easier to steal the towers of Notre Dame than a painting from the walls of the Louvre.
7. Your characters are inspired and intrigued by the picture of Mona Lisa. Have you seen it in real life?
Yes, I have been lucky enough to see it, where it hangs now back in the Louvre. Initially I was unimpressed. It seemed small and muddy, and it is behind so much security now it's hard to get near. But the more I gazed the more she grew on me. It's the eyes that get you.
8. What else do you have planned for the Butterfly Club?
Next it's the moon landings of 1969. Again, this historical event is familiar to most, but many space fans won't realise how close the Apollo 11 came to a fatal explosion on the moon's surface, only averted by the brave men and women of Mission Control.
9. Where would you travel to on the 'time train' if you were able to join the Butterfly Club, and who would you like to meet from history?
Oo good question! I'm a big Shakespeare fan so I think I would go back to Elizabethan London and go to a play at the original Globe Theatre (preferably with him if he could spare the time!) I'd like to go to the first ever performance of Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet - it would be amazing to be one of the first people to ever hear those famous lines.
10. What are your top tips for taking your readers back in time convincingly?
I think you have to try to make a link between your young readers and your young characters, even though they live in different centuries. We all have things in common, whenever we live, and it's about tapping into those same fears and feelings.
More about MA Bennett
i. What does an ideal day away from your desk look like?
Spending time with my family. Maybe a long lunch at a nice restaurant, followed by a movie.
ii. If you weren't a writer, what would you be?
I'd probably be in film, as I'm a massive movie fan.
iii. Do you have any secret talents?
I trained as an illustrator, so I can draw.
iv. Oh, and we all want to know ... any updates on STAGS filming?
I have just had some very exciting news, but I'm not allowed to say anything yet! As soon as I am, you'll be the first to know ;)
(From ReadingZone: Ooooh can't wait to hear!!!)
Author MA Bennett introduces The Ship of Doom (The Butterfly Club, Book 1) and gives a short reading from the book:
Chapter Extract from The Ship of Doom