MG Leonard's bestselling series include Beetle Boy and Adventures on Trains - and her new book, Twitch, takes us into the world of birds and bird spotting.
MG Leonard has a first class BA honors in English Literature, and a Masters in Shakespearean Studies from King's College University London. She is an experienced producer, director and actor, and has worked in theatre for over ten years, primarily at Shakespeare's Globe, The Royal Opera House, and as the Senior Digital Producer for The National Theatre. She currently lives in Brighton with her partner and two sons.
Twitch (Walker Books)
Enter a world of bird spotting, nature and dangerous criminals in the first of MG Leonard's new series for children, Twitch, in which Twitch and his friends have to solve a mystery and a crime from the past. Bestselling author MG Leonard answers some questions in this video:
Q&A with MG Leonard
1. What is your new book, Twitch, about?
Twitch is about a birdwatcher called Twitch. He is planning to spend his summer holidays in the hide that he built in his local nature reserve, Aves Wood, watching the nesting birds and their chicks. However, his plans are ruined when a bank robber escapes from a local prison and hides in the woods. The rumour is that the stolen loot is hidden somewhere on the nature reserve. The police and locals descend on Aves Wood frightening away the birds, and so Twitch uses his birdwatching skills as detective skills and tries to catch the thief. There are lots of charismatic birds in the book and brave children. It is a story about friendship and the wonder of the natural world.
2. Your series have focused on beetles, trains and now birds; how do you decide which area to explore?
I follow my nose. Beetles led me to birds. Children who love birds appreciate insects because they are bird food. There was a natural link between the subjects and both are rich sources for stories, cool facts, and loved by children. My sons led to me having the idea to write about trains, because they love them, but I didn't know much about railways and so enlisted the talents of Sam Sedgmen to write those books with me. I try to write books on topics that aren't already on bookshelves.
3. Why do you give your characters these kinds of obsessions?
None of my protagonists are obsessed, although one of my antagonists (Lucretia Cutter) certainly is. At the beginning of Beetle Boy, Darkus doesn't like beetles. In the first Adventures on Trains book, Hal thinks trains are boring. These two characters learn to love beetles and trains, but they're not obsessed. Twitch is a passionate bird lover, and this is large part of his identity, but not to the exclusion of all else.
4. When researching for this novel, did you come across any bird facts that surprised you? What are your top three facts about birds that we might not already know?
Pigeons should be one of our favourite birds. The idea that they spread disease is a myth, they are actually very clean birds.
Fact One: They are very intelligent, and one of a small number of creatures who can pass the 'mirror test', recognising they're seeing a reflection of themselves - not another bird.
Fact Two: They fly at an average speed of 75 mph and have extraordinary navigation skills combining an internal magnetic compass, with referencing the stars and human landmarks.
Fact Three: They tend to mate for life with both the mum and the dad sharing the rearing and feeding of their chicks equally.
5. How do you bring your knowledge of birds into the book to help drive the plot?
In as many inventive ways as possible! I use every tool available to me from humour, to naming conventions, metaphors and analogies.
6 Can you tell us a bit about your main character, Twitch - was he based on anyone you know? - and about the challenges he faces?
Twitch is self-sufficient but not through choice. I think the social world children must navigate at school can be fraught with difficulty. My oldest son is observant and wary, often seeming shy, and there is certainly a bit of him in Twitch, but there is a lot of me in Twitch. I wasn't a birdwatcher when I was young, my 'thing' was theatre, but I didn't fit in at school and found ways to make that not matter. My passion was my saviour, as Twitch's passion for birds is his.
7. The novel also includes a mystery around a crime that the wrong person gets blamed for - how hard is it to plan the perfect crime?
Are you trying to suggest that I'm a criminal? I have never planned a perfect crime! My characters have solved quite a few crimes, but I would suggest that if you get caught for a crime, it was not perfect!
8. When you wrote Beetle Boy, you started to keep beetles. With the Twitch series underway, are you training pigeons, or do you now have an aviary?
The wonderful thing about birds is that you don't need to 'keep' them. All you need to do is make your garden into a bird friendly environment with shelter, water and food, and you'll have lots of delightful, feathered friends visiting you regularly. So no, I don't have a pigeon loft of an aviary.
9. In writing about beetles and birds, and taking a closer look at nature through fiction, do you hope to encourage children to see nature in a different way - especially the less 'glamorous' areas that we might not otherwise think too much about?
Of course I want my fiction to encourage children to really open their eyes and wonder at the nature on their doorsteps! But, I don't know what you mean about beetles and birds being 'less glamorous' areas of the natural world, have you seen an Australian rainbow stag beetle or a kingfisher? I rest my case.
10. How can children get more actively involved in protecting nature - are there any organisations that you worked with in researching these books that you'd recommend?
The RSPB is a wonderful organisation with a fantastic website stuffed with resources and activities for young birdwatchers. I highly recommend visiting one of their nature reserves.
11. What next for Twitch?
All friendships require give and take, and I think Twitch's relationship with Jack will be an interesting one to see grow. Thiers is a new relationship that will be tested by future adventures. Twitch is excited for The Twitchers to do good conservation work and protect endangered birds, whereas Jack is looking for the next mystery to solve.
12. Where and when do you do your best writing?
Quiet times are the best time to write. Early mornings are best for me, when no one is emailing and the world is sleeping, or late at night, for the same reason. I need long periods of peace in which to imagine and think, to create a book.
13. What are your favourite escapes from your desk, and what are you most looking forward to being able to do once we're allowed to.
When I'm not writing, I like to run and do yoga and hang out at the beach with my kids. Once the world comes out of lockdown, I'm looking forward to going to the theatre and seeing live music and comedy.