Natasha Farrant has worked in children's publishing for almost 20 years, running her own literary scouting agency for the past ten. She grew up in London where she still lives with her husband and their two daughters. She is the author of the Carnegie-longlisted and Branford Boase-shortlisted YA historical novel The Things We Did For Love, as well as a number of children's adventure stories and two successful adult novels.
The Rescue of Ravenwood (Faber Children's Books)
Natasha Farrant's classic adventure The Rescue of Ravenwood, set in the idyllic landscape of the West Country, is a call to arms to fight for our precious spaces. The story reminds us of the treasured green places on our planet, and what we must be prepared to do to save them. Through the children's adventures at Ravenwood, the novel also explores made families and the importance of friendship. We asked Natasha Farrant to tell us more.
Q&A with Natasha Farrant
1. Can you give us a snapshot of your career to date? What brought you into writing for children?
I always knew I wanted to be a writer, ever since I first learned to read. My first two books were for grownups, but since then I've only written for children. The main reason I started, to be honest, was because a children's publisher suggested the idea. But the reason I kept on is because I love it. There's something about reading as a child - it's completely different from reading as an adult. You live books in a way you don't when you grow up. I think, in writing for children, I'm able to recapture some of that feeling.
2. Can you describe the kinds of books you enjoy writing? Are these the kind of stories you enjoyed as a child?
I don't know that I actively enjoy writing (she says, grumpily). But the sort of stories I enjoyed as a child, and still enjoy reading now, and yes, even enjoy writing, are stories with really strong characters. That's what I love doing: really getting into the skin of my characters, and working out what makes them tick. Characters you love and believe in completely are what make you care about a story.
3. What is your new book, The Rescue of Ravenwood, about, and who are the main characters?
It's an adventure story about three children, Bea, Raffy and Noa, who come together to stop a very special place from being destroyed. Ravenwood is a home, a wood, a garden, but also a solace for wildlife and for people. It's precious, and our characters will stop at nothing to save it. So there are stowaways and police searches, heatwaves and fires, full-blown protests and long-buried secrets, but most of all it's about friendship and family and children taking control of their own future. Oh, and there are seals, ravens, bats and a Viking longboat…
4. What inspired the story?
Lots of different things… an unexpected swim with a seal in Cornwall (they're bigger than they look); a trip to Croatia by train and boat; a line in one of my previous books, The Children of Castle Rock, which says "we must take care of the beauty in the world"; a spate of climate change protests I had been on, which left me wanting to do more…
5. Is Ravenwood based on anywhere you know - or perhaps a wishlist of things you'd like to have in one place, such as the amazing treehouse / a Viking boat!
Ha! Definitely a wish list. It poured out of my imagination and is basically my dream home, complete with treehouse, Viking boat and private cove… It is very loosely based on a friend's house in Cornwall (where the seal was…). But very loosely.
6. There is a strong environmental message in the story - are there places that you have seen 'disappear' through development, and which helped inspire this theme?
All around us, places are disappearing all the time. When I grew up, in London, there were green spaces everywhere. I don't just mean the parks - there was space between buildings, we used to go blackberry-picking in the railway sidings, there were places untouched (possibly, someone once suggested to me, these were bomb sites). Now every year I see a bit more being eaten up.
There used to be a park outside Euston station, with the most magnificent trees. Every time I saw it, I smiled. People ate their lunch there. Now it's been destroyed and replaced by a taxi rank. A taxi rank! This little oasis of green in the heart of the city, now belching diesel fumes. When I saw what they had done, I was so upset I cried. Then I got angry. Then, I suppose, I wrote The Rescue of Ravenwood…
7. You also explore the idea that families can be what we create, rather than what we are born into. Why did you want this to be part of the story?
There's this myth we're all presented with, isn't there, of "the perfect family". You hear it all the time - "hard-working families", "ordinary families", like there's one definition of who we're all supposed to be. Well, families are messy and hurtful and they have secrets and they quarrel - and that's just the happy ones!
I guess I wanted to show that families come in all shapes and sizes, and that that's ok. The important thing is that there is love, and sometimes you find that with people you're not actually related to. And you know, people have told me how sad Bea's relationship with her parents is, and I agree, it is sad: but they have actually put her first; they've made sure she is somewhere where she is safe and can thrive, even if it means she's not with them.
8. What kinds of discussions would you like your book to prompt in schools and homes?
I would like readers to think really hard about the places that are most precious to them, why they love them and what they can do to make them even better.
9. Where and when do you prefer to write? What are you writing currently?
This changes all the time, but at the moment my preferred place to write is at the London Library. I work really intensely there. I think it's being surrounded by all those books. I like writing in the morning best, when my mind is fresh. By the afternoon, it's too crowded with other things.
10. If any of your books were to be made into a film, which one would you want it to be?
Voyage of the Sparrowhawk! I think it would be epic. That said, as a friend who works in TV told me, it's a historical drama with dogs on water - all the most difficult things to film, so there's no chance anyone will ever make it! Ah well. We can all dream…
When you're away from your desk:
Your stories all feature amazing adventures children have - but what are your biggest 'real life' adventures?
A few years ago we went on a big Canadian road trip. We took a camper van to Newfoundland, and that did feel epic! A bit like Scotland but really, REALLY big. I remember there was a campsite on the edge of a cliff you had to abseil down to go to the beach. I think that may have found its way into a book!
If you could find yourself in any one of your books, which one would it be?
I would love to be at Ravenwood…
Who are your favourite children's authors? Any recommendations of books you've read recently that you'd like to share with us?
It's more YA than a children's book, but I have just read Laura Wood's The Agency for Scandal and I had to stop everything I was doing that day until I'd finished it…