Interview: Elaine Bickell talks about Starfish the Star
Elaine Bickell lives in central Wellington with her partner, three children and dog named Molly. She was born and grew up in the UK. Her love of books led to her studying English Literature at Bristol University. After moving to New Zealand in 2005 she worked in advertising. Elaine also loves football, walking, world music, art, camping, cooking, and boogie boarding! Her first book with Scholastic, The Little Ghost Who Lost Her Boo! was the recipient of the 2018 Storylines Joy Cowley Award and a 2020 Storylines Notable Book Award. Elaine talks to NZ Booklovers about her second book, Starfish the Star.
What inspired you to write Starfish the Star?
I have been challenging myself lately to write up-to-date picture books that reflect the modern world our kids are growing up in. My youngest child Greta has just turned 7 and, even though of course she has no social media accounts, she knows all about them! I also regularly find her selfies on my cell phone, she’s got the pout and the camera angles and I always wonder how she knows this stuff but I think she is just absorbing the world around her along with the help of her two older brothers. I wanted to write a book that was suitable for young children that speaks to the 'look at me' nature of our modern era fuelled by social media. What better character than a starfish in an aquarium? By its very nature the creatures in the aquarium are on display and are there to be looked at!
I also wanted to use the story to reinforce the message that it is what you do that matters so much more than what you look like. The superficial looks versus the substance of action! I bang on about this a lot to my kids.
What research was involved?
Very little! I have always really enjoyed aquariums and have visited A LOT of them right from when I was a child and we used to go to a tiny aquarium in the Cornish village of Mevagissey through to taking my own kids to the amazing aquariums in Singapore, London and Shanghai to name a few - yes lucky kids!
How did you work with the illustrator?
I didn’t. Scholastic chose Daron Parton. I knew his work already and was very very excited when they told me. I love what he has done with the characters. The cover is outstanding. I am only two books into my writing career but I have already learnt to trust the process and I have not been disappointed.
If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.
I LOVE this question. We are really into music in my house.
I would start with (showing my age here) Carly Simon, “You’re so vain.” Then come in with Bonnie Tyler “Holding out for a hero.” And finishing with that good old anthem Ce Ce Peniston, “Finally!”
What did you enjoy the most about writing this picture book?
I enjoyed writing the rhymes. I love rhyme. I even think in rhyme these days, must drive my family nuts. I also really enjoyed bringing the character of the Starfish to life. He is such an egotistical drama queen. I think I met him in a past life in a nightclub in Soho London!
What do you hope young readers will take away from reading Starfish the Star?
Mostly I hope that they will enjoy the escapism of a fun story with lovely pictures. I hope they are captivated by the drama of a cracked tank and I hope they enjoy the hero who overcomes his ego and saves the day! I also hope they see the modern world that they inhabit reflected in the book and finally that they think for a minute about the message in the last lines, “And he had learnt it’s not the shape that you are but the things that you do that make you a star!"
What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?
Next week we are having a launch party at Unity Books in Wellington. Unity is my local bookshop where I spend a lot of time (and a lot of money!) It feels like a second home so I just had to have the launch there. I can’t wait to share the story with an audience.
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
An adult book would have to be the Booker winner Shuggie Bain. It was absolutely amazing and had me gripped from the first line.
In terms of kids books then it’s getting harder for me to choose. My children all read independently now and my youngest will often ask me to leave the room so she can read alone. Boo hoo. I still take myself to the library now and then and spend an hour or so with the picture books. I really enjoyed Chris Gurney’s The Hug Blanket. I had a really strong bond with my grandmother and this book made me cry right there on my own in Johnsonville library!
What’s next on the agenda for you?
Writing, writing and more writing. I try and do a little bit every day. I have a few manuscripts out there at the moment which I am waiting to hear back from publishers about. Patience is essential! I am hopeful another manuscript will resonate with a publisher again one day, mostly because launching a book and sharing it with children is just so rewarding and so much fun.
Published by Scholastic New Zealand