Interview: Karen McMillan talks about Elastic Island Adventures: Alphabet Resort
Karen McMillan releases her latest adventure in the popular Elastic Island Adventures series for children aged 8 to 12 this month, Alphabet Resort. The author of 17 books, published in nine countries, for the past two years Karen has been writing books for children, after writing bestselling novels such as The Paris of the East and Brushstrokes of Memory, and award-winning non-fiction such as Everyday Strength in the past.
Tell us a little about Elastic Island Adventures: Alphabet Resort.
Alphabet Resort is the fourth in the Elastic Island Adventures children’s book series for children aged 8 - 12. Kiri, Jed, and twins Emma and Ethan discover an ‘elastic’ island that sends them pinging across the ocean to a variety of destinations. The children are excited to be going to the wedding of King Shiny and Princess Topaz. Love is in the air, especially when they encounter Wombo the Wombat, a bachelor looking for love, who they decide to help. But then Princess Topaz is kidnapped, and everyone begins a frantic hunt to find her. Will they find her in time for the wedding, and will Wombo the Wombat succeed in finding love?
What inspired you to write this book?
Milla, my husband’s 12-year-old granddaughter, has inspired this series of books, and she helps me develop the ideas for the ongoing series. So it’s loads of fun, a great project for us to enjoy together. If you come around to my house, you will experience mad conversations about all the characters and creatures that feature – everything from the quokka family (adorable little marsupials) to frivals (completely made up creatures who excel at painting). We all talk about them as though they are real!
What research was involved in writing these books?
Each book features an unusual real-life creature. In book one it was a platypus, in book two a family of quokkas, in book three a family of chameleons, and book four features wombats. So Milla and I have spent time researching the real-life animals before fictionalising them! We made an exciting discovery about wombats that provides key material for the plot line for Alphabet Resort but you’ll need to read the book to understand what it is!
Alphabet Resort is a unique place for the children to visit. Can you tell us more?
Each building in Alphabet Resort is named after a well-known children’s author, which is a great device to include information about other writers in the book, that are suitable for the age range. So I hope when children read Alphabet Resort they can also use the book as a list of suggestions of other books they might like to read. The premise of the book is that every two years a building gets renamed, and people are asked to make submissions of authors who might be suitable for this honour. I have a fun segment in the book when it comes to renaming the ‘M’ building!
I understand your cat Blong, features in the series. Can you tell us more about his character.
Blong the Cat appears in book two of Elastic Island Adventures as one of the main characters, and he’s been so popular there is a spin-off picture book, Blong the Cat’s Costume Caper for younger children, with more books planned in the future. Blong is very much based on our real-life cat, who we adopted from Vanuatu as a starving kitten. He’s now 16 years old, and is a moonwalking, party-loving animal, who is quite comfortable watching fireworks and sitting on people’s laps. In the book Blong also talks, dances, and coughs up Blong-a-grams, that are small certificates when he wants to makes things formal. He’s naïve, trusting and affectionate, and is a key character in Alphabet Resort.
If your book was made into a movie or TV series, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?
It is lovely you ask as the books have been optioned for the screen, and is in development at the moment, with a lot happening behind the scenes. The script for the first book, Jewel Lagoon, is written, and a theme song written by Murray Grindlay has already been recorded, featuring singer Janayah. Josh Thomson is already keen to play Mr Jollybowler, and we have some other very talented people in mind for the other key parts. As an author, it’s very exciting to get a peek into the TV and movie world.
What have you enjoyed the most about writing the Elastic Island Adventures series?
Absolutely everything! It’s been the most extraordinary adventure over the last two years, with five books published, and numerous events and invitations in New Zealand and Australia (albeit via zoom and Skype during COVID-19 restrictions). Children are very enthusiastic about the books, which adds a special element, and I love seeing how it fosters their own creativity. I get letters and emails every week now from children, and I love hearing about their favourite characters from the series and what they like about the books – but also about their own writing projects. It’s very special!
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
The Yellow Bird Sings by Jennifer Rosner explores the trauma of the Holocaust, but it also manages to be a beautiful book that shows the unbreakable bond between parent and child. In the darkest days, their love and hope and humanity shine through in this extraordinary novel.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
I’ve started work on book five in the series, Kingdom of Blong. This is where we discover that Blong the Cat is the Kingdom’s missing King, so it’s a really fun book to write. And I’m developing a spin-off series of books where the frivals travel the world, putting their painting skills to good use. The adventure continues!
Elastic Island Adventures: Alphabet Resort, Duckling Publishing, RRP 19.99. www.ducklingpublishing.com