Karen McMillan is the author of 18 diverse books, from bestselling novels, The Paris of the East, The Paris of the West and Brushstrokes of Memory, to non-fiction books that inspire and help others: Everyday Strength and Unbreakable Spirit, and now the Elastic Island Adventures series for children, with the new book in this popular series releasing this month. Karen talks to NZ Booklovers.
Tell us a little about Elastic Island Adventures: Kingdom of Blong.
It’s the latest adventure in this series for children aged 8 to 12 years, a fantasy action-adventure set in the South Pacific. Kiri, Jed, and twins Emma and Ethan, discover an ‘elastic’ island that sends them pinging across the ocean to various destinations. When they arrive at the Kingdom of Blong, they discover that Blong the Cat is the island’s missing king. Blong is greeted with a great deal of fanfare, but it looks like fame might be the ruin of him. Will Blong’s relationship with Emma continue? And why do the bilbies, led by Baxter the Bilby, decide it is a good idea to live on a dangerous island ruled by cats? Will they end up on the dinner menu, or will they survive?
Don’t worry if you haven’t read the other books. All the books in the series are stand-alone stories, so you can just dive into the latest if it sounds appealing.
What inspired you to write this book?
The series was inspired by Milla, the then 10-year-old in our family, who was keen for me to write something that she could read. As for this latest book, my publisher is lovely, but she is a slave-driver, so I had a deadline! But more seriously, so many children have written to me asking me when the next book is coming out, I didn’t want to disappoint them. The books are loads of fun for children, but they are subtly about encouraging children with their own literacy and creativity, and there are themes of building friendship and resilience. My four children are in trouble or have to problem-solve in every book, so they have to work together to get home before they can ride the Elastic Island to their next adventure.
What research was involved?
Every book always features one unusual real-life creature. In this case, it’s the endangered bilbies. Of course, they are fictionalised in Kingdom of Blong, but they are based on real-life animals as a starting point. Kingdom of Blong is about a kingdom of cats, and they live in an incredible castle, with children paid to look after their every whim. Their castle is a fun mix of traditional stone, with pacific design influences and some Egyptian cat statues. It was fun researching different architectural styles and then blending them together.
If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?
As the movie rights have been optioned, some thought has gone into who would voice the different characters in the animated films. The uber-talented Josh Thomas is earmarked to be Mr Jollybowler, and we love the idea of Peter Feeney as King Shiny (who features in some of the other books). But we are still thinking about the other roles…
If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.
Definitely some Pacific-sounding music. These books capture the natural beauty of our South Pacific backyard, so to have a soundtrack of some of our great Pacific musicians would be wonderful. Janayah Wadsworth has already recorded a theme song for the possible movie, written by Murray Grindlay, so that is very exciting!
What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?
I loved writing a story that focuses on Blong, who has been a central and much-loved character in these books since book two. The fictional Blong is based on our real-life cat, who we adopted from Vanuatu as a starving kitten many years ago. I wrote this book with Blong sitting on my lap, and it was fun inventing this crazy kingdom of cats. Blong is pictured here sitting on my husband's lap.
Milla’s real-life cat also features in the book – Squanch is Blong’s butler.
And my husband’s beloved dog Heathcliff is introduced to readers for the first time. So this is a trio of fictional characters based on three very loved pets in real life.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
I’m already working on the next book, Elastic Island Adventures: Flip Flop Bay. I can’t say too much, but I can reveal the unusual real-life creature in this book will be a Blue-Footed Booby, so creatively, I have loads to work with here.
Elastic Island Adventures: Kingdom of Blong by Karen McMillan, Duckling Publishing, RRP 19.99