Natasha Lowe is the award-winning author of several middle-grade fantasy and realistic fiction novels, including Lucy Castor Finds Her Sparkle and the Poppy Pendle series: The Power of Poppy Pendle, The Courage of Cat Campbell, The Marvelous Magic of Miss Mabel, and the forthcoming novel The Daring of Della Dupree. We love her books because of their strong, sympathetic characters and engaging plots (not to mention the delicious recipes…). We’re thrilled to have her as our inaugural interview!
RapunzelReads: The Poppy Pendle books are set in a world similar to this one, but where magic is an accepted fact of life. What was your favorite part of creating that world?
Natasha Lowe: Potts Bottom is loosely based on one of the small Lancashire villages near where my grandmother lived. There was a canal close by where we used to take walks, pretty stone cottages surrounded by flowers, narrow twisty streets and a little bakery where my gran would buy fresh from the oven bilberry pies. It was also where, 400 years ago, the Pendle witches were supposed to have lived, a group of girls and women who people claimed had magical powers. I remember my time there vividly and it was great fun to create a fictional world based on this real and wonderful place, but the best part about writing the Poppy Pendle books was weaving through all the magical elements. As a child, whenever I visited my grandmother I would spend many hours trying to fly on a broomstick and brew up my own spells, so it was really satisfying creating a world in which magic actually exists! I loved
RR: Who is your favorite character(s) that you’ve written about, and why?
NL: I love all my characters but Cat is definitely one of my favorites. I love the fact that she’s a late bloomer, that magic doesn’t come easily to her, but this doesn’t stop her from wanting to be a witch. Most of us aren’t born with an amazing talent or gift, but that shouldn’t stop us from doing what we love. I’ve always loved telling stories but I had to work at the craft of writing, to practice and practice before I wrote a book that was good enough to be published. And I love this quality in Cat. She doesn’t give up because magic is difficult for her, and she doesn’t care about being the best. She just wants to do what she loves, even when achieving this dream seems impossible. I really admire Cat’s courage. She has to face many fears throughout the book and as I was writing The Courage of Cat Campbell, Cat helped me face some of my own fears, like my dread of public speaking and school visits. I mean I couldn’t write about this courageous girl doing all these brave things and not attempt to conquer some of my own fears too. And the funny thing is school visits are now one of my favorite parts of being an author. So I have Cat to thank for that. She is also a daredevil and fearless, which are qualities I don’t have but rather wish I did!
RR: What books inspired you when you were growing up?
NL: My favorite book was The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge. I loved this story so much. It had a lovely magical feel about it and was full of delicious descriptions of food. I knew as soon as I finished reading it that I wanted to write stories just like this, and indeed most of my books have magic and food woven through, especially in Poppy who is always baking up scrumptious treats. I also loved the E. Nesbit books, Five Children and It and The Phoenix and the Carpet, the Narnia books and Roald Dahl, especially Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Most of my favorite stories were fantasies but I also loved The Little House on the Prairie books and the Mallory Towers series by Enid Blyton, which were set in a boarding school. In fact I loved most school stories which is probably why I set my books in a witch school!
RR: What was your inspiration for The Power of Poppy Pendle?
NL: A stone goose! One day my husband Jon brought this stone goose home from an auction. He thought it would look nice sitting under a tree in our garden. The goose had such a surprised, startled look on its face that my daughter started wondering what had happened to it. Maybe our goose was real? Well, being the sort of mum who liked to tell stories I suggested that maybe he was real? Maybe a witch had put a spell on him and turned him to stone, which scared my daughter because she wasn’t the biggest fan of witches and she started to worry that this evil old woman might come marching right into our yard and take back the goose. So I told her that this witch was only a little girl, and she wasn’t evil at all, she was sad because she didn’t want to be a witch, she wanted to be a baker, but her parents forced her to go to witch school. In fact she was so sad that she went around turning things to stone, and that was the moment I realized this would be a great idea for a story!
RR: What inspired Lucy Castor Finds Her Sparkle?
NL: I grew up in a house full of clocks. My dad collected them and they were always chiming at different times and would keep me awake at night with their ticking. So I had this idea to write a fantasy story about a little girl growing up in a house full of magic clocks that had memories and could show you all the things they had seen over the years. But as I began to write I realized it wasn’t going to be a fantasy at all and the book developed into Lucy’s story, about a girl who hates change but finds herself having to cope with it when, right as she is starting fourth grade, her whole world is turned upside down. I was a lot like Lucy when I was little. We both have extremely vivid imaginations and are not very good with change, so my childhood self definitely inspired Lucy’s character. I also kept the clocks in the story (even though they aren’t magical anymore) because I wanted Lucy’s house to be full of them, just like mine was growing up!
RR: Do you have any tips for an aspiring writer?
NL: Write because you love it and not because you want to get published! It can take a long time to get a book accepted by a publishing company so don’t focus too much on that to begin with. Just enjoy telling your stories, and don’t worry if they seem quirky or odd or not what you think people will want to read. If you are passionate about them someone else will be too. And the more you write the better you will get. I had to write seven books before I wrote one that was good enough to be published. But I learned from each story, so don’t get discouraged or give up. Just enjoy the process. It’s also helpful to get feedback from some readers you trust, because constructive criticism can be an excellent way to improve your story. I spend a lot of time revising my work to make it as good as I can.
RR: What is your favorite thing about being an author?
NL: I love being able to work from home and not having to worry about wearing smart clothes. I can wear my oldest, comfiest jeans and curl up on the window seat in the kitchen with my laptop. It’s wonderful being able to make my own hours, which usually means I get up really early because that’s when I’m at my freshest and most creative, and when I need a break I can walk my dog, Penny, or bake a batch of cupcakes. I also love doing school visits and introducing kids to my books, but perhaps the best thing about being an author is all the wonderful letters and emails I receive. It’s a great feeling knowing that people are out there, reading and enjoying my books. As is seeing my characters come to life on Halloween when I get to hand out candy to some Poppy, Cat or Mabel that turns up at my door!