Blog tour: ‘The Orphans of St. Halibuts,’ by Sophie Wills, illustrated by David Tazzyman.

If you’re in the mood for a chucklesome boarding school tale full of ingenious orphans, evil matrons and belligerent goats, then this is the book for you! I had the absolutely pleasure of reading this wickedly funny tale over the Summer and it really tickled my funny bone. The humour was just dark enough for my liking and tempered by some truly heart-warming moments.

I’ve also got a special piece from Sophie about her journey to becoming a writer – a must-read for any aspiring writing (young or old) and a testament to the power of holding on to your childhood dreams!

After the accidental demise and hasty burial of their beastly matron, life has been pretty perfect for the pupils of St. Halibuts. But they still have to put on a facade of normality for the postmistress and visiting inspectors. They don’t want anyone finding out they’re in the orphanage alone.

Cue a flurry of cleaning, tooth-brushing and fact cramming. Will that be enough to convince DEATH to leave them in peace? It may have been if stolen cakes, grumpy goats and some pretty major explosions hadn’t occurred!

How I got into writing – by Sophie Wills.

When I was about 7 years old, we had a ghost. My parents would wake up in the night and hear a faint tap, tap, tappitytap coming from above, where my mother kept her typewriter. A pause, then louder, in a poltergeist frenzy, tappity tappity TAPPITY TAP. Bravely, my mum would venture upstairs to be confronted by a pale, white-haired apparition in its Pink Panther pyjamas, determinedly finishing its masterwork, Merrymince the Elephant, having already completed Mummy’s Book of Cats.

I still have to type, never handwrite, and I still get most of my best story ideas in the middle of the night. I no longer have the pyjamas, sadly.

​There’s really only one reason why I became a writer:because I was encouraged. I had very little self-confidence as a child, but whenever I shyly showed my dad one of my stories, he would react every time as though I had cracked the secret of alchemy and fashioned a nugget of pure gold out of ink and misaligned Tipp-Ex strips. Likewise, I pounced on every ‘Great stuff!’ written at the bottom of my schoolwork, read and re-read constantly the comments that said I’d made the teacher laugh. I could barely look anyone in the eye, or speak out loud in class, but I came to feel that, maybe, I was good at this. I promised myself solemnly that I would become a published author. Nothing else would do. 

​So I really wanted to do a creative writing course at university. But with no financial cushion, I was advised by everybody that I should do something less flaky, more normalfor potential employers. So I went off to do a very traditional English Literature course, surrounded by awfully posh people talking loudly about the romans à clef they were working on. I felt like an imposter in every way, and stopped writing entirely.

But my fancy degree turned out to have one good purpose – it got me a work-experience placement at a publisher, and then a career I loved, where I could sit around inhaling other people’s books all day. I could hardly believe it was a real job; judging by the salary, neither could my employer.

​It was twenty years later that I came across a competition to write a 1,500-word children’s story, and felt a cold, hard stare from the ghostly author of Merrymince the Elephant. I knew I had to try, or risk being tormented by frantictypewriting noises in my sleep until the day I died.

Michael Rosen picked it out as one of ten winners, and in so doing, injected me with all those missing years’ worth of encouragement at once. 

​After that, I didn’t stop. There were some big ups and downs in the following years, rejections aplenty, and disappointments, but I never felt like giving up again. 

​Eight years after that competition, The Orphans of St Halibut’s is being published, and I feel like I’ve finally kept my promise to the poltergeist.

The Orphans of St Halibut’s by Sophie Wills is published on 1st October 2020, RRP £7.99

Isn’t it interesting how the dreams of your childhood can turn into your reality as an adult after a bit of hard work? As a child, I always played schools – with my teddies or with my sister’s friends as pupils and myself as the teacher. Fast forward a few years and here I am – a qualified teacher!

Library Girl.

*Many thanks to Macmillan Children’s Books for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour*

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