Blog tour: ‘Libby and the Parisian Puzzle,’ by Jo Clarke, illustrated by Becka Moor.

Today I have the absolute pleasure of kicking off the blog tour for author, librarian, and superstar blogger, Jo Clarke. I have known Jo for a long time and she has exquisite taste in books so I knew before I’d even read it that her debut was going to be a corker. And I wasn’t wrong!

As well as my exclusive Q&A with Jo about her journey to publication and the inspirations behind the book, each stop on the blog tour is highlighting the locations (and the food) in the book! I’m showcasing Montmartre.

Montmartre is the heart of art in Paris. In the early 1900s it was a magnet for young painters including Matisse and Picasso, attracted to the area by the cheap rent and the relaxed social rules. If you visit Montmartre today you will see artists painting and selling their work in the famous square, The Place du Tertre.

‘Mystery-lover Libby is excited but nervous when she’s sent to live with her aunt while her mother is working abroad. Aunt Agatha is the headmistress of an extraordinary travelling school that moves from country to country…

Libby joins the school in Paris, where she is just starting to find her feet when Agatha is arrested, accused of a daring jewel robbery! Can Libby and her new best friend Connie find the real thief and save her aunt?’

Q & A with author Jo Clarke

1. Congratulations on the publication of your debut novel. Tell us about your journey towards becoming a published author.

The journey to publication has been quite a rollercoaster. Libby and the Parisian Puzzle was the fourth book that I submitted to agents – although one of them was a completely different version – and I received numerous rejections along the way. I decided to rewrite this story after having really positive feedback from the child judges at the Write Mentor Novel Award and then entered the new version in the Darley Anderson Mega Middle- Grade competition where it was shortlisted. On the back of this I was approached by my publisher Firefly Press when I was querying agents and after many years of trying I had a publisher and agent offer in the same week.

2. Your series is set around Mousedale’s Travelling School. Where did you get the idea for a school which moves to a different location each term?

The idea started from a random conversation in the staffroom at work. We had a supply teacher working and she was talking about how her daughter was at a school in Japan, even though she was from New Zealand and living in England. It really intrigued me and I asked her lots of questions about why her daughter went to school there and it was a simple answer that she wanted to learn about a new culture. It came to me then what if I wrote a story about a school and set it in another country. But to make it more interesting, why not have the school move location each term. And so Mousedale’s Travelling School came to life. Miss Mousedale is actually named for my secondary school English teacher, who was a huge influence on me and encouraged my love of reading and writing.

3. Why did you pick Paris for Libby’s first adventure?

I picked Paris because it is my absolute most favourite city in the world and I have visited it many times. I felt that it needed to be somewhere that I had a chance to really explore making it easier for me to bring it to life on the pages. It has such iconic landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower making it easily recognisable to children. I love the mix of cultural places to visit like the Louvre and also appreciate the amazing French food, in particularly I cannot resist a trip to a patisserie.

4. What research did you have to do?

The challenge of using a real location is that you need to make things accurate. I wrote this book during the first lockdown which meant I couldn’t just jump on the Eurostar for a research trip, I had to rely on my memories most of the time. When writing the story, I always had a map to hand with all the key locations plotted out. I needed to be sure that it felt realistic to those familiar with Paris and give a real flavour of its many charms for those who have never visited. I used children’s travel guides to give me ideas about places and facts that might be of interest. I always use photographs when I’m writing. It really helps me to visualise what is happening in front of me. So I created mood boards on Pinterest that became really useful when I was discussing illustrations with my editor and my illustrator Becka Moor. I had a very clear vision of what my version of Paris looked like.

5. Delicious food features quite heavily in Libby’s Parisian adventure. What would be on the menu of your ideal midnight feast?

Oooohhh, that is a tricky one! As much as I love patisseries and macarons, I’m a real savoury person at heart. My absolute favourite food in the world is chip shop chips covered in salt and vinegar, served with gravy. I’m not sure how easy that would be to conjure up at midnight though!

6. Did you read a lot of mysteries when you were younger? Did this help you when writing your own?

Yes!! Growing up I was obsessed with mystery stories and my mum used to take me to my local library every Saturday morning where I would clear the shelves of Famous Five, Secret Seven, Nancy Drew and Tintin books. When I became a school librarian eight years ago, I found myself drawn back to mystery books and I began devouring series. I am a huge fan of authors, Katherine Woodfine, Fleur Hitchcock, Serena Patel and Robin Stevens. My bookshelves at home are stuffed with mystery stories for all ages.

7. Tell us about Libby’s next adventure…

The next adventure is Libby and the Highland Heist which is publishing in Spring 2023. After a tumultuous term in Paris, Libby and Connie are looking forward to a quiet holiday at Connie’s family home. But before long they find themselves caught up in another mystery, this time set against the dramatic backdrop of the Highlands and Edinburgh. Expect snowy mountains, forged paintings, secret passageways and an elaborate heist.

Ooooh, Highland Heist sounds amazing! Edinburgh is such a beautiful city. I can’t wait to see what Libby and Co. get up to next!

As you can probably tell from my questions, there were so many elements of Jo’s novel that I loved – the premise of a travelling school, the insider’s view of Paris, the food! And above all, the sparkle, wit and charm woven into each page, drawing readers into that wonderful world to solve the mystery alongside Libby and her friends.

This series would be the perfect introduction to the mystery genre for middle grade readers. Plenty of red herrings, just enough personal peril, and a plucky protagonist. 9+

Library Girl.

*Many thanks to Firefly Press for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour*

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