With costs of living rising dramatically, more families are struggling to pay their bills and other essentials. Unfortunately, this may result in more families losing their homes and having to live in temporary accommodation or sofa surf. This hidden homelessness is explored in this touching but humorous tale about what happens to a young boy called Archie when his family experience this.
I also had the chance to ask the book’s author, Simon Packham, some questions about the inspirations and themes of this story. Make sure you take a read below.
“Archie Ebbs has the perfect life. Good friends, a nice home and classmates who laugh at (nearly) all his jokes. But all that is about to change. As his family faces upheaval, Archie realises he will have to leave behind so much that he knows and loves, even his cat, Dinger. And soon Archie has other worries … is he really starting to become invisible?”
1. Archie Ebbs is your first middle grade title. How did writing for this age range differ from writing for a YA audience?
I’ve written for adults too, so this is something I often thought about. In the main, whoever my audience, I think I approach writing for them in exactly the same way; that is to try and make it as truthful, funny and hopefully entertaining as possible. If I’d been writing YA, I’d have written ‘Has Anyone Seen Archie Ebbs?’ from the point of view of his older sister, Izzy. So, I suppose one of the main challenges was trying to find the voice of an eleven-year-old boy when I was more used to writing teenagers. Luckily, having been married to a primary school headteacher for twenty years (we’ve been married longer, she just wasn’t a head!) and having written and composed many of her Christmas productions, I felt very familiar with the primary school aspects of the setting.
2. Your story doesn’t shy away from big issues, with hidden homelessness being a central theme. Why did you decide to make this a focus?
In 2021 Crisis estimated that 227,000 people in the UK were experiencing some form of homelessness; particularly shameful in the fifth largest economy in the world and making it one of the key issues of our time. Hidden homelessness – the type of homelessness that Archie experiences – refers not to street homelessness, but people living in squats, sofa surfing or in temporary bed and breakfast hostels. My wife’s experiences as a Headteacher, suggest that this can have a particularly devastating effect on children. And I hope that reading Archie’s story will give children a greater understanding of the immense feelings of loss, bewilderment and fear that are experienced by families all around our country, as well as offering support to those who may have experienced this situation themselves or know someone who is going through it.
3. All the little everyday details you include about Archie’s life before and after his change in living circumstances really help make him relatable to readers. How did you ensure the details were accurate? Especially when Archie’s family lost their home?
I spent many hours on council websites researching their legal obligations and the processes involved in declaring yourself ‘statutorily homeless. On the whole, the websites for organisations like Crisis and Shelter proved much more illuminating as well as providing real life examples. Anna at ‘Horsham Matters’ (a local charity that runs our Night Shelter and Food Bank) helped me enormously too, as well as confirming that homelessness really can happen to anyone. Indeed, when I told an old acting friend I was writing a book about it, she was generous enough to share her own experiences of losing her home. There’s also a huge amount of documentary evidence out there including Daisy-Mae Hudson’s excellent film, ‘Halfway’, which chronicles her own family’s experiences in a homeless hostel. But from a writer’s point of view, the raw and detailed testimonies of people living in Bed and Breakfast hostels on on-line forums were probably the most useful.
4. There a strong vein of humour running through the story despite its serious underlying theme. Why did you choose to use humour in this way?
Whilst it’s really important to treat themes like homelessness with the seriousness they deserve, I’ve always believed that one of the best ways to help readers engage with challenging material is through the use of humour. Humour is often a mechanism for coping with difficult emotions; a way of making the unbearable, bearable. As someone once said, ‘a joke is a truth wrapped in a smile.
5. Besides Archie, which character did you enjoy writing the most and why? Is there one who might have a story of their own to tell?
I was extremely fond of Izzy’s boyfriend, Clint. He’s kind, funny and he likes to cook. In the early versions of the book, Archie had a beloved Nanny Flo who also became invisible after going into an old people’s home. Sadly, she didn’t make the final draft. But me and my agent liked her so much that – at least as we speak! – she’s now a character in my work in progress.
I completely agree with Simon that humour is a great way to make difficult topics more accessible for a younger audience. This is definitely something which is done extremely well in Archie Ebbs.
I would recommend ‘Has Anyone Seen Archie Ebbs?’ for readers aged 9+
*Many thanks to Firefly Press for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour*