Exclusive interview: The Mole and the Flower by Helen Marshall

I caught up with author and actress (and friend) Helen Marshall on the publication of her first ever children’s book “The Mole and the Flower”.

I got home to find my pre-ordered copy on the doormat, I eagerly pealed back the cardboard strip to reveal the yellow cover of the book, which was delightfully larger than I had imagined it would be and felt sturdy and exciting. The book is bright and colourful as all children’s stories should be, the illustrations are reminiscent of classic tales and the first thing that hit me was the wonderful inky smell when I opened the cover and leafed through the beautiful pictures. It is a fabulous telling of an old flower and a young mole who meet one day in the garden, it’s a story of kindness and of friendship, of acceptance and of the beauty inside us all and so more than an amusing bedtime story it is one of learning and life lessons in the most accessible way.

Anyway, here is the interview, I very much hope you will enjoy it and please do order this fantastic book!

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What is your name and where do you come from (chuck)?

Well hello there Cilla. My name is Helen Marshall and I come from the City of Steel – Sheffield. I take great pride in my Yorkshire roots and fulfil all the stereotypical criteria.

When did you start writing?

I remember doing lots of creative writing at primary school, a few times it was picked to go on the wall – which was kind of a big deal!

I have stacks of notebooks at home of stories I wrote as a kid, one is titled ‘Threes a crowd’ and is a tale about a sister who gets jealous of her older brother’s affections for the girl next door. Despite having an older brother I don’t think that this was based on a true story…

At University is where I gained confidence in my writing though and where I first thought I might have a knack for it. Before then it was just something I enjoyed to do. During my time there, I co-wrote a comedy sketch show called Route 52 which featured different characters on a bus. My friend and I would play all the parts and we had no clue if anyone would find us funny but we had such a great time writing it and making each other laugh in the process. I remember the first time we had people into the rehearsal room, getting such great feedback was a great big ego boost and then to perform it and receive great comments about not only the performance but the writing was a real turning point for me I think. It was chosen by the University (along with another similar piece) to be fully funded to take it to the Edinbrugh Fringe Festival the following year.

Is there any place, person or animal that inspired you to write children’s fiction?

Not really, it was probably shaped by working with children in my daily life as a drama facilitator. Children are so creative, imaginative and I think more perceptive that we give them credit for.

I love picture books and how they can provide this opportunity for children and adults to interact, bond and talk about deeper meanings within the book. They’re a great catalyst for conversation.

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Writing in general and performing definitely comes from my Grandad on my mum’s side though. He was called Ramsey Walton and some of my earliest memories are helping him practice his lines for amateur dramatic shows. I have all of his plays now and they still have the coloured paper clips which he used as bookmarks for his parts.

What inspired the story for ‘The Mole and the Flower’?

I originally wrote The Mole and The Flower for stage as part of a theatre show, to entertain young audiences but also have a stronger message about looking after our elderly generations – Something I am very passionate about.

I’m very interested in bridging the generation gap with projects and just helping society understand more about the people around them and get back the feeling of a close knit community.

There’s a real stigma I think about older people and to be fair about younger people too. You hear it all the time with the older generations moaning about younger generations and so on but we can really learn a lot from each other. I want people to live in neighborhoods where you can stop by and ‘lend a cup of sugar’ but I think we’ve lost that along the way sadly.

Why are the themes in your book so important and why did you want to explain them to such a young audience?

There’s so many themes woven into this story but the main ones for me are about kindness and friendship.

It no secret that nowadays we lead such busy lives and I think it’s important to just stop and remind ourselves to be aware of who we share our streets with and not to just close our doors to the world. I think lots of people are willing to be more open and support the elderly around them but unfortunately there aren’t many opportunities to do so and we find ourselves in an epidemic of loneliness. The flower in my story finds himself in a lonely situation and his world is turned upside down when he meets an unlikely friend.

I think it’s just a good talking point for adults and their children. We all know what we should do but a gentle reminder might be all we need for that day to create an opportunity to make someone’s day a bit better or see something from another person’s view point.

As I mentioned earlier, young children are incredibly perceptive and we learn so much from them. In the story of The Mole and the Flower we follow the flowers story of losing his way as he’s grown older and it’s actually the younger character who teaches him about life despite the age gap. We as readers hopefully take something from both of their journeys.

What are your top tips for anyone who wants to get started as an author?

I would just say to keep writing; practice has to be everything surely. In terms of publishing your work I would say just keep trying. I sent my work to lots of agencies and it was rejected many times and it sat on my computer for about 4 years before I did anything with it. Share it around, be inspired by friends/family comments and try not to be too precious about it. I changed verses right up to the point of printing.

Do you have a special writing ritual – a place, a habit, a good luck charm?

I like to be warm and cosy, a nice brew helps too. I always work better in the morning and like to have an incense stick on to get me in the zone, it must relax me or something! I can write anywhere and sometimes find heading out to a cafe I can get more done and be more productive just from having a change of scenery.

I tend to get my best ideas in the shower or whilst driving. I often get home from a long drive and have to jot things down. I think it’s just having time alone with your thoughts.

Do you have anything else in the works?

I have another book written which just needs tweaking, and another in my head. My dream is to have these books as a series. They will be set in the same fictitious village and connected to nature with anthropomorphised characters.

When does the book come out, where and how much?

You can pre-order now from Tiny Tree Children’s Books or from Waterstones. It’s released on the 22nd March (today!) and is retailing for £6.99.

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Do you have a message for anyone who might be thinking about buying your book?

Do it…It’s good. Ha! Children will absolutely love the pictures in this book alone. The illustrator Christopher.A.Martin has done such a fantastic job and there are so many details within them which children can spot and can be a talking point beside the story. They offer such a wonderful visual backdrop and we have plans to continue working together in the future which is fantastic.

In terms of the story I think children will really connect with the characters and I think there’s enough in the content for parents not to grow quickly bored reading this over and over.

Helen will be appearing at the RHS Flower Show Cardiff on Saturday 14 April to perform an interactive reading of her new book! So join her and me to hear it read just as the author imagined it!

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