Seven Stories is a Roaring Reads feature in which a Scottish children’s author shares some stories about their own life.
This month we chat with Justin Davies, whose first book Help, I Smell a Monster! is out in a couple of weeks. The Roaring Reads gang can’t wait to get a sniff of it!
1 – NEWS STORY (What’s the story with your new book?)
My debut book is a middle grade novel called Help! I Smell a Monster. It’s a comedy adventure in which school girl Alice MacAlister accidentally discovers that her uncle runs an employment agency for monsters! When the royal cyclops goes missing, Alice has to help sniff him out before it’s too late – and in the process, she learns something rather surprising about herself!
2 – SHORT STORY (Sum it up in five words)
Hilariously silly, manic, monster mission.
3 – LIFE STORY (What’s your own story?)
I arrived in Scotland six years ago having lived my childhood years in Hampshire, my university years in Sheffield – with intriguing sojourns in France and Spain thrown in, and the rest in or near Brighton.
My husband Andrew – a Fifer – finally lured me to Scotland with promises of perfect porridge and generous measures of delightful distillations. It helped that we found a dream home between the bridges on the Firth of Forth.
For over twenty-five years I’ve flown around the world as cabin crew, visiting amazing places and meeting some rather interesting people; I can neither confirm nor deny that some of them have made it into my stories!
I never knew I’d always wanted to be a writer until I started writing in my 30s; then it all clicked into place and I realised that writing was what I was supposed to be doing. After spending years in the writing wilderness, learning and failing, failing again and learning again, my adult flash fiction began to win competitions. Then one day I tried my hand at writing for children. It felt like coming home. After two or three failed – and quite honestly terrible – books, one near miss in the Kelpies Prize, and a ton of agent rejections, I struck writing gold, finding an agent and securing my book deal.
LOVE STORY (What do you really care about?)
Where to start? I believe that every child should have the right and as many opportunities to laugh as possible. It’s why I write funny books. Five minutes lost in some laughs at the end of the day can provide a brief moment of simple joy.
But to be honest, none of that matters if we don’t leave kids a planet they can live on. Trump, Brexit, the rise and rise of populism, climate change deniers…it’s all part of the story. Defeat them, save the planet, smiles and laughter all round. Job done.
ADVENTURE STORY (What was your biggest one?)
In 2016 I attended the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference. Whilst there, I took part in “The Hook” – a pitch-your-book-to-a-panel-of-agents contest. Live. On stage!
It was terrifying. It was exhilarating. It was a lesson in the benefit of grabbing every opportunity – because I won the contest. My prize was a one-to-one feedback session with the agent of my choice from the panel. Having done some prior research (just in case!) I chose Thérèse Coen, who ended up offering representation. And the rest, as they say, is a book deal.
OLD STORY (What were your favourite childhood books?)
In no particular order: Tootles the Taxi (a Ladybird book straight from the 1960s); Richard Scarry’s Busy Busy World (I was desperate to visit every country in that book…and I have with my flying job!); Roald Dahl’s lesser-known Charlie story, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (because…Vermicious Knids…obviously!)
BEDTIME STORY (What’s your bedtime reading, and what’s next?)
I try to alternate between children’s and adult’s books and right now I’m reading Eva Luna by Isabel Allende. Anything with a dash of magical realism is guaranteed to intrigue and delight me, and I’m hoping to sprinkle some magic realism of my own into one of my projects-in-waiting.
Next on my teetering pile of reads is The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q Raúf.
Help! I Smell a Monster, by Justin Davies, illustrated by Kim Geyer (Orchard) is out on May 30th.