Makarelle: What was it that inspired you to become a writer?
Tessa Buckley: I learnt to read before I started school, and almost as soon as I discovered books, I was coming up with ideas for my own stories. I’ve been scribbling these down, and illustrating them, since I was six years old. By the time I was nine I had read most of the children’s classics such as Wind in the Willows, The Narnia stories, Swallows and Amazons, and lots and lots of Enid Blyton. She may not have been as good a writer as Kenneth Grahame or Arthur Ransome, but she was great at transporting children to a world full of adventure and excitement. By the age of eleven, I’d exhausted the children’s section of our local library.
I was particularly lucky to have a best friend, Lyndsay, who was just as passionate about writing and drawing as I was. We’d devise comics (a joint effort), read each other’s stories, and argue about which one of us would be the writer and which the illustrator when we grew up. When I was ten, my family moved to another town, and we saw less of each other, but I continued to come up with stories. My father, who had written a best-selling book on mathematics, suggested he send one of my stories to his editor at Constable to see what he thought. A very kind reply came back, suggesting that I wasn’t quite ready for publication yet, but that I should definitely keep writing.
Then, about the time I left school, my friend Lyndsay died in a car accident. Without her encouragement, my appetite for writing waned. Instead, I concentrated on art. I studied Interior Design at art school, before working for architects and interior designers in London.
Makarelle: So when did you take up writing again?
Tessa Buckley: Shortly after my first child, Louise, was born, I was diagnosed with MS (multiple sclerosis). At the time, there were no treatments available for MS, but I came across a book which suggested that lifestyle changes involving diet, exercise and meditation might help alleviate symptoms. After a few years of experimentation, my condition had stabilised. I was elated; I wanted to spread the news to other people with MS, who were still being told by neurologists, as I had been, that there was nothing they could do to help themselves. That was when I started writing what became The Multiple Sclerosis Diet Book, which was published by the Sheldon Press in 2007. I was an author at last!
Then, when Louise was ten, she complained to me that she couldn’t find enough books that appealed to her at the local library, particularly mystery and adventure books. That was when I decided it was time I revived my childhood ambition, and wrote some children’s fiction.
Makarelle: What sort of children’s books do you write?
Tessa Buckley: I write mystery and adventure stories aimed at children aged about 8-12. I had discovered that a lot of boys are reluctant readers, and often lose interest in reading fiction altogether at about the age they start secondary school. This happened to my own son, and I was keen to come up with a formula that would appeal to both sexes, but particularly to boys. The solution, I decided, was to have twin protagonists, a boy and a girl. The stories are narrated in the first person by the boy, Alex, and are fast-paced and action-packed to keep readers engaged.
There are now three books in the Eye Spy series: Eye Spy, Haunted, and Lady in Red. They follow the adventures of thirteen-year-old Alex and Donna Macintyre, and their detective service, Eye Spy Investigations. The stories are set in a fictional seaside town, Holcombe Bay, because the seaside is such a magical place for children. And historic buildings play an important part in both Haunted, and Lady in Red – a legacy from my time working for conservation architects.
Today’s children are under a lot more pressure than my generation were, trying to navigate their way through a much more complex and uncertain world, and I’m hoping that my books can provide them with some enjoyable escapism in difficult times.
Makarelle: Several reviewers have commented on the lovely covers for these books. How did they come about?
Tessa Buckley: I was very ignorant about self-publishing when I wrote the first novel, and didn’t realise how important a good cover is to sales, or that children’s novels require a different style of cover from adult fiction. By the time I was ready to publish Lady in Red, I knew that what all three books needed were artist-designed, child-friendly covers. I wanted to work with someone I knew, who would understand my vision for the covers, so I asked my friend, artist Gaynor Solly (https://www.gaynorsolly.co.uk) to come up with some suggestions. I’m thrilled with the result, which has given the Eye Spy books their own distinctive brand.
Makarelle: What are you working on at present?
Tessa Buckley: Some years ago, I came across a fascinating website about the abandoned tube stations hiding underneath London’s streets. I started thinking about how I could incorporate one of these disused stations into a story. A while later, after re-reading Oliver Twist, I discovered there are still gangs of pickpockets operating in London today. I’ve taken these two ideas and amalgamated them into what I hope will be an exciting contemporary YA crime novel.
As preparation for writing this book, I’ve been reading lots of YA novels, and have discovered some great authors I hadn’t previously known about. I also realised that I don’t know enough about the sort of social media that teenagers use to be able to effectively market a YA book. That’s why, when it is finished, I’ll be looking for an agent, and ultimately a publisher, rather than going down the self-publishing route.
Makarelle: What’s the best thing about being an author?
Tessa Buckley: Writing is a very solitary occupation, and before I published my first book, I had no idea how many other writers there were in my area. I now belong to Southend Writers and Artists Network, and to two local writer’s groups, have taken part in the Essex Book Festival, and have made many new like-minded friends. I also love meeting and talking to readers at festivals and book fairs.
Makarelle: Apart from YA novels, what sort of books do you like to read?
Tessa Buckley: Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances and Winston Graham’s Poldark novels were early favourites. I now read a lot of historical detective stories by authors such as Susan Grossey. I also enjoy contemporary PI stories, such as Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike series, and the Hakim and Arnold novels by Barbara Nadel. During lockdown, I also discovered some great non-fiction such as Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five, about the victims of Jack the Ripper, and The Haunting of Alma Fielding by Kate Summerscale, a fascinating account of what went on at the Institute of Psychical Research between the wars.
Makarelle: Thank you very much for taking the time to be interviewed by us!
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