What inspired you to write Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls?
I went to boarding school as a kid. It’s an environment ripe for fiction (think Catcher in the Rye, Never Let Me Go, Prep, etc) but I had yet to come up with a way to use it that wasn’t clouded by my generally less than fond memories of having been there. So I kept it on the back burner.
Inspiration came after reading dozens of middle grade books (along with my avid reader son) that focused on boys. Boys doing cool things. Boys being leaders. Boys besting the bad guys and being smart and brave. Well written, quick paced, lots of action, it was hard not to love these books.
But what about the girls? Why don’t they get action packed, quick paced adventures of their own? Why are they always the sidekick? Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls grew out of these questions.
What do you think makes Mrs. Smith’s stand out?
Mrs. Smith’s is action packed and fast moving but the boy is the sidekick. Front and center are twelve year old Abby Hunter and her two best friends, Charlotte and Izumi. I wanted to flip the expectation when it comes to this type of middle grade novel.
Is Abby Hunter based on kids you knew in boarding school?
There are bits and pieces of my friends in Abby but she is more the kind of girl I wish I’d been when I was in school. She is not undermined by what people think of her and is confident in her own ability to figure things out, even if those things don’t always go exactly as planned. I love meeting girls who believe in their own strengths and abilities and are not cut down by societies sometimes less than encouraging messages about what girls can do.
What did you read as a kid?
Ellen Raskin, Judy Blume, Katherine Paterson, Madeleine L’Engle, Natalie Babbit. And looking back, my Stephen King obsession probably began earlier than it should have!
What advice do you have for young writers?
A writer is someone who writes. So sit down and write something. Don’t expect for it to be perfect. It will never be perfect. Give yourself the freedom to experiment until you find a voice that works. As that sneaker company likes to say, just do it.