Firstly, for those who haven’t yet read The Curious Crime, can you briefly sum up what it’s about?
Ree discovers the unfairness of being a girl in a male-dominated scientific world, where alternative ideas are swiftly squashed.
Enter a fantasy island where Phil the dodo and other unusual wild animals roam corridors, great halls and an underground network of passages of a magnificent museum and science academy. Prevented from following her creative passion as a stonemason, Ree is confined to cleaning the halls at night as a maid.
But then the murders start happening... A determined scholar Henri and strong-willed Ree join forces to solve the mysteries and prove their innocence.
I loved the alternative, fantasy museum island you created. Where the story of science is mapped out through its open rooms and abandoned chambers, where unusual (but now sadly extinct) animals roam the corridors, and where this underground network of passages lead to hidden yet exciting possibilities. Can you tell me a bit more about the enchanting museum setting? What inspired you to take on this alternative 19th Century world?
It is inspired by all the amazing museums I've ever visited - the Natural History Museums in London and Oxford, the Smithsonian in Washington, the museums of Paris, and many more... I was also inspired by somewhere I haven't yet been - Museum Island in Berlin. My son and husband attempted to go during one visit to Germany but it was closed and thus remains a mystery. I imagined what it might be like and then the story began to mushroom.
We’re in this ‘rebel girls’ era at the moment where inspirational women and young girls are finally being recognised and celebrated for what they do and achieve. You have some brilliant female characters in The Curious Crime including my personal favourite, Dr Hypatia. Where there any in particular women that inspired you when writing this book?
Very many. In addition to Hypatia, there is Caroline Herschel, astronomer, Marie Skłodowska Curie, physicist and chemist, Mary Somerville, mathematician and science interpreter, Mary Anning, fossil hunter... All these women fought to be taken seriously in their areas of expertise.
There are a lot of scientific ideas discussed throughout the book, including phrenology. But it’s Henri’s scientific proposal that I found most interesting. We basically get a glimpse into forensic science and how fingerprints can be used as evidence at crime scenes. What are your favourite scientific theories from history?
I like animal magnetism - the belief that electricity was the life force - partly because it gave us Frankenstein!
Dr Hypatia and Dr Hamid make a very interesting couple. They are two very different people, with two very different views but they love each. At least that’s what I took from the book. Despite having different opinions, particularly on religion, they still appreciate and respect each other’s views and beliefs. This concept is very important throughout your book because you raise this question of, can science and faith coexist. This museum only acknowledges science as having all the answers, and has completely diminished any theory that cannot be backed up by hardcore evidence. Why do you think people are so hesitant to accept faith and religion as another theory?
I wouldn't call religion a theory but another area of knowledge. Put it like this: if your partner asks if you love him or her, s/he doesn't want you to say 'Ah yes, the synapses in my brain are firing, and oxytocin is being released giving me a warm feeling about you.' S/he wants you to draw on your knowledge of him or her, your experiences together, the evidence (if you like) of the loving actions you've both taken and say 'yes, I love you.' That knowledge is real but doesn't come out of an MRI scan or blood test. Faith is like that - a body of experience and wisdom that has its own place in our world. It shouldn't try to be science, or science faith and philosophy.
I personally haven’t read many children’s books that explore faith and religion. The main book, or in this case series, that comes to mind for me is C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. Do you think there’s space for faith and religion in children’s literature?
It's a tricky area because it raises the suspicion that you are trying to 'convert' people. That means that authors and publishers have become scared of including religious themes as opposition quickly heats up. But I think it is a huge and vital area of human experience and shouldn't be off limits to children's fiction. There are ways of handling it so that no one feels 'got at'. Children should be allowed to think about these things as they are race, gender identity or any other experience they will encounter as they grow.
There are a lot of elements and questions that you address throughout your book, including extinct animals; women and ethnic minorities in scientific positions; can science and faith coexist; the importance of asking ‘why’, and not to mention the crime itself. If readers were to take away just one of these elements, which and why do you hope readers would take away from The Curious Crime?
I'm not setting out to preach a particular line but I hope they feel that I've celebrated diversity and respect for all of humans, regardless of race, gender or faith.
If you could bring any extinct animal back to life what would you bring back and why?
Of course the dodo. Because they sound wonderful and charming like penguins are.
Did you face any challenges when writing The Curious Crime and how did you overcome them?
The challenge was keeping the reader guessing in the plot structure of a whodunnit. It is obvious to me as the writer because I know and I need to put in enough clues so you think you have a chance of getting it right without it being too easy. Did I get the balance right?
How do you choose your character/animal names?
In this book they all relate to real people or places with a historical significance. For example Altamira (Ree's surname) is where a Spanish girl found one of the earliest cave paintings. Phil the dodo is named after Philoponus, the Alexandrine scientist in 6the century AD who discovered that objects of different weights fell at the same speed (not Galileo though he usually gets the credit).
Where and what do you envision Ree and Henri doing in the future? And what do you think becomes of the museum?
I think they go on an expedition with Hypatia to look for a dodo partner for Phil. Hopefully they find one - this is fiction after all! I think the museum slowly evolves - like science itself - to become more egalitarian but they probably never fix all the falling down bits so it remains as mysterious as ever.
What’s on the horizon for you now? Are you working on anything new?
Yes I've just had a good idea for a new historical novel for the same age group. Early days yet but it plays to my strengths as a writer!
And finally, I have to ask, what’s your favourite children’s book at the moment? Or what are two of your favourites? A childhood favourite and a current one!
My childhood favourite changed with the years but one I loved was A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Currently I am a fan of The Murderer's Ape by Jakob Wegelius - really worth a read.
And, if you could invite any five people, past and present, to a dinner party, who would you invite and why?
Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, William Shakespeare, and Hypatia of Alexandria (with a translator). Why? You get wit, animation, humour, brilliance and intelligence and sit back and listen to them talk.
A massive thank you to Julia Golding for taking the time out of her very busy life to answer these questions with me. If anybody wants to find out more this gripping book you can check out Julia's website, along with the book trailer for The Curious Crime here.
And for those who want a sneak peek you can read the first chapter of The Curious Crime right here!
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