Congratulations Aisha on the publication of City of the Sun, the second book in your magical Moonchild series! What adventures await readers in this sequel?
Thank you! The second MOONCHILD book is all about balancing moon magic with sun magic, and so we discover the latter and what it represents. The journey takes Farah (our new protagonist) beneath the sands to a mysterious city… There are lots of animals to contend with and new magic to harness.
One of your main inspirations for your series was The Arabian Nights, what originally drew you to this?
In the way of fairytales, the stories were always on my periphery. I picked the book up for general research but ended up falling in love with the structure - a narrator who tells stories within stories. I knew then that I wanted to replicate it in my own way.
Can you recommend any books for those wanting to read more Middle Eastern myths?
A few years ago I read and absolutely fell in love with The Book of Wonders by Jasmine Richards. It’s such a fun and exciting read and I’d recommend it to anyone and everyone.
Moonchild is set in a Middle Eastern inspired landscape called ‘The Sahar Peninsula’ which lies just beyond the horizon. How did you go about planning and building this world?
It started with the moon cycle and its patterns. I had also just moved to Brighton when I started writing the series, and was lucky enough to live close to the sea. I found myself staring into the horizon and imagining shapes and colours beyond it.
That, added with the fact that the moon affects tides - and I knew at this point I wanted to set the first story on the seas - resulted into the blend of magic and world-building I play with in the series.
What gravitates you to writing magical adventures? And what do you enjoy most about writing for a middle grade audience?
I love magic as a way to make sense of/navigate our own brains. With my debut it was dealing with grief, with the MOONCHILD series it was emotions, and with my next book (a standalone), I do something similar (hoping I can talk about it soon!)
My favourite/most memorable books are middle grade. It’s funny because when I started writing I didn’t realise I was writing middle grade - I thought I was writing YA. But now that I write for this age group I honestly couldn’t imagine anything different.
I love writing for a middle grade audience for the audience. They’re so astute and curious. But I also love the way you can blend genres, and push your imagination to its farthest reaches. It feels limitless.
What’s the most unexpected thing you learnt while writing this series?
I worked to base my magical systems/planetary movement on real-world science and in order to try and envisage what would happen in CITY OF THE SUN if the sun actually disappeared - particularly in desert conditions - I read up a little on terraforming on Mars. I can’t actually take the credit though as I did ask my science-obsessed dad to help me theorise it.
One of the most important themes your series explores is the power of emotions, why did you want to include this in Moonchild and what do you hope readers take away from your books?
I’ve always been quite an emotional person. When I was younger (and actually, even now), that’s often seen as a weakness. People call you sensitive as if that’s a bad thing. In particular, I can be quick to anger which is quite a taboo emotion but a valid one, too. I wanted to start with that, but explore a range of emotions to show that feeling them is good (to the point where it can be powerful), and that holding them in can often cause more harm in the long run.
I hope these books (and all the books I write, quite honestly) help readers learn that they can be themselves unashamedly.
Amira’s magical jinni is a cat, Leo’s is a fish and Farah’s is a lizard – what would your magical animal companion be?
I have always said a cat, because one of my predominant emotions is anger. But I also spend a lot of the time feeling guilty, too. And I love frogs, so maybe mine would be a guilty frog that croaks to give my emotions away.
You were born in Bahrain and have lived in Kuwait, England and Canada. Does travelling have a big impact on your writing?
For me it’s living in a country where a lot of the norms here are things I first discovered at age 8/9 when I moved from Kuwait. It gives me a unique perspective on England, and I find I view the world through a slightly different lens to my peers here. Kuwait makes up my formative years, so I have a lot of childhood nostalgia attached to it that feeds into my work.
Once we can travel with leisure again, where will your top destination be?
Kuwait, actually! I haven’t seen my sister in person since 2015, so I’m desperate to visit her.
In book 2, City of the Sun, the moonchildren find themselves in the heart of the magical desert.
Can you give us a hint of when we’ll be seeing more of Amira, Leo and Farah? What’s next for your writing journey?
Alas, that’s it for the MOONCHILD gang for now, but I’d love to revisit their world again someday. Next I’m working on something younger (a secret), and another middle grade (a secret). I hope I’ll be able to talk about both soon!
Do you have any tips or advice for aspiring children’s writers?
I’m not one for writing tips, but I have this thing where I need to eat the words I enjoy before I can write them, so it would simply be: read what you love!
What’s the last ‘armchair travel’ book you read?
Children of the Quicksands by Efua Traoré which is set in a remote Nigerian village. It’s a beautiful read - totally immersive.
This question is about your favourite children’s/YA books. What’s a book you loved as a child, a book you love now, and a book you can’t wait to read?
For the book I loved as a child, I am going to cheat and pick three children’s books that essentially sum up my personality: The Animals of Farthing Wood, Warrior Cats, and The Illustrated Mum.
Right now I’m super obsessed with Francesca Gibbons’ A Clock of Stars series. I was lucky enough to read an early version of the second book and it’s everything child me would have wanted.
Anything by Kiran Millwood-Hargrave. I’m really excited about Julia and the Shark, which she’s collaborated on with her husband Tom de Freston. I also can’t wait for The Chime Seekers by Ross Montgomery.
If you could invite any five people – past and present, real and fictional – to a dinner party, who would you invite and why?
I’m going to be really annoying and say I’m quite introverted (which I think surprises people) so I would never host a dinner party with anyone I admired because I’d find the whole thing too stressful. As an example of how I would behave: I once interned at the literary agency Jacqueline Wilson is with and walked into the staff toilets where she was washing her hands and immediately said ‘sorry’ before running into a stall, locking it, and standing there completely silent and still until she left.
Aisha was born in Bahrain and has lived in Kuwait, England and Canada. She was selected as one of only four previously unpublished authors in the Stripes anthology for BAME writers, A Change is Gonna Come. The anthology was awarded a YA Book Prize Special Achievement Award.
Since then Aisha has been taking part in panels, interviews and events across the UK, from Bristol Waterstones to Manchester Academy, Birmingham Literature Festival to Southbank YALW, BBC Radio 3 to Buzzfeed.