Firstly, a massive congratulations of the publication of A Girl Called Joy (Simon & Schuster Children’s, April 2021)! Your sparkling new middle grade story is all about finding the joy and magic in life, as well as touching on the importance of nature, anxieties surrounding starting a new school and the beauty and courage of standing out.
10-year-old Joy Applebloom is a wonderfully charming, happy-go-lucky character who has a special knack for finding magic and silver linings in the normal every day. How much do you relate to your protagonist Joy?
Oh well I try! I think I’m pretty positive. I keep an eye out for wonder. It’s a good way to get through the day.
What’s one of your favourite every-day, real-life magic memories?
I saw a gang of crows just the other day, leaving and returning to the same tree, over and over again, a big black noisy cloud. I was walking underneath them. That was something.
Joy has spent her whole life travelling the world with her family and experiencing some of the world’s most wonderful natural wonders before returning to the UK and adopting a life of new and unfamiliar routines. How much of this lifestyle resonates with your own?
I moved house a lot because of my dad’s job when I was growing up. Every 2 years a new place, going to new schools, making new friends. Starting from scratch. I think it makes you very adaptable. I definitely share that skill with Joy. But her life has been more exciting than mine was. She’s seen more official Wonders. For sure.
What’s your favourite travel destination to date?
The countryside in central India. Chhattisgarh. There were fields that looked like the pelt of a lion.
What do you hope readers take away from reading Joy’s story?
I hope it feels like making a new friend.
Until now your books have mainly be aimed at teen and YA readers, with the exception of your Iggy & Me series for 6+ young readers. What made you want to tell Joy’s story to middle graders, and did you face any particular challenges writing for this new age group?
Joy made me do it. My books usually start with a character, and Joy herself is middle grade, so that was her natural fit. I don’t think the challenges were specific. It’s always a learning curve working on something new, whoever it is for.
With a number of gorgeous books under your belt and a winner of the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, do you have any advice/tips for aspiring children’s writers?
Enjoy yourself. Sometimes when you are writing your first book, or trying to get published, you can get fixated on the finish line and the goal. But the writing itself has got to bring you something. It’s hard work, of course, but the work needs to make you smile.
What’s next for your writing journey? Will we be seeing more joyous adventures from Joy Applebloom?
Yes! Book 2 is out in August I think. And I’m working on a 3rd.
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?
I loved Clever Polly and the Stupid Wolf by Catherine Storr when I was little. I read it to my daughters too. And I think, even though I haven’t read it in a long time, the book has had an influence on Joy.
This last year, the YA book I can’t stop thinking about is And the Stars were Burning Brightly by Danielle Jawando. I was lucky enough to meet Danielle when she was still working on it, and I have watched it become this incredible piece of work. It is heart breaking and brilliant.
I’ve just been sent a copy of Joseph Elliott’s The Good Hawk. I missed this when it came out in 2020 and I’ve just started it and I’m really intrigued.
If you could invite any five people – past and present, real and fictional – who would you invite and why?
Kurt Vonnegut, Angela Carter, Zooey Glass, Bill Murray and William Eggleston (to take the photos). Not for dinner please! Can we just go out for a walk? I have my best conversations with friends when we are walking.
These last questions are inspired by the wonderful Joy! What’s your favourite tree?
Oak of course!
What’s your favourite animal?
A dog called Reg.
What do you most like to eat for breakfast?
Coffee first. Cereal second.
What would you take with you on a last minute trip to the moon?
Somebody who knows what they’re doing.
Jenny Valentine moved house every two years when she was growing up. She has just moved house again, probably not for the last time. She worked in a wholefood shop in Primrose Hill for fifteen years where she met many extraordinary people and sold more organic loaves than there are words in her first novel. She has also worked as a teaching assistant and a jewellery maker. She studied English Literature at Goldsmiths College, which almost put her off reading but not quite. Jenny is married to a singer/songwriter and has two children.
Find Jenny on Instagram @jennyvalentinebook.