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Eli Brown on Oddity and his favourite historical fantasy books for kids

Oddity by Eli Brown. Book cover and author photo.

 

The second book in our Macaw boxes this month is the wonderfully inventive Oddity by Eli Brown. It’s a fantastical alternative history of the American Wild West starring thirteen-year-old Clover, one of the bravest, most adventurous lead characters we’ve come across so far this year. Her story is inspiring and magical and we know you are going to love it! Here the author tells us more about what inspired the book and it’s brilliant cast of characters, plus which fantasy books with historical backdrops he recommends you read next.

What inspired you to write Oddity?

I am heavily influenced by classical mythology and folktales - everything from Hindu epics, to Japan’s Momotaro, to Appalachian Jack stories. Other inspirations include Tolkien, Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking, Marvel comic books, Hoffman's Struwwelpeter (Slovenly Peter), and Baum's Oz books.

What research did you do while you were writing the book and did you discover anything that surprised you?

Because history feels immutable, I’m always surprised to discover that things could have gone a different way. My research into the Louisiana Purchase led me to think how the United States might have remained confined to the eastern coast. Also, while researching medical practices of the 1800s, I was inspired with gratitude to live in an age of hand washing, antibiotics, and science-based medicine. Better than having to rely on Nessa's tonics!

Are any of the characters and their experiences based on real people or events from history?

All of the characters in Oddity, with the exception of Napoleon Bonaparte, are invented, and I’ve taken tremendous liberties with history and geography as well. I even made up some plants. Still, Clover’s mother Miniver was inspired by ground-breaking geniuses like Sophie Blanchard and Marie Curie. For Clover’s wit, bravery, and no-nonsense conversation, I had to look no farther than people in my own family.

Which is your favourite oddity and why?

Probably my favourite oddity is Jack’s handful of beans, which grew not only a marvellous plant, but also, I’d argue, the giants’ kingdom and all its wonders above. They’re a wonderful metaphor for the seeds of fiction that might bloom, uncontrollably, into a story. In my own work, I am, of course, a big fan of Susanna, the righteously grumpy Doll. I think we'd all like to throw a tantrum like she does every once in a while.

Can you tell us anything about what the future holds for Clover?

Without giving too much away, I am currently working on a sequel, in which Clover discovers she is not the only one with a deep connection to oddities!

Why did you choose to write books for this age group?

This is not only my first middle-grade book, it is also my first work of fantasy. The birth of my daughter reminded me of how much folklore and magical stories nourished me as a boy. I was inspired to contribute to this genre with a strong, smart, and brave protagonist. Knowing how long it takes me to finish a novel, I hoped I’d be finished in time for my daughter to read it!

Do you have a favourite place to write?

Before the COVID pandemic, I loved to write in cafes and libraries. Since then, I’ve been writing on a converted diaper-changing table in my home.

Which other historical or fantasy books would you recommend our subscribers read next?

O' Brien's Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Diana Wynne Jones’s Chrestomanci series, Charles Portis' True Grit, Thomas Taylor’s Malamander series, The Girl who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill, Soontornvat’s A Wish in The Dark.

Copies of our Oddity pack, including a copy of the book and loads of fun activities to go with it, are now available for individual purchase. Grab a copy while stocks last!

This post includes affiliate links to our bookshop.org page, meaning we receive a small percentage of the sale should you purchase through them. Additionally, a percentage from all sales on the platform goes directly to local UK bookshops which is an initiative we're delighted to support!