We are big fans of funny books at Parrot Street HQ, although it's a category that is sadly underrepresented on the bookshelves for tweens and teens. We are also long-time fans of author Jo Simmons - her children's books have always been huge hits with our subscribers and with our own young bookworms at home. So, we were thrilled to find out that she was publishing a book for older readers - and The Reluctant Vampire Queen turned out to be everything we hoped it would be! It's witty, original and moving, dealing with many of the issues 12 to 14-year-olds have to navigate at home and at school, but with a healthy dose of humour and imagination - perfect for our Macaw subscribers. Here Jo tells us about researching vampires and the funny books she recommends you read next.
What inspired you to write The Reluctant Vampire Queen?
I fancied writing something for teenagers –I had previously only written for younger readers – and also something that was a funny-scary mash-up. Plus, I’ve always loved vampires.
Are any of the characters based on real or mythical people (or vampires)?
There’s a bit of me in Mo. When I was young, I worked hard and really wanted to get secondary school over with, while also trying to navigate friendships and being ‘popular’ and having a boyfriend. (I totally failed at the boyfriend bit, by the way.)
What research did you do for the book and did you learn anything about vampires that surprised you?
I did lots of reading and discovered there is folklore around revenant undead creatures all over the world, from centuries ago, but I was most fascinated by the origins of the vampire myths we know today. They date from 18th-century Europe, and stories from Albania and Roma folklore contain the vampire traits we recognise, that they are undead, nocturnal and shapeshifting. Basically, it all started when people died unexpectedly and suddenly of plague and, searching for answers, people sometimes dug up the corpses to try to work out the cause of death. They found them looking sort of alive, with bloated tummies and longer hair and often blood at their mouths. That’s actually natural and normal, but back then no one knew that and decided instead that the dead people were not really dead and had been leaving their graves to feast on the living.
What do you think you would have done in Mo’s position?
Good question! I would not have wanted to be a vampire – I hate staying up late! – but whether I’d have had the guts to try and be queen, I don’t know. The stakes are pretty high for Mo (terrible pun) though, and that drives her decisions.
Can you tell us anything about what the future holds for Mo and her friends?
Mo has to rule as Vampire Queen in the next book, and that’s not going to be easy. She’s also got to maintain her relationship with Lou and Luca and try to keep the Vampire King happy, too, while also keeping up with her schoolwork. She’s going to be busy.
Why did you choose to write books for this age group?
I wanted the challenge and freedom of writing a longer book for teens, that could contain teen themes. I’ve never written romance before, for instance. I also believe there are lots of keen readers in the young teen bracket, young people going up to secondary school who still love to read but maybe don’t want full-on YA, which is pitched at slightly older teens.
Do you have a favourite place to write?
I have a nice little desk in my spare bedroom under a window. Sometimes goldfinches land on the telephone wires out there and I get to gaze at them before getting back to work.
Which other funny books for this age group would you recommend our subscribers read next?
Copies of our The Reluctant Vampire Queen 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!
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