Shirley Marr on Countdown to Yesterday and writing for kids about family and friendship

Countdown to Yesterday by Shirley Marr. Book cover and author photo.

Our Cockatoo subscribers are heading to Australia this month with Countdown to Yesterday, a moving novel about the ups and downs of navigating a family breakdown and new friendships. It's such an intriguing and ultimately hopeful story, packed with empathy and just a hint of magic. The characters (both child and adult) feel really authentic and are hugely relatable. We loved this book and hope our subscribers will too! Here author Shirley Marr tells us about being inspired by her own family's experience of divorce and which books about family and friendship she recommends you read next.

What inspired you to write Countdown to Yesterday

Sadly, I went through a family breakdown and divorce myself a few years ago. I was wracked with guilt that my school-aged son had to go through the experience too. Although he is adapting well to the new living arrangements, Countdown to Yesterday is an apology, a love letter, an authentic documentation of our experience and also an empathetic reimagining of the story through his eyes, all wrapped up together.

Are any of the characters or events based on real people or experiences?

Although James and his parents are obviously fictional, I feel some of the traits and characteristics are like the ones of my son, his father and me. That they are indeed the three of us, but in an imagined time and place. My son obviously never invented a time machine to try and go back to better times in the past like James, but those feelings of wishing that things were still the same were the same emotions my son went through in real life while trying to navigate this big life change.

What message do you hope young readers will take away from the story?

I hope it sheds light on the lives of children having to deal with parental separation and that at the same time it brings familiarity and comfort to these readers. As always, it is a message to everyone that no matter what big situations they are going through right now, that change is impermanent and that resilience, friendship, family, and loved ones will help see you through.

If you could travel anywhere in time and space, when and where would you go?

As this novel is David Bowie-centric because I am a big fan, I would love to go back to 1973 and see the last Ziggy Stardust concert!

Do you have a favourite place to write?

I love to write in cafes and public libraries! With libraries, I feel so lucky that my city believes in these crucial public spaces, and I hope yours does too.

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

The books I admire the most are all middle grade ones and I want to be able to write something as great as my favourites. Also, because my inner child is eleven and I can relate the most to that age.

What other books with themes about family and friendship would you recommend our subscribers read next?

When You Reach Me and The List of Things That Will Not Change, both by Rebecca Stead, which deal wonderfully with single parents, divorce, starting again, friends and family between them. They helped to inspire Countdown to Yesterday.

Finally, and most importantly, what would you put in a Deconstructed Dessert?

Oh, I love this question! Ice cream, green and red jelly, soft caramel chunks and gummy bears. Actually, I’m not sure if that is a gross or delicious combination to your readers!

Copies of our Countdown to Yesterday 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 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!


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