One of Brighton’s local talents, Vashti Hardy, has been shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2019 for her debut novel Brightstorm. She will be in with the chance to win both within her category, Younger Fiction, and the overall title of Waterstones Children’s Book of the Year 2019.
Previous winners include Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give in 2018, The Girl of Ink & Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave in 2017, and Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell in 2014.
The awards ceremony is set to take place on 21st March at Waterstones Piccadilly, where many talented children’s authors will compete for the overall winning title. With the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize being one of the most prestigious awards in children’s literature, Vashti has proven her talents early on in her career.
Even so, she shows no signs of slowing down. Scholastic have bought three more books from Vashti, so we will have the chance to read more about the magical worlds Vashti creates.
Amidst her busy career, we got the chance to catch up with Vashti and discuss her rollercoaster of success so far, and her exciting plans for the year ahead.
You did an MA in Creative Writing, so you have clearly always had a passion for creative writing. But what made you decide to begin writing your debut novel Brightstorm?
I’ve always loved real-life stories of exploration like Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition to Antarctica. I have a great non-fiction book called A Teacup in a Storm: An Explorer’s Guide to Life by Mick Conefrey, which is packed full of excellent explorer facts. I found my initial idea for Brightstorm in the book, specifically from Shackleton’s advert to find his crew.
I also love Amelia Earhart and how she influenced so many females to pursue their dreams – she inspired the captain of the main sky-ship in Brightstorm, Harriet Culpepper.
And why did you decide upon children’s fiction over any other genre?
The age group I write for is a magical age for book discovery – often the stories we read at that age can leave a lasting impact on us, and a part of them stays with us in adulthood. Also, I believe that children’s fiction is a genre for all to enjoy, no matter what age. A great story should work on many levels for all ages to enjoy.
What was your favourite part of writing Brightstorm?
I love coming up with new characters and seeing how their personalities play out and how the dynamics work through the story. I enjoy exploring the motivations of the antagonist as well as the protagonist, after all, the ‘baddie’ is the hero of their own story. I also love writing descriptions of new worlds and immersing myself in how it all feels and works.
How has your career changed since you started working on Brightstorm?
I’m a lot busier! I still work in my day job in digital marketing four days a week so I have to juggle writing time, promotional visits and family time. It’s quite hectic but I love what I do!
One of the best things about being a published author is getting to work with my brilliant agent, Kate Shaw, and my fabulous editor at Scholastic, Linas Alsenas. Writing a book is a real team effort and I feel so fortunate to work with such talented people.
On top of all that, you have also just finished writing another book, Wildspark, can you tell us a bit about this?
Where Brightstorm centres on a world of explorers, Wildspark centres on a world of inventors.
A secretive guild of inventors have brought spirits of the dead back into the world, harnessing them in animal-like machines. The main character Prue has joined as an apprentice, but she’s on a mission of her own: to bring her brother back to life. To find him, she needs to get the ghost machines to remember the people they used to be…
That sounds very exciting! With your magical stories and artistic covers, you must get a lot of fan-art from your young fans. How does it feel for your work to inspire creativity in young children?
It feels wonderful to know that children have invested in the world and characters. Their creativity gives me lots of hope for the future as they have such wonderful and inventive minds. I’m so lucky that teachers have embraced the book too, andI’m always astounded by the many amazing ways they use it in the classroom.
So overall, what do you hope that young readers will take from your books? What is your aim with your fiction?
With creating fantasy worlds, the writer gets to choose what problems from real-life they might like to mirror and explore in the new world (which are usually linked to the plot), and what they would like to imagine doesn’t exist.
In Brightstorm, and my new story Wildspark, I felt very strongly that the worlds I was creating should never have experienced gender as a barrier to achievement.
I try to think carefully about my portrayal of gender roles and aim for a balanced world, so you will find lots of females and males in a variety of both STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and artistic roles. I hope that in some small way it sends the message that whatever your passions and dreams, nothing should stand in your way.
I also aim for my worlds to feel rounded and ‘real’ so that readers feel in no doubt that they exist somewhere and have a past, present and future.
You have recently been shortlisted for The Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2019. How does it feel to be given this recognition?
I was overjoyed when I found out and am so grateful to all the Waterstones booksellers who voted for Brightstorm and have been championing the book around the country. It can be tough to get exposure as a writer in your first year being published, so it’s wonderful to know that readers are enjoying the world of Brightstorm so much!
As well as all your writing, you are also doing Brightstorm Creative Writing Workshops. Can you tell us more about this venture?
I do lots of school visits around the country which usually involve an author talk and workshops. The author talks cover the childhood inspirations behind becoming a lover of fantasy story worlds and the journey to becoming an author. I share some of my writing tips for children, including how much of the writing process includes other creative activities, such as map making, soundtracks and using images.
The children make their own fantasy maps which is lots of fun and an empowering way for children to see themselves as storytellers.
If you could go back and talk to your younger self, what advice would you want to share with them as a now published author?
When I was a child, I thought that authors were almost magical writers that could produce a perfect story first time. I would go back and tell myself that most definitely isn’t the case, everyone works hard at it, so it’s perfectly valid for you to have a go! Believe in yourself.
Your career is already very busy, but do you have any more exciting plans and projects coming up in the near future?
I’ve just signed a deal with Scholastic UK for Brightstorm 2 which will be out in early January 2020, and a further novel to be out in early 2021, which I’m really excited about. I’ve got some great plans for Arthur and Maudie, and some new ideas with some more scientific and creative worlds which I absolutely can’t wait to develop!
Thanks so much for speaking with us today Vashti. It’s been an absolute pleasure to hear about your career. We wish you the best of luck at the Waterstones awards at the end of the month.