"Children can handle weighty subjects’" says children's author Suzi Moore
David Clensy meets the children’s writer whose latest novel unfolds on a Bristol street
As a child growing up in the early 1980s, tragedy struck the small cul-de-sac where Suzi Moore lived. A tree fell on a car carrying the family who lived next door, killing one of the young daughters who was travelling in the back of the vehicle.
“It was horrendous,” Suzi says. “It was unimaginable to me – the grief a child must go through when they have lost their sibling at such a young age, so suddenly.
“I hadn’t consciously meant for what happened to my neighbours when I was a child to come through in my new book – but undoubtedly, unconsciously, it did.”
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Lexiland, published by Simon and Schuster, is an emotional tale – especially given the target age range of 10, or thereabouts.
It tells the story of Emma, a schoolgirl growing up in Hotwells, whose twin sister Laura dies at their birthday party. The novel deals with grief, courage and the importance of friendships.
“It sounds really depressing, but it’s not, I promise,” Suzi laughs, as we meet for a coffee in a Harbourside cafe. “Actually, I think it’s quite an uplifting read.
“Jacqueline Wilson has said it before, and I think she’s absolutely right – children can deal with much weightier subjects than we sometimes give them credit for.
“A 10-year-old girl today is so much more grown up than I was when I was 10 – I was still playing with Barbie dolls at that age, but today you can have very adult conversations with 10-year-olds.”
Suzi first began to write for children while working as a teaching assistant at Elmlea Infant School, Stoke Bishop.
“I remember having the idea for my first book when I was on playground duty one day,” she recalls. “One of the girls fell over and hurt herself. She was upset, so I comforted her by saying she could stay with me for the rest of break.”
The conversation that ensued with the child gave Suzi the idea for her first book – a picture book for toddlers, Little One’s Bedtime, in which a child tells her mother all the reasons why she can’t go to sleep because there are too many adventures to be had.
“After getting an agent, I was amazed when Simon and Schuster took the book on, and paired me up with a wonderful illustrator called Rosie Reeve.
“But picture books are difficult to get published. When I met up with my agent she told me she’d been to a conference where they had been told that what publishers really wanted were novels aimed at young girls in which the writer came across as the reader’s best friend.
“She asked me if I’d consider trying to write something along those lines, but I didn’t know where to begin. In the end, I just started thinking back to my own childhood, and that’s when I came up with the idea of a twin who lost her sister.
“Emma gets through her grief with the voice of her sister always beside her – it’s not quite a ghost story, but there are elements of the paranormal I suppose.
“I think people are also generally fascinated by identical twins. There is something intriguing about the relationship that twins have with each other – especially identical twins. My grandfather was an identical twin, and he died just before I started writing, so I guess that’s where that element of the story came from.”
Suzi says it was “a no-brainer” to decide to set the novel in her adopted city.
The 36-year-old Mancunian first came to Bristol as a 20-year-old, after meeting her husband Alan – chairman of the science education charity behind the At-Bristol attraction.
“I’ve lived all over the place, but Bristol feels like home now,” she says. “When it came to writing places, it made sense for me to write places I know. So the family lived in Hotwells – where we used to have a home when we first came to Bristol.
“Then there are sections in Totterdown, because we’ve lived there too, and there’s a walk through Clifton, because I often walk through Clifton – writing about what you know may sound like a cliche, but it’s easier to take things from your real experiences than it is to make it up from nothing.”
Lexiland, by Suzi Moore, is published by Simon and Schuster, priced £6.99.