Isabel Thomas is an award-winning science writer and author of more than 100 books for young audiences. Yep, over 100! Moth and Fox are just two of her recent releases. Created with illustrator Daniel Egnéus, Moth and Fox are powerful, narrative non-fiction books which tackle tricky questions in the most wonderful manner. I couldn’t wait to ask Isabel the MyBookCorner questions…
Tell us about you in 25 words or less.
A science writer and author of 180 children’s books! I grew up in a low-income single parent family, giving me a strange mix of resilience/vulnerability!
(Yes I did use punctuation to cheat there! ;))
My first picture book with Daniel Egnéus, Moth, answered one of the biggest and trickiest questions young children ask about life – how did all these different plants and animals get here? For the second book, I wanted to tackle another huge question. I’ve had lots of conversations with my children about death over the years, as my only parent (my beautiful, brave mum) and my only grandparent died just before I began to have children of my own. Through my boys’ questions, I realized that for very young children (and even older children) death is a very abstract concept. There are lots of books for children that do a wonderful job of exploring the emotional side of death, but none for young children that look at what death is and so, I decided I had to write about the scientific answer to the question – what happens when a living thing dies? It also explores why living things die, and the beauty of the circle of life itself. Like Moth, it is stunningly illustrated by Daniel in a way that is neither cutesy nor textbook-like, but utterly evocative and compelling for any age group.
Ok, here’s a challenge… can you sum up your book in five words? [runs and hides!]
Finding hope in tough times
What does a typical day look like for you?
Today is quite typical, my youngest wondered in at 6.30am for a snuggle and we talked about apostrophes – he said he’ll only tolerate punctuation lessons while he’s half asleep! I saw my eldest off to secondary school, double espresso, walked my two youngest to primary school, second double espresso – then at my desk from 9am to noon doing a mixture of planning, drafting, editing – these three hours are my golden time to work. Lunch, a final double expresso and more writing until school pick-up time. I’ve become better than I used to be at taking advantage of the flexibility freelancing gives you (e.g. heading off for a walk or meeting with other freelance/ self-employed friends in the middle of the week and catching up with writing at weekends). The only part of my schedule I never mess with is the coffee dosage!
What’s your worst habit?
Nibbling my fingers (not even the nails, my actual fingers). I know. It’s a barometer for my emotional state!
What’s on your TBR pile?
There are hundreds, it’s bad, the house is overflowing! Thinking of reading for pleasure (rather than the books and articles I read for research) I’m halfway through The Book of Hopes, edited by Katherine Rundell, a fantastic anthology of wisdom and wonder. I’m also stealing sneak peaks of Dosh! by Rashmi Sirdeshpande and Adam Hayes, which I gave my eldest for his birthday last week. My daytime reading pile has Space Explorers by Libby Jackson and Léonard Dupond and Houston, We Have a Narrative (about storytelling in sci comm). Next to my bed is Blonde Roots by Bernadine Evaristo, as I just devoured Girl, Woman, Other and impulse-bought everything else she had written, The Lie Tree by Francis Hardinge, and My Life as a Rat by Joyce Carol Oates.
What are your top tips for writing narrative non-fiction?
Research – dive into everything you can find on a topic, at a far higher level than you will be writing at, so you are completely and utterly absorbed. This will give you the confidence to be creative with the topic, to bring out the parts that really speak to you, to tell the story in your own way, while maintaining the accuracy. Research takes a LOT of time but it is completely worth it – you can tell when a book has been put together too quickly, with only a superficial understanding of a subject area – or horror of horrors, researched using Wikipedia! NEVER research a topic using Wikipedia! As a science writer, if I’m not confident reading and digesting the original academic papers on a subject, I wouldn’t take the project on.
Can you give us a glimpse / hint at your current WIP? (I can bribe you with cake!)
I’ve just asked permission to share a glimpse of my WIP with Bloomsbury – I’ve been working on a very exciting and LARGE book with the incredible Aaron Cushley!
Did we forget anything?
Details for how I access the cake…! Thank you soooooo much for having me and Fox!
Just for fun
Tea or coffee? Coffee!!!!!!!
Paper books or e-books? Paper, after reading they double as the best and only decoration in our house
Cake or chocolate? Chocolate, specifically Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut
Write or type? Type! I did office temping to pay my way through university and got very fast. Unfortunately, my typing speed seems to be inversely proportional to the quality of my handwriting – when I sent my first handwritten postcard to my @BookPenpals school this term, the class’s first question was whether I was alive or dead!
Poetry or prose? Depends on the situation – always poetry in tough times, prose when I’m more relaxed
Hot or cold? Cold = tights!