Interview with Emily Dodd – Surfing The Moon

‘Surfing the Moon’ is part of the Collins Big Cat reading series (Emerald band 15) written by Emily Dodd and illustrated by Omar Aranda & Ilias Arahovitis. It’s a fantastic story of acceptance and learning to face your fears. The main character Jack learns to surf, he also represents so many children of all ages who are neurodivergent and making their way through the ups and downs of school life and beyond.


  1. Surfing plays a huge role in this story, what made you decide on that sport for Jack to learn? Do you surf?


I was a volunteer Surf Buddy at The Wave Project in Dunbar, like Sam is to Jack, in this story. The Wave Project is for young people with low confidence and high anxiety. Sometimes even putting a wet suit on is a massive deal for a young person, so everyone there is at a different stage and they have their own goals. The process of learning to surf boosts their mental health and raises self confidence. I love seeing the power of surfing do that, it’s so good to help people and to do something totally different – it’s not like school and it’s outside and you’re in the water, there’s nothing like it really.

As a Surf Buddy I don’t need to be able to surf, I’m there for support in the water. There are instructors who teach at the same time.

I also learnt to surf myself though, I went to Wales with a friend and we were taught by the national coach! You might think that would make us amazing but I can just about stand up, I’m really not very good. But I know the joy of catching a wave and the horrible feeling when you wipe out. So I could write about it all. I’ve just started volunteering again for my local Wave Project based in St Andrews, Scotland.


  1. Were you approached first by Harper Collins or did you come up with the idea and then consider it for their series?


I’ve done a few non-fiction books for the big cat series already, so a brilliant editor I’ve worked with before (Leilani Sparrow) asked me to pitch something to them so we could work together again. Originally, I wrote Jack’s story as a monologue radio play for BBC Scotland’s Schools Radio. I had previously written a mental health themed radio play for them called ‘black holes and hot chocolate’, it was broadcast on Radio 4 and now it’s a podcast that schools can listen to. So they asked me for another play so I wrote Jack’s voice as a story. The BBC loved it and him (lots of the staff read it and passed it between them apparently) but they said it needed to be a book to do it justice – because just one actor reading an autistic child’s first person inner monologue is hard to make work for radio. That was all a few years ago but when Leilani got in touch, I wanted to do something different and pitch fiction instead of non-fiction. I’d recently been diagnosed with ADHD myself so I suggested ’Surfing the Moon’ to her, because I wanted to write something neurodiverse. Initially it was pitched and written for an older age but then they decided it was to be in this younger band ‘Emerald’ instead (aimed at age 8-9 years). So I aged the story down, making Jack ten years old instead of thirteen.


  1. It’s incredibly difficult to do that, did you have to re-plan the book?


It seemed disastrous at first but then I realised it wasn’t too bad. I already had Jack’s voice and character written as a radio play monologue, I knew who he was so I wrote him in a full story and then edited it back down to fit the word and chapter limit. My agent, Lindsey Fraser, helped a lot with editing it back too, it’s easier for an external person to cut chunks out, I think. The reader only knows what you give them and if it’s good, they aren’t sad about a bit they might of read because they don’t know it existed. But if you’re the one who’s written it, it can be hard to cut bits out, you feel you’re losing something. Every word and every sentence matters and was written for a reason. It’s less personal for Lindsey to do it.

I wrote the story all in one weekend in a hyper focussed burst (using the power of ADHD). Getting started was really hard though, it was in the second lockdown and I was finding it so hard to be motivated because I had some personal challenges. If I’m not feeling good, it’s hard to feel confident and you need to feel confident when writing because you have to make so many decisions about what’s best, as the writer. If I don’t feel good, I find it hard to trust myself and that’s terrible for writing. But the deadline got closer and closer and that forced me into writing anyway. Jack is really into the moon and this was a way to make him do something different and outside his comfort zone – this was his ‘why’ are the moon and the sea tides are connected, children with Autism Spectrum Disorder often have special interests. In real life, young people get referred to The Wave Project but they often do have autism or ADHD. Jack wasn’t based on any young person I worked with though, more the experience of volunteering at the project as a whole.


  1. You had two incredible illustrators (Omar Aranda & Ilias Arahovitis) working with you on ‘Surfing the Moon’, what was that experience like?


I had to write illustration briefs for them. That’s a lot of briefs to come up with – every page has to either have one full page illustration or two halves and they all need to look different to each other. It’s about telling the story across the pages with the right amount of words and the visuals showing key action. There was a lot of puzzling to get that working in terms of the chapters. It was a challenge Lindsey helped with too. I spent a lot of time with a moon chart to make sure the moons shown in the sky in the story coincided with the amount of time passing for Jack to have gone to surf school every Friday. Jack accurately documents the moon each day by drawing it in his flicker book, we had to get it right in the night-time pictures too. They had to change some things for cultural reasons – these books are sold in different countries so Granny’s skirt had to be over the knee and Jack couldn’t have his chest on show because in some countries that would be inappropriate.


  1. You’ve taken Jack’s story into schools, what’s been the reaction from the pupils you’ve shared it with?


They’ve enjoyed it. A few things have stood out for me. One is when I ask what they think of Jack early on, I’ll read just a bit and the reaction to the first page is comments like “he’s the class clown, he’s naughty because he shouts out, he’s weird”. But at the end of my reading, I’ll ask the same question and they often have a different opinion “he’s brave, he tried even when it was hard”. It’s lovely to see their opinion change when they get to know Jack from the inside. There’s a lovely hush that descends as I read a longer chunk without pausing for discussion, it’s so good to hear that (the sound of silence) and know they’re with Jack on the adventure.


When I’m in schools in areas with high social deprivation and high levels of additional needs, the response to this story has been incredible. For example, I had children making me cards over their lunch break, without a teacher asking them to do it. And it was the neurodiverse children who made the cards. There were so many thank you’s and the E in my name was the wrong way round and every card had lots of spelling mistakes, I loved them all the more for it. I’d told them that I have really bad spelling and messy writing and that writing is about the ideas in their heads, not the neatness of their writing or their spellings. They wrote messages telling me that they have ADHD too. I have ADHD so I’d told the children about that. I had children coming up at the end asking if Jack was autistic and telling me ‘they knew it’ because he was just like them. It was so lovely to part of so many conversations about thinking differently – their enthusiasm for who they are and how they could identify with how he felt. I had a similar reaction at the Edinburgh Science Festival with families too. It was really, really positive and encouraging for me to see children proud of who they were and confident to tell me and everyone else in the room that they have a different way of thinking too, just like Jack and me.


Review of ‘Surfing the Moon’

Jack loves everything about the moon, the gravity pull on Earth, its effects on tides and so much more.

Jack knows that he’s different to other kids as he doesn’t think the way they do but he is determined to learn to surf and make new friends along the way.

‘Surfing the Moon’ is a fantastic informative story written by the fabulous Emily Dodd and superbly illustrated by Omar Aranda & Ilias Arahovitis. It’s about a neurodivergent boy who overcomes his fears and bravely learns to catch some waves on his board with the help of everyone around him. This wonderful story is about acceptance and inclusion along with fun facts about the moon and its gravitational link to Earth.

About the author:

Emily Dodd is a Fife-based screenwriter for CBeebies (Nina and the Neurons, Tiny Wonders) and the author of over 20 fiction and nonfiction books. Alongside her children’s mental health themed radio plays on BBC Radio 4 and a fictional book about a boy with autism published by Harper Collins, Emily is a well-known storyteller and science spoken word artist. Not only does Emily have a HNC in Counselling, a BSc in Geophysical Sciences and a MSc in Communicating Science, she has developed and delivered education programmes for the Scottish Seabird Centre, the Edinburgh International Science Festival, the National Museum of Scotland and Our Dynamic Earth.

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