Debut non-fiction author, plant expert and ecologist, Michael Holland FLS, IASFB celebrates the plants in our lives from the mint in our toothpaste at breakfast through to the clothes we wear, the medicines we take and our cotton sheets at bedtime. His book – I Ate Sunshine For Breakfast – it is aimed at children 7+ and their parents to get them educated and inspired by plants and nature – it is SO beautifully illustrated by Phillip Giordano and packed with hints, tips and free, fun activities to do at home and school.
Tell us about you in 25 words or less.
I’m a writer, nature educator, wildlife gardener and keen photographer living in North-East London with my wife and 8-year-old daughter.
Your nonfiction book, I Ate Sunshine for Breakfast (top notch title, by the way!), is hitting the shelves. Can you tell us a little bit about how it came to be?
Throughout my life, I have been constantly impressed and inspired by the lessons we learn from the natural world (and our reliance upon it) and have been passing some of these facts on to people from all walks of life in many different ways through my career of nature-based education. About 5 years ago, while teaching at my former workplace (Chelsea Physic Garden in London) I met someone who said she liked the way I taught and thought I should write a book about plants for children. It turned out her husband is the director of my publisher (Flying Eye Books). It took a while, but I wrote it on my commute to and from work and in my spare time.
Ok, here’s a challenge… can you sum up your book in five words? [runs and hides!]
Colourful, fun plant-based encyclopedia!
What does a typical day look like for you?
At the moment, having recently gone freelance at the start of February 2020, I have been doing a combination of writing, pottering, gardening, relaxing and trying as much as possible to get my ‘ducks in a row’ for the launch of this book, while lining up an assortment of teaching jobs scattered throughout the year. And the Coronavirus struck and many of those little freelance acorns will hopefully stay dormant and sprout later in the year.
I usually do some gardening each day – either by myself or with my daughter. If we can make it to Epping Forest (a 7-minute walk away) we will. I have been furnishing my new website (www.growingunderstandings.co.uk) with content as well as making an assortment of instructional YouTube videos lately. If it wasn’t for this, I’d be doing more reading of books, to be honest.
What makes you happy?
Being with my family and friends, listening to music alone, pottering in my garden listening to the distant ambient sounds of nature and suburbia, I also gain great pleasure from passing on my enthusiasm and ideas to others and seeing their responses as they learn.
What’s on your TBR pile at the moment?
After the TV dramatisation of ‘His Dark Materials’ I decided to re-read the whole series (including the newish prequel and sequel) – all in the correct chronological order. I am half way through ‘The subtle knife’, but demands of freelance life, writing and now home-schooling have stopped that a little for the time being. At this rate, I’ll finish ‘The secret commonwealth’ by Christmas 2021!
Sapiens by Dr Yuval Noah Harari – this sort of amazingly fact-filled book I tend to dip into, but one of these days I should just read it.
Adventures in Stationery: A Journey Through Your Pencil Case by James Ward – the history and origin of the everyday things we use – very interesting!
Plants for a future by Ken Fern – is a fascinating book showing many species that can survive in the UK and how they are useful in our lives – from soaps, ropes, shelterbelts, soil strengthening, food, wildlife and more.
What’s your worst habit?
Your favourite word(s) and why
Lozenge – I just like the sound of the word – it feels comforting to me!
I mean, lozenges are all right too, but I prefer the word.
Is there anything that’s surprised you about the publishing process?
How much I wrote that didn’t end up going into the book! (about half was edited out – enough for book two?!).
Can you give us a glimpse / hint at your current WIP? (I can bribe you with cake!)
Writing an assortment of articles and activities that the new population (Covid-19) of home-schooling parents and carers can use with their youngsters to engage them with the natural world in easy, fun and effective ways. My daughter and I have also come up with an idea for another children’s book – this time about animals and what they eat…
Did we forget anything?
Just for fun
Tea or coffee?
I start my day with a mug of strong black coffee, but I do like tea too (especially loose leaf green tea). I think I rely on coffee more though (it is a performance-enhancing drug, after all).
Paper books or e-books?
I like paper books (and currently have more than we have shelf space for), but see that e-readers are a really good space, weight and environmental-saving solution. I have never read a book on one (except for some of the drafts of my own book via the iPad).
Cake or chocolate?
I don’t have a sweet tooth, so would rather go for a packet of twiglets! But if I had to choose, I’d go for very good quality 75% and above chocolate.
Write or type?
I usually start in pen or pencil in a notebook and then desperately struggle to read my own handwriting to write these notes up into Google docs on the laptop or iPad mini. Recently, I experimented with dictating an article in iPhone notes and it turned it to reasonably accurate text, so I think that’s a more natural way of writing as it literally has my ‘voice’ in the style.
Poetry or prose?
Although I love the discipline of writing Haikus, I generally prefer prose. In my experience, I find some types of poetry inaccessible and get the feeling that it only really means something to the poet (hugely unfair, I know, to a millennium-spanning art form, but that’s my opinion). Having said that, our idea for a potential new book for children is in rhyme!
Hot or cold?
Would I rather be? I would rather be hot than cold thank you very much!
Thanks so much Michael!