Isabel Popple speaks to Liz Kessler about her latest book Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins and what it means to be brave.
Can you introduce us to Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins?
Jessica is an ordinary girl who finds out something extra-ordinary when she nods off in a geography lesson. Together with best friend Izzy, she is determined to get to the bottom of her mysterious new powers. Along the way, she finds that she’s not the only one to have developed a super power. It’s up to Jess and her friends to solve the mystery and find out why they have superpowers – before anyone else finds out first…
Where did the book/story/idea begin for you?
“Sometimes it can take something happening outside of you to make you realise what you have had inside you all along.”
It came out of a conversation about my books. We were talking about how I like to combine modern day children with little bits of magic. The day after this conversation, I woke up and – completely out of the blue – wrote the first few pages of the book. Jess’s voice, and her invisibility, felt very strong from the start.
How did you decide which superpowers to give your characters?
I played around with lots of ideas, and went with the ones that felt like they had the best combination of fun and usefulness!
If you were invisible for a day, what would you do with your power? Would you use it for good or for mischief?
I’d love to play a few tricks on people, but I’d feel so bad about it that I’m not sure I could pull it off. And I’d love to be an invisible fly on the wall and listen in on conversations without being seen – but then I’d be nervous of hearing things I didn’t want to hear! Maybe I’d just do something like sneak into a sold-out gig and dance along as crazily as I liked without feeling self conscious!
What superpower would you pick for yourself and why?
My immediate answer is that I would time travel. But then I’d be a bit worried that if I went back in time, I’d change the present, and that if I went forwards in time I’d find out things I didn’t want to know! I think I’m discovering that I’d make a rubbish superhero!
Jessica is a fairly easy going, friendly girl, who proves herself to be a loyal friend. Do you think she needs a superpower to be a superhero, or is she a superhero anyway? Do we all have the potential to be superheroes?
Lovely question! I think the notion of a “superhero” is just a bit of fun, for me anyway. And yes, we all have the potential to do incredible things, and I think that our discovery of this potential is something I often write about, in different ways. But sometimes it can take something happening outside of you (in this case, discovering superpowers) to make you realise what you have had inside you all along.
When one of Jessica’s friends is captured by the evil nemesis of the story, she has to be pretty brave and courageous to rescue him. What do you think it takes to be brave?
I think that bravery can mean all sorts of things, and the definition varies from one person to the next. For one person, bravery could mean going on an aeroplane; for another it could mean standing up and making a speech in front of lots of people; for another, being in the same room as a spider! I do think that we all have the potential to be braver than we think we are. Sometimes it takes a loved one in danger, or a very limited range of options, to make us forget about our own limitations and realise we are braver than we think.
Through the story, Jessica discovers that people can surprise you – that the assumptions you might make about a person aren’t necessarily true – and the characters in your books are often fighting for themselves and the people around them to be true to who they are. Can you give us any thoughts on this?
I think that what you have described here is probably at the heart of most, if not all, of my books. Many of us have all sorts of different roles in life – friend, mother, brother, work colleague, etc etc. I think that it’s all too easy for us to live our lives in relation to other people’s expectations of us – whether that is individuals’ expectations or the assumptions of society in general. I don’t believe that fulfilling other people’s ideas of who we are – or who we should be – necessarily leads to happiness, and that if we can all figure out, and be comfortable with, who we truly are, we will lead much happier lives than if we spend our days trying our hardest to dance to other people’s tunes.
Many of your books have a magical twist to them (mermaids in Emily Windsnap and A Year Without Autumn, a Fairy Godsister in Philippa Fisher). What appeals to you about using this sort of magic in your stories?
The thing I love writing about the most is ordinary children, living in a contemporary setting, but where some kind of magic comes into their lives. I think it’s because I like the idea of my readers believing that this magic might one day come into their lives too. We all need to believe that we can have something magical happen to us.
Can you tell us what you’re working on at the moment? How excited are you about it?
I’m working on a sixth Emily Windsnap book right now. I’m about two thirds of the way through, and am very excited because I love hanging out with Emily and her friends! I’ve also just put the very last touches to the very last edit of my first YA novel Read Me Like A Book, which comes out next year. And, I have to say, I am ridiculously excited about this one. It was the first book I ever wrote, and I’m so happy that its day has finally (nearly) arrived.