All Andy wants is to dress like everyone else, but her mum's the owner of a run-down kooky vintage boutique, so she's bound to look - well - different. But when Andy finds a gorgeous bag full of designer goodies in the storeroom, everything changes …
1. Hi Laurel, can you tell me about your newest book The Polka Dot Shop and the inspiration behind it.
I like writing books that empower kids to believe in themselves and take a risk, and also address ways to ‘bridge’ the differences in point of view between children and adults that can lead to conflict. In writing The Polka Dot Shop, I first had the idea for Andy as a character, and the central conflict with her mum that starts out over something superficial like clothes, but actually underneath there are other deeper issues that need to be addressed. Andy and her mum are both realistic, flawed characters, who have a lot to learn from each other. I liked the idea of Andy showing entrepreneurial flare in helping to transform her mum’s shop, and learning to implement new and better ways to do things even though people keep telling her that she’s ‘only thirteen’. The vintage shop setting was inspired by my own daughters, who love dressing up and fashion, and I also used to collect vintage clothing from the 1920s back in my younger, more stylish days. I liked the idea of a shop that starts out a bit down at heel, but can be transformed into something wonderful.
2. In The Secret Cooking Club, Scarlett loves to bake. How would she do on the great British bake off?
I think that being a great baker requires a real flare and talent, and is much more than just following a recipe. Scarlett has that kind of flare and talent, so she’d probably love to be on GBBO. That said, one of the nice things about The Secret Cooking Club is that the children all collaborate and bring their own unique talents to the kitchen. For example, Violet is good at decorating, and Gretchen is good at managing the team. So while Bake-off might be in Scarlett’s future, right now I think she’ll continue to enjoy cooking with her friends.
3. Do you do a lot of baking at home?
I’ll tell you a big secret that I usually only reveal when I’m talking to kids at school events. I’m actually a really terrible cook. I usually keep my cooking very simple, and I spend my ‘free time’ writing rather than experimenting in the kitchen. The one exception to this is that I love making birthday cakes for my three girls, and I spend a lot of time making quite elaborate ones. In the last two years I’ve made a circus cake, a rock-climbing cake, a gymnastics cake, and a popstar cake. I also like making gingerbread houses at Christmas, and have made a gingerbread ice palace, a haunted house, and a gingerbread mermaid grotto.
The good thing about being a writer is that I don’t have to be good at things myself in order to write about them. Scarlett can be a good cook and baker without me being one. When I’m writing, the characters take on a life of their own. The only limit is imagination!
4. Are you working on anything at the moment?
I’m working on several new ideas, some of which are along a similar theme to The Secret Cooking Club and The Polka Dot Shop, others are more of a departure into new territory. I always like to discuss my ideas with my eldest daughter, who is nine, to see what would be most interesting to someone her age. While my books do have a ‘message’, I write first and foremost to inspire and entertain kids about her age. So right now, I’m in the stage which I enjoy most, which is planning my next story and writing the first draft.
The Polka Dot Shop is out now – find out more and read the first chapter here.