In which I catch up with Australian author R.A. Spratt to talk about her new book Friday Barnes: Girl Detective, a witty, rollicking mystery featuring an enterprising eleven-year-old super sleuth.
If you have anything vaguely to do with children in say, the 8 to 12 year-old age bracket, you may well already know R.A. Spratt as the author of the Nanny Piggins series. The Nanny Piggins books are about a wicked flying circus pig who shows up to nanny the three Green children, feeding them endless amounts of chocolate, getting them into all sorts of trouble and happily allowing their education to fall by the wayside. The series is full of slap-stick, silliness and no lessons to be learnt whatsoever. It is, as you can imagine, terribly popular with the young folk.
There are ten books in the series at last count. Yes, ten, however the US is a little behind with only the first three currently published, with their own spiffy American jackets, and the fourth due out soon… Spratt then has decided to give Nanny Piggins a well deserved break so she can introduce a whole new character into the world: Friday Barnes.
I had the very good fortune to meet Spratt in person while she was wearing her other hat, as a children’s television writer (she actually started her career as a TV comedy writer, interning with Good News Week at the tender age of 22). She very kindly let me read an early copy of Friday Barnes: Girl Detective, and I flew through it, laughing quite loudly and inappropriately on public transport while doing so.
A mystery story that satirises the boarding school experience, it’s funny, warm, silly and clever all at the same time. It cracks along at a fantastic pace and best of all, everyone in the book, from the stupid adults to the self-absorbed bullies to the eccentric best friend and the main character herself, is made glorious fun of. No one is taken all that seriously in this book and that is an extraordinarily refreshing thing to experience. Less episodic than the Nanny Piggins‘ books, Friday Barnes: Girl Detective nevertheless still exudes Spratt’s particular brand of understated exuberance for foolish and frivolous behaviour.
Oh, to be young again. I would have devoured this novel at least three times within a week when I was 11 (the age of Friday Barnes) and can only assume that story-hungry kids around that age now would do the same. Over to you Ms Spratt!
So, what’s ‘Friday Barnes: Girl Detective’ all about?
Now, Wendy. I know for a fact that you’ve read the book yourself so why are you making me tell you this? Is this all just a ruse to get me to write your blog for you? Because I am a very kind person I will give you the benefit of the doubt and work on the assumption that you have suffered terrible sprains to every single one of your finger tips and therefore cannot type. But I hope you are enjoying yourself eating bon-bons and perhaps taking a nap while I do this work for you…
Friday Barnes: Girl Detective is the story of a very clever eleven year old girl, who has read a lot of books. She uses her intelligence and finely honed powers of observation to solve a bank robbery. When she gets a $50,000 dollar reward she sends herself to the most exclusive and expensive private boarding school in the country.
What inspired this story?
My ongoing desire to pay the mortgage and feed my children.
People always ask about what inspires a book, but it is never one thing or a simple explanation. It is a combination of dozens of ideas and characters congealing in my mind over a period of several years. There is a bit of Sherlock Holmes and Trixie Belden in there, as well as George and Anne from The Famous Five. There is a huge chunk of my own personality and all the people I went to school with. I went to a very nerdy school.
What was the best bit about writing this book?
The books are ten thousand words shorter than the Nanny Piggins books.
I’m not sure why, but for some reason it was very easy to write. Huge tracts of it would come out in a very short period of time.
…And the hardest bit?
Making the plot work.
What do you think readers will take away from this story?
I think it is an inspirational portrayal of a well-read person. Hopefully it will inspire children with the powerful potential of self-education through books.
What was your favourite story when you were Friday Barnes’ age?
I loved Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. It has so many wonderful ideas.
Have you ever been in a situation where you needed a mystery solved?
I cannot fathom what happens to all my daughter’s hair bands. They must end up somewhere. But they are never anywhere I can find them when it’s two minutes before we have to walk out the door in the morning.
Also, I have worked in television for 16 years. People think the Loch Ness Monster is a mystery, but it is nowhere near as mysterious as what goes on in the mind of a television executive.
Thanks R.A! I’ll just go rest my sprained fingertips and comfort myself with bon-bons now…
Friday Barnes: Girl Detective was officially released July 2014 in Australia and is currently available at retailers all over the place.