Ophelia Bottom longs for a boring life. Instead, she’s stuck living in a rickety converted van and managing Bottom’s Travelling Theatre, the moveable stage where her embarrassing actor parents put on occasionally disastrous plays. Every day, she wishes she lived in an ordinary house, with parents who worked ordinary, undramatic jobs.
When the family gets stuck in the seaside town of Stopford, Ophelia’s dream appears to be coming true: all the Stopford residents seem to have very normal lives. But someone is trying to drive the Bottoms out, and surrounding all the normality is a strange village motto: PLASTIC IS FANTASTIC. Can Ophelia discover what’s really behind Stopford’s perfect appearance—before she loses everything that makes the Bottom family life so special?
Q & A with Susie Bower
– Is the character of Ophelia based on anyone?
Ophelia is partly based on me as a child – the child who desperately wanted to fit in, but who also longed to be ‘special’ – and partly on the child I wanted to be: courageous, clever and practical. Her father – Arthur Bottom – is based on a well-known actor with a bushy beard and a roaring voice. The puppy, Jack, is based on my brother and sister-in-law’s new puppy, Jiggity – and is also written in memory of his previous dog, a sprocker spaniel called Jack. And Miss Seraphina Smith, the Head Teacher at Ophelia’s new school, is based on Muriel Spark’s Miss Jean Brodie!
– There are lots of references to Shakespeare in the novel- has Shakespeare been an inspiration in your writing?
(Still thinking about this – not sure!)
– What books did you enjoy reading as a child?
I devoured all the Narnia books, especially The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The idea that there could be other, parallel worlds you could enter from your own world thrilled me. I also loved Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series – I think it was the autonomy of the children in them, and the way they transformed ‘ordinary’ places into exciting worlds through their imaginations. And my Dad loved them too, so we could share them.
– What led you to writing for children?
I’d written for children as a producer in BBC and Channel 4 Schools Television (scripts, songs, rhymes) but had never thought of writing a book for children. But when my writing for adults stalled, I turned to The Novelry (an online writers’ community run by Booker Prize nominated author Louise Dean) and its Classic Course: it was as if a door opened into a world I could inhabit, a world where I could be at home – a world where my imagination could soar.
– What are you writing at the moment?
I’ve just finished an audio script for NowPressPlay, a brilliant company which brings primary-age children audio adventures linked to the curriculum. I’ve also written another picture book for young children. And I’m scribbling down ideas for another
By the time she hit her teens, Susie Bower had lived in 8 houses and attended 7 schools. This theme continued in her working life: she’s been a teacher, a tour-guide, a typist, a workshop facilitator, a PA and a painter. She formerly wrote and directed TV programmes for children at the BBC and Channel 4, for which she won a BAFTA Award, and she currently writes audio scripts. School for Nobodies, The Three Impossibles and Shoo! are also available from Pushkin Children’s. Susie lives in Bristol.