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Blog Behind The Scenes of Code Name Kingfisher with Author Liz Kessler

Behind The Scenes of Code Name Kingfisher with Author Liz Kessler

By Liz Kessler | Author, Fiction, Guest Blog, Interview

Behind The Scenes of Code Name Kingfisher with Author Liz Kessler

Author Liz Kessler talks about the inspiration behind her new novel Code Name Kingfisher, a wartime adventure of family, hope and courage.

Up until a few years ago, anyone who knew of me and my books probably thought of me as the author of the Emily Windsnap novels, a series about a girl who becomes a mermaid when she goes in water. For over fifteen years, my books were mostly about mermaids fairies, time travel and pirate dogs.

Then in 2020, I wrote a book that had been close to my heart for many years. When The World Was Ours came out in 2021 and was inspired by a childhood experience of my dad’s which enabled him and his parents to escape Nazi-occupied Vienna and Czechoslovakia in 1939. The days of writing about mermaids stood aside as I delved into the deeper subjects of World War Two and the Holocaust.

Once I’d written that book, I found myself wondering where to turn next. After twenty years as an author, I’ve realised that, no matter what I’m writing about, I always seem to cover similar themes. Even my mermaid books are very much about social justice, speaking out on behalf of others, being true to yourself. But I had started to move into a new direction, one in which I covered these themes with the gloves off – and I wanted to continue on that path.

Whilst researching When The World Was Ours, I’d come across a story of two sisters, Truus and Freddie Oversteegen, and their friend Hannie Shaft, who, as teenage girls, had got involved in the Dutch Resistance. I found their story fascinating. I read as much as I could find about them, and soon discovered that there were many others, too: young people who had fought in a secret movement to resist and help thwart the Nazi occupiers of Holland.

I was blown away by their bravery and realised that I wanted to write a story inspired by these young people. If you read any of my books, you will find strong young people, and these children fitted right in with all the others in my books.

Now, I have a confession. I’m not really into history. I never have been. At school, it was one of my least favourite subjects and I barely passed the exams. (I scraped an ‘E’ at O level!) The thing that intrigues me is never about the facts or dates of history. It is about the people: about finding out what drives them, where they find their strength. And in writing for an audience of young people, the heart of what I want to do is to write books that they – you – can relate to.

This means my characters need to be relatable, and I hope that they are. We might not be in the middle of a world war, but most of us can relate to the underlying ideas in my book. We all know about bullying, many of us have experienced prejudice, most of us are aware that our leaders are not always the most trustworthy and decent people in the world!

But I wanted to go further than this in my new book. I wanted a present-day narrative running alongside the wartime story. I didn’t want them to be two separate stories; I wanted them to be linked. As soon as I realised this, I knew that I would have one character who played a part in both narratives. So, in Code Name Kingfisher, the present day story features a girl, Liv, and her grandmother, known as Bubbe. (A Jewish term of endearment for a grandmother.) Bubbe has a secret past – which I won’t say too much about as I don’t want any spoilers! But one of the best parts about writing this book was in exploring the relationship between Liv and Bubbe, how it develops, and how the past and present day narratives reflect on and intertwine with each other.

I believe that people often feel they have little in common with a different generation. Older people sometimes complain about ‘youngsters today’ and young people sometimes feel they have nothing in common with those who are fifty years their senior. I wanted to explore a relationship where the two characters find the things that link them rather than the things that separate them.

Just as the characters of Liv and Bubbe do this, I hope that Code Name Kingfisher will provide a bridge for today’s young people to discover things they never knew about children from the 1940s. And in doing so, I hope that today’s readers will feel inspired and emboldened by the bravery shown by my characters.

Once I’ve written a book and I stand back and look at it, I am often inspired by the characters brought to life on the page. And I have never felt this more than I do with Hannie, Mila, Liv and Will. I hope that you will feel the same way.

You can learn more about Liz and her previous books here.

Code Name Kingfisher by Liz Kessler is out 14th September (Simon & Schuster Children’s Books) and you can order a copy here!

Published: Mon 11th Sep 2023

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