I am over the moon to have the lovely Lou Kuenzler on Tales today to celebrate the release of her new book Finding Black Beauty which was released on the 6th October published by Scholastic.
Finding Black Beauty tells the other side of the classic horse story Black Beauty by Anna Sewell which Scholastic have also re-jacketed as part of their Scholastic Classics.
A huge thank you to Olivia at Scholastic for asking me to be part of this fab blog tour and for sending me copies of both beautiful books.
Today Lou talks about rewriting a classic, inspirations and writing in this brilliant Q&A.
Told from the point of view of a young girl who masquerades as a boy in order to become a groom, this is the other side of the classic horse story BLACK BEAUTY. Aspiring groom Jo comes to love Beauty and when they are separated she travels to London to find him – on the way solving the mystery of her long-lost mother. A sweeping tale of a young girl and her love for a horse, and the circumstances that divide them.
Welcome to Tales Of Yesterday. I’m so happy to have you here! Thank you for returning to a treasured classic of mine!
Thank you for having me, Tales of Yesterday. I always find it really interesting to answer questions about the thinking behind writing my books. It often makes me realise things I had not consciously known.
Can you tell us a little about Finding Black Beauty?
Finding Black Beauty revisits Anna Sewell’s classic animal adventure and explores the untold story of some of the characters. Above all, I hope it offers a cracking read for middle grade children with plenty of drama and pace (and maybe even a few tears) along the way.
What made you want to write a retelling of Black Beauty?
I loved Black Beauty as a child and read it many times. I think what drew me in was the sheer drama of it – the life and death struggle of the horse at the centre of the story. I wanted to recapture some of that for modern readers, paying homage to Anna Sewell’s brilliance but also creating an original story of my own.
Can you tell us a little about the main character Josie?
I loved writing Josie. She is based on the young stable lad Joe Green who only appears very briefly (but at two crucial moments) in the original Black Beauty story. Almost at once, I decided Joe would really be Josie, a girl in disguise, as she is desperate to be allowed to work with horses. Once that decision was made, everything else fell in to place. I knew to take a risk like that in Victorian Britain, Josie would have to be the sort of child who is used to getting her own way – perhaps too much so – but who is also brave, inventive and full of imagination. It was really interesting to have the chance to explore Victorian ideas of class and gender through the framework of this character, and to reflect some of those questions and assumptions back on our own times for contemporary readers too, I hope.
And is Beauty the same black horse we know from the original classic or did you change him in any way?
He is as close to the original as I could make him. The magnificent horse is the heart and soul of Anna Sewell’s story. Without giving respect to that, I think I would have lost any integrity in the project. We get to meet the adorable pony Merrylegs and the tricky-natured Ginger too, of course.
What was your favourite scene to write?
I have to say, I loved it all. This is the most fun I have ever had writing a book – perhaps because it was such a direct link back to my own childhood love of reading and the first secret ambitions to be a writer (scribbled in the back of exercise books) which began at around the same time. But ,if I had to pick one scene, it would be when Josie’s horrible aunt shuts up the stables and sends her away from home. The baddies are always the most fun to write!
What was the hardest scene to write?
This would have to be the scene where Ginger dies. It always made me cry in the original and, to make things worse, we had just had to have our much-loved family dog put down in the same week that I needed to get those chapters written. There were a lot of tears! At the same time; though, I had to try and keep perspective and check I wasn’t overdoing the sentiment too much.
Who was your favourite character from Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty?
I think it would have to be Black Beauty himself. I defy any child who has ever loved horses not to dream that Black Beauty could be their own.
Do you see yourself in any of the characters in Finding Black Beauty or have you used any of your own experiences in the story?
I did not use any direct experiences but I was lucky enough to grow up on a farm and have a pony of my own. I used my knowledge of riding (not something I get to do very often anymore) and my sense memory of being around horses a great deal. I would love to say I am like Josie (I certainly like to get my own way and can be quite stubborn) but I know she is much braver than I am.
If you could cast your characters from Finding Black Beauty in a big Hollywood film adaptation who would you choose?
I would love Emma Thompson to play the horrible aunt, Miriam Margolies to play Josie’s nanny and Maggie Smith to play Lady Hexham (now wouldn’t that be a trio!!).
Zac Efron would make a great handsome and moody James (the brooding groom who makes Josie’s life especially tough) and it would be great if we could tempt Emma Watson to be Josie. Quick someone, call their agents …
We would love to know a little bit more about you! Can you give us 5 random facts we don’t know about Lou Kuenzler?
The last time I rode a horse, I fell off.
I am afraid of rats.
I am quite superstitious about magpies.
I have two cats and a dog.
My screensaver is a walrus.
Can you tell us a bit about some of your other books?
I write picture books and younger fiction too. My latest picture book, Eat Your People, is the grisly tale of what a monster has on his dinner plate.
Meanwhile, my most recent chapter book for younger readers, Bella Broomstick: Halloween Havoc, comes out on the same day as Finding Black Beauty. This story is the third adventure in a really fun series about a big-hearted young witch who has come to live in the human world and causes magical chaos wherever she goes – often aided and abetted by her naughty kitten, Rascal.
You can find a review of the first Bella Broomstick here
Which of your characters from any of your books would you most like to spend the day with?
I’d love to hang out with Shrinking Violet (my fish-finger sized girl) but only if I could get to shrink and scuttle about spying on people along with her. One of my favourite moments in the Shrinking Violet books is when she slides down a giraffe’s neck like a helter-skelter. I’d love to have a go at that!
Growing up who inspired you into writing? Are there any Authors or books that inspired you?
I am dyslexic and the person who inspired me most was my secondary school English teacher, Mrs Moore. She told me that she always loved reading my stories (even if the spelling was atrocious). That made all the difference. Thank you.
Genuinely, the book I read most in my childhood was Black Beauty. Reading wasn’t easy and I loved the way it was in short, manageable episodes with bold characters and heartfelt emotion.
Are there any recent works or authors that you admire or books you wish you had written?
Oh, so many! In particular, I do wish I had written Any Stanton’s Mr Gum books just for the sheer, laugh-out-loud, jelly-wobbling silliness. Inspired!
Are there any authors you would like to collaborate with? Who?
I would love to do a picture book collaboration with Redhouse winner Andrew Weale (Spooky Spooky House, Newt In A Suit, Nora etc.) – I think his joyous use of rhyme is fantastic.
When starting a new book or idea what does your writing process look like?
Lots and lots of walking, talking out loud – the very first thing I tend to do is write down a few snatches of dialogue (these, almost without exception, end up in the final book). Once the voices start, I know I have something to build on. Then it is just down to the tricky little matter of plot …
Do you have any strange writing habits?
Biscuits. Biscuits. And (you guessed it) … more biscuits!
Did music influence your books or your characters. Did music have any influence the story of Finding Black Beauty?
I am married to a music journalist who plays his music full blast just upstairs from where I write. So the theme tune to my writing is always the heavy base from a song I can’t quite catch. I don’t play music myself while I write as I find lyrics too distracting and the fast or slow tempo of orchestral pieces tends to influence me too much. Again, I do lots of talking out loud while I write. I like to hear the sound of the words – I think this is especially important in children’s books.
Are there any exciting plans for the rest of 2016 or 2017?
That would be telling – but I am definitely thinking about animals and history again for older readers. I have a new pre-school picture book, My Digger Is Bigger, with gorgeous bright, funny illustrations by Dan Taylor coming out with Scholastic next year. I have just seen the final proofs and am over the moon.
Thanks so much for answering all of my questions today Lou!
Thank you again for inviting me to share my thoughts. It has been great fun. Lou
You can buy a copy of Finding Black Beauty here or from your local book shop!
You can find a review of the first Bella Broomstick here
About Lou Kuenzler
Lou Kuenzler’s popular SHRINKING VIOLET, PRINCESS DISGRACE and BELLA BROOMSTICK books offer fun, fast-paved adventure stories for newly-fluent readers.
For older – more confident – readers, FINDING BLACK BEAUTY is a re-imagining of Anna Sewell’s classic story with plenty of Victorian interest and exciting twists.
Lou also writes picture book for much younger children. If you’ve got a fussy eater, try EAT YOUR PEOPLE for a hilarious new look at how to leave nothing on a plate!
Lou loves doing festivals/school visits and is always happy to talk to groups of children.
To find out more about Lou visit her website – www.loukuenzler.com
Or why not follow her on twitter – @LouKuenzler
You can catch up or follow the rest of this fab blog tour at the following stops!
A huge huge thank you to Lou for a brilliant Q&A and answering all of my questions and to Olivia at Scholastic for organising!
Have you read Finding Black Beauty? What did you think? If you could re write a classic which would you choose? I would love to hear from you! Why not leave a comment using the reply button at the top of the post or tweet me on twitter using @chelleytoy !