Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Author Spotlight: Interview with Anne E. Johnson


Trouble at the Scriptorium and its upcoming sequel, The London Hurdy Gurdy, are medieval adventure novels written for kids aged 10-13.

In thirteenth-century England, Harley gets mixed up in an adventure with missing jewels, a missing monk, and a secret message hidden in a book of Gregorian chant. Good thing twelve-year-old Lady Margaret reads Latin, but Harley sure finds it hard to know how to behave around a noble girl.

Interview with Anne E. Johnson, author of Trouble at the Scriptorium.

1. Did you have any special reason to write this particular book?

I have a master’s degree in medieval musicology, and I taught music history for 16 years. Therefore it made perfect sense, when I started writing for kids a few years back, that I should try to funnel that knowledge and experience into middle-grade fiction.

2. What sets this book apart from other medieval historicals?

In terms of literature for kids, a medieval setting without any kind of fantasy or magic is not the typical approach these days. But I find medieval history so thrilling on its own that, for me, adding in dragons or fairies just detracts from it. I’m hoping readers will see what I mean.
Scriptorium is also different because the knights and swords are secondary to the art of music, yet this is still an adventure story. There’s both physical and intellectual adventure in this book, making it the kind of story I would have responded to as a tween.

3. What is the target audience for this book, and why is it appropriate for them?

The target audience is kids 9-12 years old, particularly those who are advanced readers and are intellectually curious. The story features two twelve-year-olds, and shows what life would have been like for those kids in the thirteenth century. It also introduces many elements of feudal life, monastic life, book-crafting, and music. But I worked hard to make it an exciting story first and foremost, involving interesting characters, suspense, and humor. The idea is for kids to learn something about the Middle Ages in a context that is nothing at all like a history schoolbook.

4. Why have two protagonists?

There are two reasons for this choice. First, it allows both a boy and a girl to work on the problem at hand, which I hope will broaden the readership of the book. Second, it allows for two social perspectives on the story. Harley is a servant and Lady Margaret is noble, so they counterbalance each other well, and their class distinction also allows for some interesting tension between them even as they work together.

5. What is the role of adults in this story?

Although it’s important for kidlit to feature kids, I love filling the character lineup with well-rounded, distinctive adults, who have specific and unusual experience or skills that can help the
kids in their quest. In historical fiction, the adult characters also have a function for the reader, allowing them to learn more about the historical world of the novel.
In Scriptorium, the three most important adults are all very different from each other, and therefore help Harley and Lady Margaret in different ways. There’s Martin of Hibernia, chief of the castle guards, who is physically brave and strong. There’s Brother Benedict, who is Harley’s uncle, a monk, and a trained musician. And there’s Professor Jabir Al-Zarkali, a Spanish Moor who works in the castle as tutor, adviser, and physician.

6. What’s next for Harley and Lady Margaret?

The sequel is written and with my publisher, hopefully ready for release by autumn of 2013. It’s called The London Hurdy Gurdy, and this time brings Harley and Margaret into the big city of London for a nail-biting adventure!

* * * You can purchase Trouble at the Scriptorium directly from the publisher, Royal Fireworks Press. Learn more about Anne E. Johnson on her website.

Anne E. Johnson has published in a wide variety of topics and genres. She's written non-fiction books for children with the Rosen Group and feature articles for adults in serials such as The New York Times and Stagebill Magazine.

As the author of nearly thirty published short stories, she has won writing prizes for both children's and adults' short fiction.

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