This week I'm chatting to Pauline Hosking about her new book in her Cinnamon Stevens series, 'Ghost Light'.
Megan: Hi Pauline. I’m so excited to chat to you today.
Pauline: Likewise. Thanks for the opportunity.
Megan: Let’s dive right in, shall we?
Pauline: Holding my breath!
Megan: Hehe! You’ve had a lot of previous jobs: as a journalist, TV script assistant, theatre manager, theatre publicist and even as a bar maid. And you’ve taught Drama and English in secondary schools. How do you think all these experiences and skills have influenced your writing?
Pauline: Absolutely. The theatre stuff has definitely helped writing dialogue, and the school teaching (I hope) has given me an understanding of the things students laugh at, and the issues they are concerned about. Working in a library was an excellent way to check the kind of books that were walking off the shelves - and the ones that never moved.
Megan: Wow! Those experiences and insights would be invaluable. So, while you worked in the library, what books did you notice walk off the shelves? Is there anything in particular that stood out?
Pauline: Boys divided into two groups. One read only non-fiction. The other was deep into fantasy. The girls seemed to prefer more realistic books, especially ones with pink covers and a hint of romance. Please understand these are generalised comments about junior secondary students. Any book that had been turned into a movie was popular. Every lunchtime the Guinness Book of Records was studied and enjoyed.
Megan: It is an interesting observation. And yes, it is, as you said, generalised. As a child and teen, I read fantasy and non-fiction, and nothing could have tempted me anywhere near romance or pink covers. We’re all different.
Pauline: I agree with you about the pink covers, Megan. In fairness, lots of those books do discuss serious issues about relationships, friendship groups and family breakups.
Megan: I heard that your first book in a series, Cinnamon Stevens Crime Buster, is included in the 2017 Premiers Reading Challenge booklist for Grade 5 and 6. How did it make you feel receiving that news?
Pauline: I was incredibly excited when my book was included in the Reading Challenge booklist. I went around for days with a big smile on my face. I even laminated the acceptance email and put it in a frame!
Megan: I don’t blame you for framing that email. It must have been so exciting.
What, would you say, is an essential ingredient in your books? Or is there more than one?
Pauline: There's always a main mystery/crime to be solved and a secondary one to puzzle over. I try to sprinkle honest clues along the way so they are like Agatha Christie for middle-grade readers. I hope the books are funny. They are designed to look like Cinnamon's diary, with footnotes, Notes to Self, text messages, illustrations etc. Kat Chadwick did the illustrations for both books. She gets the characters just right.
Megan: That sounds wonderful. I love a good mystery. I love having the text broken up with other varieties of text which are part of today’s world. And now you now have a new book coming out, Ghost Light, which is set in Walhalla, a nearby town (to me). Can you tell me what Ghost Light is about?
Pauline: I like the idea of putting the characters in real places. So, in the first book the crime happens on Phillip Island after the Penguin Parade, and in the second book Cinnamon's class go to Walhalla, the old gold-mining town in Gippsland.
Much of Ghost Light happens in Walhalla. Cinnamon's class, Seven B, go there to research an Australian History assignment on the gold rush. Showy Daniels, the class trouble-maker, dares Cinnamon to visit the old graveyard there at night. The graveyard is very dangerous - being on a steep hill and a bit run-down.
Showy has an accident, and one of Cinnamon's best friends is blamed. To stop her friend being bullied Cinnamon has to find out what actually happened to Showy. There's also a link between the graveyard and a "ghost" that is seen at a theatre in Melbourne.
Megan: Wow! That sounds utterly fascinating. Is there ever a time when Cinnamon is super afraid in Ghost Light? What does she do?
Pauline: Well, she doesn't like being in the dark and when they visit the cemetery it is very dark. She's also spooked hunting for the ghost in the theatre basement. Luckily Cinnamon is intent on developing Nerves of Steel to help her become a better detective. She manages to overcome her fear by taking action, exposing the "ghost" and uncovering the Walhalla crime. Afterwards, being a fairly normal twelve-year-old girl, she has a nervy meltdown. Although now she knows that she can cope with dark places.
Megan: I love how Cinnamon is so intent on developing Nerves of Steel and taking action to overcome her fear.
Pauline: Yes, well it's all part of her burning desire to be a super sleuth. Both her father and older brother are members of Victoria Police and she is determined to join them.
Megan: What sort of research did you do for Ghost Light?
Pauline: When I was teaching I took several classes to Walhalla for exactly the reason described in the book. I thought the place was fascinating. We even went to the graveyard when it was dark. This was a number of years ago and it wasn't closed at night, as it is now. Last year I visited Walhalla again, to remind myself of everything. I even went on the Ghost Walk and took the Long Tunnel tour.
Megan: I’m excited by the fact that you set in a small town in Victoria, as lot of people don’t realise the significance of Wahalla in Victoria’s gold rush history. Where did the idea come from for setting a story in Wahalla?
Pauline: I knew a little about Walhalla and its importance during the gold rush. The days of Marvellous Melbourne in the 1850-1880s are fascinating. I was reading about the Eureka stockade when I thought of linking the past with a Cinnamon adventure.
It took a while to connect the two. I did it by creating an imaginary actress Adelaide Glendenning, who built the theatre in Melbourne that is haunted and who was born in Walhalla and is buried in the cemetery. Her legendary gold brooch features in the story as a lost treasure.
Megan: Oh, my goodness! What a great way to connect the two. And I’m sure it’s made for an intriguing story.
Pauline: Fingers crossed.
Megan: It’s fabulous how you are involving children in the book launches. You’re having two I hear, and one of those in Traralgon and I hope to attend. Can you tell me what special activities you have planned for your launch of Ghost Light?
Pauline: There will be cake! And door prizes! And a slide show if I can work out how to do it! I am hoping to have an expert panel made up of Grade 5 and 6 students from Stockdale Rd primary school and St. Paul's Anglican Grammar school in Traralgon.
They will ask me questions about the book, which they will have read. That's my target audience. Hearing their thoughts will be more interesting than having an adult talk, I think. Also, I really want to find out what they didn't enjoy and what they liked and want more of. Call it author's research.
Megan: What a great idea. So, that is at the Traralgon Library, Thursday the 12th April at 2 pm. I’m sure it will be a fabulous day and I look forward to seeing you there. Well Pauline, I think that about wraps it up. Thank you so much for your time today.
Pauline: Thank you, Megan. All the best. Hope to see you at the launch.
Megan: You shall. Bye for now.
Pauline: Bye and thanks again.
Three fun facts:
1. I play a mean game of table tennis.
2. I don’t like chocolate (weird, eh?).
3. I am fascinated by the Bronze Age period in Europe. Must write about it one day.
To pay the bills Pauline has worked as a teacher, teacher-librarian, journalist, theatre publicist, radio producer, TV script assistant and lecturer in the Diploma of Arts (Professional Writing and Editing). She’s also run creative writing workshops as part of Arts Victoria’s Artist in Schools program and tutored in the G.A.T.E.WAYS programs for talented and gifted children.
Cinnamon Stevens – Crime Buster (2016) was her first novel. Her second is Cinnamon Stevens – Ghost Light. Both are illustrated by Kat Chadwick and published in collaboration with Lilly Pilly Press. Previously Pauline wrote a number of plays for adults, children and teens. Many of these are held at the Australian Script Centre http://australianplays.org/playwright/ASC-472.
About Ghost Light
When Cinnamon’s Year 7 class has an excursion to Walhalla, trouble-maker Showy Daniels dares her to visit the out-of-bounds graveyard at night. It’s a dangerous place. Showy ends up unconscious with a wound to the back of his head. His friends blame Meera, one of Cinnamon’s besties, for the ‘accident.’
To stop Meera being bullied Cinnamon must discover exactly what happened to Showy AND solve the mystery of a haunted theatre (Cosette, Cinnamon’s other best friend, thinks she sees a ghost when she is auditioning for a part in Macbeth – the play about murder. And witches. And ghoooosts!!!).
While the main plot follows Cinnamon’s investigation, subplots deal with bullying and the nature of friendship. Like Crime Buster, it is a fun, mystery/detective story aimed at readers aged 9-12.
Cinnamon Stevens Crime Buster has been included on the 2017 Premiers Reading Challenge book list for Grades 5 and 6.
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