Q&A with Kita Mitchell

Where did the inspiration for Grandma Dangerous come from and did you plan all three books from the beginning?

While I’d like to make it clear that most of my characters have no resemblance to people I know – living, dead, or teaching at my daughter’s school – the inspiration for Grandma Dangerous definitely came from my mum.

When I was growing up, she was strict. Vegetables at every meal, no telly, homework after tea, in bed by seven thirty. Piano practice. The perils of sugar and the benefits of fibre were frequently discussed.

Now, it’s a different story.

If she comes to babysit my children, it’s ice-cream for breakfast, sledging down the stairs, trifle eating contests, snacks all day (none of which involve greenery) non-stop telly and late nights – followed by a day off school for being ‘a little bit tired’.

I almost regress to my childhood self with the unfairness of it all. I never got ice-cream for breakfast!

Complaining to my friends, it seemed that badly behaved Grandmas are common. ‘Grandparenting’ is completely different from ‘parenting’. ‘Grandparenting’ is a ticket to ride. It’s about ignoring the rules and grasping the moment.

Parenting is about making sure your children have enough sun cream on.

Grandparenting is about having all the fun.

And I wanted to write something funny – because children like funny stuff – and, above all things, I’d like my books to encourage children to read.

(Please note – my mum isn’t as quite as badly behaved as Grandma Dangerous –  I don’t think she’s ever stolen a dog.)

I didn’t plan all three books at the beginning, though I did have ideas for more.

Orchard, my publisher, liked the first one enough to ask for another two. While the characters are the same, the books don’t follow on from each other. The next adventure, ‘Grandma Dangerous and the Egg of Glory’ is set in the Faberge museum in St Petersburg and the one after that is set in Egypt.

 

Did you test out the story on your own children?

I let my two younger children read the first draft, and they were nice and polite and laughed in the right places. I wasn’t brave enough to let the older two read it though, as they are teenagers. Teenagers are scathing about most things, and writers are sensitive.

 

You studied and began your career in animation. Is writing for children something you have always been interested in doing?

Writing was a childhood dream. We didn’t have a telly when I was growing up, so I read a lot of books. Authors seemed to have such exciting lives. I particularly admired Christie’s Ariadne Oliver, who had loads of money and spent all her time at 1930’s house parties.

An early attempt at a novel made me realise that the ‘writing’ bit of being a writer was really hard work, and took ages, so I concentrated instead on comic-verse, which was fun, and didn’t take as long.  Every now and then, one of my works would be printed by the local paper and they would send me a postal-order in exchange. Oh, the joy.

Postal-orders were never going to pay the rent, though, so I put my writerly ambitions to one side and went to college to study animation. I made loads of short films and after that I built sets for TV shows – but the feeling I should write funny books for children never went away.

I decided to have one last try. This time it went a little better and Grandma Dangerous and the Dog of Destiny is about to be published. Yay!

Though I haven’t been invited to any house parties yet.

 

Who are your Literary Heroes?

Oh, I have so many I could be here all night, boring your socks off. My first love was Edmond Dantes, but I was also very fond of Sherlock Holmes, Pippi Longstocking, Laura Ingalls-Wilder and Fungus the Bogeyman. For a reader, one of the greatest things about having children is an excuse to revisit your literary heroes –  and discover loads of new ones.

 

Given your background in animation, will we possibly see Grandma Dangerous on our screens in the future?

I think every author would love to see their characters on a big screen, and I am no exception. I could certainly make time for a chat if there were any film producers out there looking for a new project.

My main ambition, though, would be for Grandma Dangerous to have her own theme park. A bit like Peppa Pig World, but without seat belts. It would be brilliant. Terrifying rides, wild animals roaming free, unlimited ice cream, fortune telling Choodles. All the best grandmas would take their grandchildren. (Mums should probably stay outside).

 

What can we look forward to in the next instalment of the series?

A trip to Russia!

A valuable artwork’s been stolen and Grandma’s determined to track it down. First, though, she needs to rescue her friend Edna, who’s been jailed after a ‘misunderstanding’.

Ollie and Piper agree to help – but the prison’s in St Petersburg and surrounded by politsiya. Never mind. They have three false beards, a recipe for herring soup and a lucky dog.

What could possibly go wrong?

 

Kita Mitchell studied Design for Film & Animation at Manchester University before beginning a career at the BBC, animating children’s programmes like ‘Eggs & Baker’, and then moving on to work with Channel 4 on ‘Fireman Sam’.  She’s also lectured in Film & Animation before, in 2015, enrolling in the Bath Spa MA in Writing for Young People. Kita graduated from Bath Spa in 2017.

Grandma Dangerous and the Egg of Glory will be published in January 2019 by Orchard Books (an imprint of Hachette).