The Vanishing Trick offers historical adventure with a magical – rather sinister – twist. It’s proving very popular with reviewers and is a Books for Keeps Book of the Week. Jenni Spangler talked to us about her book.
Can you sum up The Vanishing Trick for us?
It’s the story of Leander, a lonely orphan who is overjoyed to be offered a job by Madame Pinchbeck, a mysterious travelling medium. But it’s a trick – Pinchbeck has captured Leander’s spirit inside a magical cabinet, and along with two other stolen children, he’s forced to perform as a ghost in her eerie show. The three children must outwit Pinchbeck and find a way to break her spell before one of them disappears forever.
Your story has some scary moments and there’s a genuine sense of jeopardy and darkness. Where did the idea for the story come from?
A lot of the inspiration came from reading about superstition and folklore. I was really interested in the way the Victorians were hooked on ghosts and ghost stories, while at the same time they were moving towards a more scientific view of the world. It seemed like a really interesting contradiction, and I fell down a research rabbit hole.
Did you enjoy spine-chilling books as a child? Why do you think there’s such appeal in that kind of story?
Yes, very much so. In many ways I was a bit of a wimpy kid – I was shy and not much of a daredevil – so reading these scary tales was a safe way for me to feel brave. It’s a way to feel that thrill without ever being in any danger and that’s quite empowering.
Which do you enjoy writing more: heroes or villains?
Oooh, villains, I think! I’m a bit of a goody-two-shoes so it’s fun to invent someone who breaks all the rules and does really horrible things.
Madame Pinchbeck claims to be a psychic and holds seances for wealthy people. Is any of her activity based on real events?
Yes, the Victorians had ghost conjuring parties and they were very popular. People like Madame Pinchbeck would charge a lot of money to speak with the dead, pass messages from the other side, or even make ghosts appear. They were all frauds, of course, but their methods were actually very clever and sophisticated – a bit like going to a close-up magic show, expect the audience believed it was real.
You recently took part in the Writementor scheme. What was the most important thing you learned on the course, and did it influence the creation of The Vanishing Trick?
Writementor works by pairing up aspiring authors with more experienced ones, and it was invaluable. Honest and constructive feedback is the best gift any writer can receive. I worked with Lindsay Galvin, who wrote The Secret Deep, and she was able to help me spot weak points in the story.
It made a huge difference because in the early draft Lindsay read, Pinchbeck was a man, and more of a Fagin character. Lindsay suggested I make her a woman, and that forced me to completely re-work the character and come up with something a bit more effective and original. Thank goodness she did!
What advice would you give to first time children’s writers?
Don’t forget to have fun with it! It takes such a long time to write and edit a book, and we’re so eager to do a good job, that sometimes we forget to enjoy the process. Also, make friends with other writers. They’re a lovely bunch and you can help each other grow.
Are you working on something new?
I’m working on another magical Victorian tale – this one is about a paranoid inventor, whose machine begins predicting terrible tragedies, and a plucky stagehand named Hannah Rabbit who tries to prevent them coming true.
The Vanishing Trick is published by Simon & Schuster, 978 1 4711 9037 7, £6.99 pbk.