We were very excited to feature Judith Eagle's gripping mystery book The Secret Starling in our subscription box for confident readers recently. As well as writing fabulous middle grade fiction (her book The Stolen Songbird has just been announced as a Yoto Carnegie nominee), Judith has worked as a fashion editor, a features writer and a school librarian! We are thrilled to have had the opportunity to ask her a few questions; here's what she shared with us:
We really liked the 1970s setting of The Secret Starling. Your books have
been set in a number of different settings, in terms of both location and
time. Do you have a favourite?
Setting is really important to me, it’s how I get started and it helps to drive both
story and plot. I wanted to create a Jane Eyre/Secret Garden type vibe in The
Secret Starling, complete with windswept moors, gothic manor house and long-
buried secret. Moving the action into the 1970's just felt right - I grew up in the
70's and was keen to bring that era to the page. I also wanted to celebrate the
wildness of childhood. Setting it in the past allowed Clara and Peter to roam
free and be fairly autonomous. As to a favourite setting, I think I'd have to
choose 1950's London, where my latest book The Stolen Songbird is set. I loved
doing the research, looking at old photographs and watching old films - so much
so that when I was writing it, I imagined everything in black and white!
How did you conduct any research that you needed to undertake for the
I re-read a lot of my childhood favourites, because like Clara, I adored anything
that featured plucky orphans, wicked matrons, terribly cruel boarding schools
and dreadful workhouses. I also dipped into Bolshoi Confidential: Secrets of the
Russian Ballet by Simon Morrison. The ballet world has long been full of
gossip and intrigue, and reading that book reassured me that the ballet aspect of
my plot wasn't too outrageous!
The Secret Starling features two quite sinister villains, did you enjoy
creating them and their back story?
Yes! I think back stories are so important, even if they don't find their way onto
the page. A villain who is not all bad is a far more interesting proposition than
one who is bad through and through, and much more true to life.
What do you find the most difficult thing about writing a novel with a
mystery at its heart?
I find plotting very difficult! When I start writing, I never know where the story
is going to take me, which can lead to all sorts of feelings of doubt and
inadequacy. I have to remind myself constantly to keep writing, because that is
the only way that things will become clear. Also, knowing when to drip feed
pieces of information without giving too much away can be a challenge. It's
about not making things too obvious, but also making sure the reader can look
back and say 'oh yes!'
What do you find the most exciting part about writing a mystery novel?
The last couple of chapters when everything is coming together, and you can
almost hear the swell of an orchestra in your head!
Do you have a favourite mystery book of your own?
I love books with twisty turny plots and unexpected moments. It's very hard to
think of a favourite (there are so many I admire) but there is a book for grown-
ups called Fingersmith by Sarah Waters which has the best twist EVER,
impossible to read without gasping aloud. My mission is to always have a gasp
aloud moment in my books!
Have you read any middle grade books recently that you would instantly
I just read Foxlight by Katya Balen - I love Katya's writing and all her brilliant
books which are full of trouble, heart and hope. I am really looking forward to
reading A Drop of Golden Sun by the late Kate Saunders. It’ll be out next
Spring and is about a girl called Jenny who is whisked off to Hollywood in
1973 - my childhood dream!
What is usually your favourite genre to read?
I would never commit to a genre. I just love to read, full stop.
Aside from writing, what are your other hobbies or favourite pastimes?
I am a wannabe tap dancer. I never seem to make much progress, but it is great
fun! I like sewing and embroidery, and am slowly making a quilt inspired by
Japenese sashiko. I like picnics, walks, museums and going to the cinema. In
the evening, I like to curl up in a chair with my cat Stockwell on my lap and
read a good book or watch a gripping drama on TV.
Do you find it easy or difficult to choose character names? Were Peter and
Clara inspired by anyone?
Naming characters is the easiest part! They do tend to just pop into my head.
The balletomane in Peter and the reader in Clara contain a little bit of 11 year
old me. The Peter who plays knock down ginger and cracks his boiled egg on
his head contains a little bit of my husband when he was young!
Do you have any exciting projects that you are currently working on?
Yes! I am in the middle of editing a book called The Great Theatre Rescue. Set
in 1930's Soho, it is the tale of a foundling, a tap dancer, and a theatre in peril. It will be out in Spring 2025.