Author Interview: Lucy McRobert

We were thrilled to feature the first in Lucy McRobert's new middle grade series Blue's Planet in our subscription box for confident readers recently. Lucy is a storyteller, writer and communicator who has been working in UK wildlife conservation since she was 21-years-old. She has been a columnist for Birdwatch and written for several magazines including BBC WildlifeBritish Birds and the junior magazines for both the RSPB and The Wildlife Trust. Lucy is also a Marine Mammal Medic, meaning that she is trained to rescue seals, whales and dolphins! We are very excited to have had the opportunity to ask her a few questions; here's what she shared with us:

Do you have a favourite genre to read?

I don't have a favourite genre, but I do have favourite books that I go back to time and time again. Particularly as I'm falling asleep, I like to read fiction that I've read before - it sounds clichéd, but Jane Austen is a firm favourite (it used to be Pride and Prejudice, but I've switched more on to Emma and Persuasion now). I also love the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams, which I loved since I was about twelve years old. I must have read this series over 30 times. If I am reading non-fiction, it's always nature-based, although I do enjoy psychology, too - understanding animals, environments and people.

Did you have any favourite books or authors when you were a child?

My favourite books when I was really young were Dick King Smith's Sophie series; I related so much to a scruffy ragamuffin child who loved animals. I loved how relatively mundane activities were so comforting and exciting to a young child. I still remember reading about Sophie collecting a snail that she called Buttercup. I recently re-read the last book and didn't realise how emotional it was - I cried! As I got older I fell in love with HIs Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, and these are still in my top ten books. Again, I actually now find them too emotional to read now if I'm not in the mood. I loved The Wind Singer series by William Nicholson and the Sabriel series by Garth Nix. Anything slightly magical. The Worst Witch and so on, or Artemis Fowl. I still own the same books I did as a child, and they're still in a bookcase right next to my bed. 

Did you always wish to be a writer?

Yes! You know those awful questions that your teacher asks you about 'what do you want to be when you grow up?', and you're meant to say 'teacher,' 'doctor,' 'vet', and so on, the only answer I could give was 'author'. I'm 33 and I'm still not sure what I'm going to be when I eventually grow up, but being an author and writer will always be a part of my life. I decided when I was in my early twenties that I wanted to publish my first book before I turned 30, and I managed it at 28 (365 Days Wild, Harper Collins, 2018)!

What do you think are the challenges and opportunities posed by social media for young people today?

When I grew up, not all that long ago, we didn't have social media. We weren't so constantly exposed to advertising, ideas, pop culture, celebrity culture and so on. I think that social media can be a very dangerous place for young people if not handled correctly, but it also has the potential to be a huge force for good. When I grew up, there weren't a lot of kids at my school who loved nature, so I stopped loving nature for a while, too. This makes me so sad. Maybe if I'd been able to meet likeminded young people online, I could have cultivated that passion more and I wouldn't have been so easily talked out of my love for wildlife. I hugely admire young people who have used social media for good, people like Greta Thunberg, but equally I think it puts a huge pressure on young people and we need to be aware of that. In designing a social media platform ('NatterJack') for Blue's Planet, I wanted to design the kind of social media platform that I would like to be on. Even the name, NatterJack, is taken from a lovely toad!

Conservation and protection of our environment and wildlife is an important topic in Blue's Planet. What is the one key action you would recommend young people take to help?

That's so tricky as there are so many things, but the first thing I would say would be to educate yourself. It's all very well saying I'm going to go vegan, going to give up plastic, going to not drive a car, going to not have children when I'm older (all of which in themselves are pro-environment choices), but they put a huge amount of pressure on young people and can contribute to ecoanxiety if they're not well thought through. However, if you understand environmental issues, and you understand the issues that matter to you, you can make your own informed choices that work with your lifestyle, and that way you'll be able to keep them up. There is still a huge culture of selling and advertising in the Western World and that seems to be getting more forceful with social media. Again, understanding environmental issues will help you make good decisions for the planet, whether that's using animal-friendly cosmetics, reducing plastic consumption, eating less meat and so on. The last thing I want to do is add to a culture of pressure that could lead to further anxiety amongst young people. They've got so much to worry about already, it's up to adults to make better choices for their kids' futures, too.

Is there a character in Blue's Planet that you relate to most?

I think Blue is the kind of girl I would like to be: she's brave, thoughtful, curious, and stands up for what she thinks is right. Always. In some ways I am like her. When I was a kid I had insecurities in bucketloads (I still do!). I wasn't one of the popular kids (I'm still not!). The big difference between Blue and I is that she is courageous enough to do what's right regardless of what people think, whereas I preferred to hang back in the shadows at times. Perhaps I'm just a touch too sensible. She stands up for herself and for wildlife without question. I hope she can be a role model. 

Did you need to do a lot of research for this book?

Oh yes, I spent six months researching the book and just six days writing it (well, the first draft anyway. There was a year of editing to follow)! It involved talking with people in Australia who saw the wildfires firsthand, researching the charities and organisations that were on the forefront, researching Australian ecology and wildlife. The editor and I were thorough, even watching lots of videos of bushfires.

Which was the most challenging part of the book to write?

I always find the beginning and end of a book or an article the hardest bit to write. Getting the story going and rounding it up are so hard, and those bits required a huge amount of work with my editor. It's important to introduce your characters carefully, to set a scene, to find a pace and tone. Once you've settled in, I find it becomes much easier. 

If you could visit any country, where would you choose and why?

There are so many places I want to visit in the world. My boyfriend was a tour guide for a wildlife tour company for 17 years, and he tells me the most wonderful stories that make me want to drop everything and travel the world. Canada and California are high on the list (kayaking with orca and watching sea otters? Yes please!), along with large parts of Australia (I've visited Western Australia once). I love islands and watching whales and dolphins and birds, so anywhere where I can do that. I want to show my daughter some amazing places. I'd love to visit India, the Caribbean, Hawai'i. There are huge parts of Africa that I'd like to explore. It's so hard to pick just one, not to mention that there are amazing places for wildlife on our doorstep, too.

Do you have any exciting projects ahead? Will we meet Blue again?

We will meet Blue again, in early summer next year (2025)! I can't say where she's going next (my editor will shout at me!) but I can say that we're going from a land of fire to a land of water, rushing rivers and wonderful rainforests. I can't wait to share her next adventures. 

You can follow Lucy on Instagram or Twitter!  @LucyMcRobert1 / @WildlyLucy

Author Interview: Lucy McRobert
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