Julia and the Shark’s writers on their pandemic-driven book lauded by Waterstones

Julia and the Shark’s writers on their pandemic-driven book lauded by Waterstones

Paul Mccartney, Paul Muldoon

12/2/2021 3:10:00 PM

Julia and the Shark’s writers on their pandemic-driven book lauded by Waterstones

The novel written and illustrated by husband-and-wife duo, Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Tom de Freston, has been named children’s gift of the year by Waterstones , while Paul McCartney’s The Lyrics wins book of 2021

Photograph: Waterstones/PA‘Awed’ … Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Tom de Freston win Waterstones award.Photograph: Waterstones/PAThu 2 Dec 2021 09.35 GMTLast modified on Thu 2 Dec 2021 09.37 GMTIt was a BBC article about a 400-year-old Greenland shark which sparked Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Tom de Freston’s children’s novel Julia and the Shark, which has just won an award at

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. But it was the pandemic which drove its exploration of the fragility of a parent’s mental health.Julia and the Shark by Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Tom de FrestonPhotograph: Waterstones/PAHargrave’s novel, which is illustrated by her artist husband de Freston, tells of 10-year-old Julia, who travels with her parents to an island in the Shetlands. There for the summer, her marine biologist mother becomes obsessed with finding the elusive Greenland shark. The title was named children’s gift of the year today by Waterstones, described by head children’s buyer Florentyna Martin as “an incredible piece of storytelling” which explores “powerful topics with warmth and honesty”.

“I read about Greenland sharks when theydiscovered one that was 400 years old,” says Hargrave. “Normally with sharks, they date them by their bones, which grow rings like trees. Greenland sharks have very soft bones, so they can’t do that. The way they date them is this parasite that creates crystals in their eyes and in those crystals gets trapped light from hundreds of years ago. So the way that they age them is they date the light in their eyes. It’s so magical. I still get goosebumps – it was one of those alchemical moments you get when you’re like: ‘Oh, there’s a story’.” headtopics.com

An illustration from Julia and the Shark by Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Tom de FrestonPhotograph: Tom de Freston/Orion BooksThe pandemic, says Hargrave, then had a “huge impact” on the trajectory of the novel. “It’s a lot more of a hopeful book, and the mental health strand came very much to the fore. During the pandemic, it became so clear, especially for children, you’re navigating such a difficult situation, and you don’t have your usual support structure, and that’s quite similar to how Julia has found herself on this island without her usual support structure around her, in this very strange situation where her mum is becoming something of a stranger.”

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De Freston, whose dreamlike illustrations sit alongside Hargrave’s text, agrees. “Children pick up everything – in a way their worlds are smaller, and they know when there are things wrong at home, or when their parents are struggling. We felt like this book could be a way to say, there’s a language for these things.”

The Lyrics by Paul McCartneyPhotograph: PRHargrave won the Waterstones children’s book award for her debut novel, The Girl of Ink and Stars, in which Isabella sets out to save her friend who has vanished into a forbidden forest. “I’ve written books where the child saves the day entirely, and absolutely, a hugely important part of writing children’s literature is giving children agency, but I really wanted to say in this book that it’s not your responsibility to fix things. You don’t have to save your mum. She’s a grownup,” she says. “Often children try and take responsibility for so many aspects of their parents’ lives and their parents’ happiness, which is a lot of what this book is about. Julia tries to be a saviour. But that’s not her job. She’s a kid.”

During the writing of the book, de Freston’s studio burned down in a fire, and he created many of the illustrations using the ash and fragments of the artworks which were destroyed. “The fire destroyed 12 years of my work,” he says. “I think since, there’s been a shift in my work in general – now it’s far more full of hope and beauty within darkness. And at a really simple level, that’s what this book’s about – that even in the darkest moments, there’s always hope.” headtopics.com

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