Tamsin Winter Guest Post – Jemima Small Versus the Universe

Jemima Small is funny and smart. She knows a lot of things. Like the fact that she's made of 206 bones, over 600 muscles and trillions of cells.

What she doesn't know is how that can be true and yet she can still sometimes feel like nothing... Or how being made to join the school's "special" healthy lifestyle group - aka Fat Club - could feel any less special.

But Jemima also knows that the biggest stars in the universe are the brightest. And maybe it's her time to shine...

Jemima Small Versus the Universe is a fabulously powerful story of body-positivity and self-confidence. It celebrates the power of positive representation and role models, and the importance of being yourself. Jemima is a fantastic character with a funny and accessible voice. Witty and fun but also painfully honest, this book is perfect for fans of Cath Howe and Catherine Wilkins. It's perfectly suited to year 6 and above and would make a fantastic summer holiday read. We adore it and want to share it with all our customers.

We asked Jemima author Tamsin Winter to tell us a bit more about the book, why she wrote it and what she hopes it will bring to its readers.

Over to Tamsin...

I came up with the idea for Jemima Small Versus the Universe after reading an article about a girl who’d been sent a letter from her school telling her she was overweight. For days afterwards, I couldn’t get the article out of my head. She was an eleven-year-old girl, getting a letter saying that her body wasn’t okay. And worse of all, that letter came from her school. I imagined how that girl must have felt, and how I would have felt getting a letter like that at her age.

It was a time when my body was starting to change in so many ways; a time I began to feel those uncomfortable prickles of self-consciousness on my skin. A time I already had blisters from wearing shoes that were too small because I was worried my feet looked too big. And before I knew it, I had started writing Jemima’s story.

Jemima Small was bold and smart and funny from the very beginning. She is awesome in a million different ways. But because of how she’s treated for her size, she feels like she can’t measure up. Jemima’s hasn’t been an easy story to write. A lot of the research I did meant I had to read about body-shaming, of the sad statistics about how negatively many girls perceive their bodies, about the bullying that young people face because their bodies aren’t exactly the same as other people’s.

I thought about the many films I watched and books I read when I was younger about a fat or ugly or plain character undergoing some kind of dramatic transformation and finally being accepted. And the books and films that poked fun at people because of their size. I wanted Jemima’s story to be one of transformation – but not a physical one.

In Jemima Small Versus the Universe, Jemima begins by wishing she could be invisible. And by dropping out of auditioning for her favourite TV quiz show because she thinks no one wants to see her on TV. But eventually, she learns to like who she sees in the mirror, without changing a thing. Okay, she dyes her hair seven shades of neon at one point, but nothing apart from that!

Being able to look in the mirror and appreciate your body for the extraordinary elements and energy it holds, to look yourself in the eye and say, “My body is unique and precious and powerful,” to feel your heart beat in your chest, as it will approximately 2.5 billion times in your lifetime, like a warrior, to hold your head high and decide not to be invisible - well, that’s what I hope readers get from this book.

Tamsin Winter

Thank you, Tamsin, for sharing your thoughts with us. We can't wait to share Jemima Small Versus the Universe with the world.

You can order your copy through our online shop here.

You can follow Tamsin on twitter here.

Jemima Small Versus the Universe – Q&A with Tamsin Winter

Jemima Small is funny and super smart. She knows a lot of things. Like the fact that she’s made of 206 bones, over 600 muscles and trillions of cells. What she doesn’t know is how that can be true and yet she can still feel like nothing… or how being made to join the school’s “special” healthy lifestyle group – A.K.A Fat Club – could feel any less special, and make her question her dream of applying for her favourite TV quiz show. But she also knows that the biggest stars in the universe are the brightest. And maybe it’s her time to shine…
A brilliantly funny and touching new novel exploring bullying, body confidence and, most importantly, learning how to be happy with who you are.

We love this brilliantly accessible book about the power of positive representation and role models. Witty and fun but also painfully honest, it will appeal to fans of Jacqueline Wilson and Cathy Howe.

We asked our young reviewer, Mollie (10), to give us her verdict and to pose some questions for Tamsin Winter. Read on to see what they both have to say about this stunner.

MOLLIE’S REVIEW

Great read, really makes you feel empowered, sad, inspired, angry and happy all at the same time. It feels so real, like you’re actually talking to Jemima about her experience. It’s so wrong, sad and sort of makes you angry body shaming is happening to beautiful, lovely people. If you read this book you will realise just how wrong and horrible it is to body shame or be body shamed. I would recommend this book to confident readers from the age of 9 and I think you would definitely enjoy it if you have been bullied, are being bullied or just like a good read with wonderful descriptions. You might like it if you like the Girl Online books. Overall it is a fantastic read! – Mollie aged 10

WELCOME TO OUR BLOG, TAMSIN

THANK YOU MOLLIE FOR THIS AMAZING REVIEW! ☺ ☺ ☺

M: What was your main inspiration for Jemima Small Versus the Universe?

T: I’d read a newspaper article about a girl who received a letter from her school telling her she was overweight, and it really stayed with me. The article was written very much from the mother’s perspective – about how outraged she was (quite rightly, in my opinion). But there wasn’t really anything about how the girl felt. I can remember that feeling of awkwardness and self-consciousness about my body that sort of hit me aged 9 or 10, and wishing I could look like someone else. I guess I wanted to write a story about a girl who experiences that kind of feeling. But who is definitely a lot smarter than I was. 

M: Are there any characters you feel you connect with?

T: The story is written from Jemima’s perspective, so naturally I feel very connected to her. Anytime she is laughing or crying in the book, you can be sure that’s exactly what I was doing while I was writing it. She made me rock with laughter, and made me shed enormous tears of sadness. Writing the final chapters was a strange mixture of emotions, because I felt so proud of her, but I was sad to be letting her go. My other favourite characters are Jemima’s auntie Luna and her “Fat Club” teacher, Gina, although in very different ways. Luna’s belief in connecting with the universe is something I believe in myself. Gina’s relentless smiling and enthusiasm always lifted my spirits when I was having a tough writing day. As did Miki’s practical jokes! 

M: What was your favourite part of writing your book?

T: I have to say the ending! It was tough getting Jemima through some of the difficult scenes, particularly when she was treated cruelly by people at school, and strangers. The scenes where she is missing her mum, who left when Jemima was six, were exceptionally heartbreaking to write. So, writing those final few chapters were a joy. There’s also a scene on a cliff top between Jemima and her brother Jasper which felt like the writing equivalent of a hug. I am rather fond of Jasper, despite his ferocious showing off.

M: Have you got any writing tips for kids like me who want to be writers?

T: Don’t give up! That’s the main one. Keep practising. No piece of writing is a failure. It is a step towards getting better and finding your own style. Don’t try to write like anyone else because no one can write like you. And read lots of books, obviously.

M: How do you make up your characters?

T: My characters kind of appear inside my head and then never leave. It’s an odd feeling sometimes, because they feel so real it’s like poking your head into someone else’s life. I do a lot of character profiling, and for the main characters I always write a little timeline of their life, whether or not it will be referenced in the book. It was a lot of fun to do this for the Small family, as they have so many weird and wonderful members, like Jemima’s great-great auntie Lilian. By the time I’m editing the book, the characters don’t feel made up any more.

M: How do you make your characters, situations and their world so realistic and convincing?

T: I draw maps of all the locations in my books, including a floor plan of the houses and the school. I sketched the wooden cabin Auntie Luna lives in, even down to the fairy lights and where the trees are in the garden! Imagining the characters as real people, and the places they inhabit as real places is a really important part of the writing process for me. I am also exceptionally forgetful, so it helps me remember where on earth they are supposed to be! I also do a lot of research. I interview people, read articles, blogs, books. Jasper’s magic tricks are based on magicians I’d watched on YouTube. There’s one line Jemima says about Jasper’s pet tarantula and I tracked down a pest controller to answer my very-much hypothetical question! Little details like that matter, even in a fictional world. If it doesn’t feel real to me, it won’t feel real to my readers. 

M: Is there a place where you like to go to come up with ideas and write?

T: I’d like to say there is a beautiful lake or something that I sit by and ideas appear like clouds, but it doesn’t work like that for me. I always have lots of ideas buzzing around in my head, lots of lines, fragments of conversations, so the notes page in my phone is always full, because it tends to be very late at night when I am supposed to be asleep. If I’m struggling with writing a scene, I usually head to a forest for a walk. It usually brings me some kind of inspiration or comfort. I also just love walking in wellies.

BookNook: And the killer question that we ask everyone who does a guest piece with us at The Book Nook…Wow us with something we didn’t already know…

T: I used to be afraid of the sea when I was little, mainly because my big sister would shout “SHARK!” as a joke whenever we were swimming in it. I couldn’t even bear to dip my toes in the sea. Weirdly, learning to scuba dive got me over my sea phobia. A few summers’ ago, when I was travelling across Indonesia, I took a boat trip and went scuba diving.  Just as I’d put my mask in the water, I spotted a tiger shark. It must have been five metres long. It was an exhilarating experience. Probably my favourite scuba diving memory. But for a moment, I was transported back to my childhood and my sister’s voice yelling dramatically: “SHARK!” and then laughing as I swam for my life towards the pebble beach. As Jemima Small Versus the Universe is set by the sea, I had to sneak in a reference to it! 

Thank you to Tamsin and Mollie for a fab review and Q&A. Coming soon we have a guest post from Tamsin Winter about body image and positivity. Watch this space!

You can get your copy from our online shop here.

Q&A with Louie Stowell – author of The Dragon in the Library (WARNING – includes poo and a weird space dust-eating creature)

Q&A WITH LOUIE STOWELL - AUTHOR OF THE DRAGON IN THE LIBRARY (WARNING - INCLUDES POO AND A WEIRD SPACE DUST-EATING CREATURE)

The Dragon in the Library is a fun, fast paced adventure, filled with magic and kids saving the world. We asked author Louie Stowell to answer our burning questions...

Q:  What are your top tips for budding authors learning to write funny books?

A:  Think about what makes YOU laugh. The more fun you have while you’re writing something, the more other people will find it funny. Also, here are a few simple tips for writing humour:

1) Characters who don’t realise they’re doing something (this is called lack of self-knowledge), especially very pompous characters. Make them do really silly things while insisting that they are serious people who should be taken VERY seriously. This works especially well with adult characters.

2) Read a lot of funny books. The funny will seep into your blood without you noticing. Funny is infectious. You can also, if you’re hardcore, study funny books. When you laugh, think… what did the writer do that made me laugh?

3) Poo. See also farts, burps, wee, vomit.

Q: What is your best tip for kids who are struggling with reading (if a dragon isn’t available)

A: Comics! I have always loved comics, and I think they’re for everyone, from the biggest bookworms to people who’d rather be doing almost anything else except read. It’s a different type of storytelling, and it hooks into a different bit of your brain somehow. Whether you like stories about everyday life or ones about superheroes, there are so many amazing comics out there to discover. Always happy to give recommendations! I’m a big fan of The Phoenix, a weekly comic, but also book series like Amulet – a magical adventure involving giant robots.

Q: What is your fave dragon fact?

A: I love that dragons turn up in mythology all over the world and that, in some countries, such as China, they’re seen as the good guys. I’m Team Dragon, so I appreciate that.

Q: And now.. the killer question... Wow us with something we didn’t already know...

A: Tardigrades - also known as water bears or moss piglets - are microscopic (aka very tiny) creatures that can survive almost anything. They’re so tough they could survive in outer space, or in a volcano. They’re also adorable. Look!

Tardigrades. Adorable? Space monster? Evil clawed dust-burrower? What do you think?

Huge thanks to Louie for sharing her answers and freaking us all out with tardigrades! You can follow Louie on twitter here.

You can grab your copy of The Dragon in the Library from our online shop here!

The Dragon in the Library – sneak peek and Q&A with Louie Stowell

Kit can’t STAND reading! She’d MUCH rather be outside, playing games and getting muddy, than stuck inside with a book. But when she’s dragged along to the library one day by her two best friends, she makes an incredible discovery – and soon it’s up to Kit and her friends to save the library … and the world.

The Dragon in the Library is a fun, fast-paced adventure packed with mild peril and magic. It’s also a brilliant celebration of the power of reading and the special role that libraries play in the world. With tons of lively illustrations by David Ortu and a wonderfully diverse cast of characters, this book will appeal to newly confident readers. Perfect for Key Stage 1 and lower KS2, here’s a sneak peek inside…

Louie Stowell has kindly answered some of our burning questions…

Q:  What are your top tips for budding authors learning to write funny books?

A:  Think about what makes YOU laugh. The more fun you have while you’re writing something, the more other people will find it funny. Also, here are a few simple tips for writing humour:

1) Characters who don’t realise they’re doing something (this is called lack of self-knowledge), especially very pompous characters. Make them do really silly things while insisting that they are serious people who should be taken VERY seriously. This works especially well with adult characters.

2) Read a lot of funny books. The funny will seep into your blood without you noticing. Funny is infectious. You can also, if you’re hardcore, study funny books. When you laugh, think… what did the writer do that made me laugh?

3) Poo. See also farts, burps, wee, vomit.

Q: What is your best tip for kids who are struggling with reading (if a dragon isn’t available)

A: Comics! I have always loved comics, and I think they’re for everyone, from the biggest bookworms to people who’d rather be doing almost anything else except read. It’s a different type of storytelling, and it hooks into a different bit of your brain somehow. Whether you like stories about everyday life or ones about superheroes, there are so many amazing comics out there to discover. Always happy to give recommendations! I’m a big fan of The Phoenix, a weekly comic, but also book series like Amulet – a magical adventure involving giant robots.

Q: What is your fave dragon fact?

A: I love that dragons turn up in mythology all over the world and that, in some countries, such as China, they’re seen as the good guys. I’m Team Dragon, so I appreciate that.

Q: And now.. the killer question… Wow us with something we didn’t already know…

A: Tardigrades – also known as water bears or moss piglets – are microscopic (aka very tiny) creatures that can survive almost anything. They’re so tough they could survive in outer space, or in a volcano. They’re also adorable. Look!

Tardigrades. Adorable? Space monster? Evil clawed dust-burrower? What do you think?

Huge thanks to Louie for sharing her answers and freaking us all out with tardigrades! You can follow Louie on twitter here.

You can grab your copy of The Dragon in the Library from our online shop here!