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.

Book review- Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet

Welcome, readers, to the imaginative brain of Omar! You might not know me yet, but once you open the pages of this book you’ll laugh so hard that snot will come out of your nose (plus you might meet a dragon and a zombie – what more could you want?).

My parents decided it would be a good idea to move house AND move me to a new school at the same time.

As if I didn’t have a hard enough time staying out of trouble at home, now I’ve also got to try and make new friends. What’s worse, the class bully seems to think I’m the perfect target. At least Eid’s around the corner which means a feast (YAY) and presents (DOUBLE YAY). Well, as long as I can stay in Mum and Dad’s good books long enough…

Previously published as ‘THE MUSLIMS’, this was the winner of the Little Rebels Award in June 2018. The text has been revised, expanded with new scenes and re-illustrated.

We LOVE this Tom Gates- style book for younger readers. Perfect for 7+ and full of fun, it’s also beautifully diverse and gives a great insight into Muslim culture, promoting empathy and understanding. Brilliant for school book corners and fab for fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid.