others to make creative choices while missing out on being creative herself. One day, something changed.

‘I had this epiphany really,’ she explains. ‘It was a weekend away with my mum and we were doing Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and there’s an exercise in there called Fantasy Lives. The idea is that you write down five lives you would have if you didn’t have the one you have now. So I did it with my mum and hers were all things like, I’d be a backing singer in a gospel band, I’d be a fairy in the woods, she did it properly [laughs] and I looked at mine and it basically said ‘writer’ five times. It was as simple as that. It was like I’d remembered what I’d always meant to do. I packed in my job, did various freelance things, managed to get onto an MA in novel writing and I was off.’

As for Emily’s future, there’s an eighth book on the horizon and beyond that it is, of course, down to Emily. Kessler had once firmly intended to finish the series at book five but ‘I think, if there’s an appetite for these stories and I enjoy writing them and my publisher wants to keep publishing them then I am fine with that,’ she now says. ‘I hope that if it comes to a point where I’ve run out of ideas and no one wants to read them any more then I’ll realise that and stop doing them but if that doesn’t happen then I’m having fun with them and, hopefully, Emily is as well.’

The Emily Windsnap books, including the forthcoming story Emily Windsnap and the Falls of the Forgotten Island (978-1510102323), are published by Orion Children’s Books.

Communication and building bridges between communities is also a concern for Kessler and one that she highlights in Emily Windsnap and the Falls of Forgotten Island. She explains that, in a world of Brexit and Trump, in which communities are becoming increasingly fragmented and hostile to each other, she wanted to show that, if you can break down assumptions and stereotypes about other people, you can discover that, underneath, we have more in common than separates us.

This took on an added poignancy towards the end of the copyediting process in May 2017 when the Manchester arena was bombed with children the same age as Kessler’s readership targeted. In a heartfelt dedication that mentions the terrorist attack, Kessler affirms her belief that the next generation has the power to overcome differences and spread love, kindness and empathy. It ‘felt like a tiny platform to say a tiny thing, so I did’, says Kessler.

Whatever the setting of the books and whatever the underlying themes, one element stays constant – friendship. Kessler is superb at pinpointing the intensity of the relationships between girls and the strong bonds of loyalty they hold. Never more so than in Falls of Forgotten Island where Emily, on holiday with both Aaron, her boyfriend, and Shona, her best friend, constantly struggles to give fair attention to each and is deeply concerned that Shona does not feel left out.

‘I think Emily is a twelve-year-old, now thirteen-year-old, feminist,’ says Kessler. ‘I like to think of her instilling ideas of female loyalty in readers. It doesn’t mean that she doesn’t care about her boyfriend but, even in this fictional world, there’s a recognition that friendships are possibly more permanent than a boyfriend. What’s most essential about Emily is her strong desire for justice, speaking out and being true to herself and looking after her friends. Those things are always there.’

Kessler was writing poems when she was the age of the children who read the Emily books – and she shows school groups the piece of paper from a 1976 edition of the Manchester Evening News, where her first poem was published – and took an English degree at Loughborough University, but she didn’t write seriously until she was in her early 30s. She tried teaching and journalism, then teaching English and media studies in a sixth form, but felt she was helping

Michelle Pauli is a freelance writer and editor specialising in books and education. She created and edited the Guardian children’s books site.

Books for Keeps No.228 January 2018 11

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