Authorgraph No.240

Ross MacKenzie Interviewed by Jane Sandell

You might have thought that with a new book about to hit the shelves, Ross MacKenzie would be taking it easy and enjoying the anticipation. But he is already editing the sequel, something readers of Evernight will be very glad to hear. Inspired by Victorian London and his love of Dickens’ novels, Ross created the world of Evernight after reading London Labour and the London Poor by Henry Mayhew, a contemporary of Charles Dickens. Mayhew’s book, Ross says, fleshed out Dickens’ world for him and it was in it that he came across a description of a ‘tosher’ and decided he had to write about one.

I n fact, two of the main characters in

Evernight are toshers, that is people who scour the underground sewers for valuables to sell on. They are amongst the poorest and least considered in a society firmly

segregated by class. So far, so recognisable. But this is not Victorian London; it is King’s Haven in the Silver Kingdom, infiltrated long ago, after a witches’ schism, by Mrs Hester and still ruled by her and her witchcraft.

Ross is no stranger to creating alternative worlds. His first book, Zac and the Dream Pirates, plunged his hero into a perturbing land on the other side of sleep, peopled by vampires, werewolves and other creatures who try to rob him of sleep. From there he moved on to The Nowhere Emporium, about a mysterious shop that appears without warning and lures customers into its vast labyrinth of departments. Both of these books won the Scottish Children’s Book Award, a huge excitement for their author and their small publishers. But something even bigger was lurking around the corner.

To say that Ross was flabbergasted when he heard that The Nowhere Emporium had been shortlisted for the Blue Peter Book Award would be to massively understate the case. There he was in the company of Frank Cottrell Boyce and Lara Williams waiting to see if 200 children would judge his book to be the best. A few months later, in a hotel room in Aberdeen, he received a text from Suzanne Kennedy, his editor at Edinburgh-based Floris Books, asking, ‘Are you sitting down?’ He was, but not for long as the news that he had won the Blue Peter Book Award set him jumping around the room. He is clearly still excited by the memory of being given the award by the then Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell live on Blue Peter; and, of course, he cherishes his Blue Peter badge!

It might have all been so different had it not been for his wife Aileen. She made a deal with him: she’d buy him a new laptop for Christmas if he would promise to finish a book and send it to a

10 Books for Keeps No.240 January 2020

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