BookSmart – Interview with Sally Gardner

Posted: 17th June 2021

We are back with another instalment of our book club video series; BookSmart. We have enjoyed producing the previous episodes so much, each with an exclusive interview with a variety of YA authors. In our first episode we chatted with Sara Barnard, then we had a chance to interview Patrice Lawrence who gives us an insight into her music taste and some audiobooks she listened to over the lockdown period, and in our last episode Sophie McKenzie, author of Girl, Missing, joined us and gave us some cooking tips! 


On this episode of BookSmart the girls had the opportunity of interviewing YA author Sally Gardener. She is a multi-award winning novelist, selling over 2 million copies of her books. Sally was born in Birmingham but grew up in London. She worked as a set designer in theatre for 15 years before moving on to writing. Even with dyslexia, Sally managed to flourish in the writing world and prove her bullies wrong by coming out on top. We found out more about her life in her interview.

Make sure you leave a comment on the video using #BookSmart so you can be in with a chance of winning a signed copy of one of Sally’s books. It was so great to meet Sally, be sure to follow her on Twitter: @TheSallyGardner. Below is the video and then a transcript of the interview, followed by a selection of Sally’s books and some books our girls recommend. 


Amelie/Madison: Hello I’m Amelie and I’m Madison

Amelie: and welcome to this month’s episode of BookSmart

Madison: This month we’re going to be interviewing Sally Gardner.

Amelie: She’s won both the Costa Children’s Book Award and the Carnegie Medal for Maggot Moon, which is a fantastic Dystopian novel if you haven’t read it yet.

Madison: And remember, if you want the chance to win a book, then please leave the hashtag BookSmart in the video.

Amelie: Let’s roll the interview.

Madison: Hello

Amelie: Nice to meet you, how are you?

Sally: Nice to meet you. I’m rising you up so you’re higher.

Amelie: So we’ve got a couple of questions for you today. First question for you is in 3 words how would you describe yourself?

Sally: I don’t know.

Amelie/Madison: It’s a hard one actually.

Madison: I don’t think I could think of one for myself.

Sally: Are you twins?

Amelie/Madison: Yes we are

Sally: I have twins

Amelie: Really!

Sally: Yes. Mine are now 37. Erm… a writer.

Amelie: Yeah

Madison: Ok. So my next question is are you more introverted or extroverted?

Sally: I think I’m a mixture of both.

Madison: Isn’t that called an ambivert? I think yeah.

Sally: Could be

Madison: Could be possibly

Amelie: Yeah, I think that’s same for most people in a way, because I think it’s depending on who you’re with sometimes. Like whether you’re an introvert or extrovert sometimes. My question is what book are you reading at the moment.

Sally: I’m reading so many books because I’m writing another story and I’m doing a lot of research. But the book I’ve loved reading recently was A Gentleman in Moscow.

Madison: So you mentioned your…the book you’re writing, could you give us more information?

Sally: It’s going to be called The Weather Woman, and it’s set in 1813, when we probably had the first climate ‘moment’ with our activity. And that was due to sea coal which we burnt. And the fog that came down over London was so thick that it began to freeze. And people recorded it as seeing coral growing off the windows, where the fog had frozen and it was speckled with black snow – what they called black snow. And it was so big that it got into the books. My character is a young girl who has a gift for telling the weather. She can just do it, and it’s a story of what you can do if you have such an extraordinary talent in an age where nothing much is expected of you.

Amelie: Yes

Madison: So ah….

Amelie: Sounds really interesting by the way.

Madison: Cos she has a gift. If you could have like a gift or power what would you have?

Sally: Well you see I think I’ve been immensely lucky, I do have a gift. I sort of feel it greedy to ask for more. I never realised I had this gift, so I feel like if I start saying I’d like another one is very unappreciative of what I’ve got. So I’m very happy.

Amelie: Yeah I like that approach, that’s very thoughtful. Yeah I like that approach. So my next question is do you have a favourite character from one of your books?

Sally: Well I love I, Coriander, and I’m very keen on one of my characters called Amaryllis Reubens, from Double Shadow. And there is Standish Tredwell, which is always close to my heart. And I’ve just written a book recently – Invisible in a Bright Light, and I very much liked Celeste, who was the main character of that. But I’ve also just finished doing the Tindems – there’s so many characters. I don’t know, I just love so many I don’t have a favourite.

Amelie: That’s good in a way, it’s quite a good thing that you like them all.

Madison: I think there’s like parts of every character, there’s aspects of them that kind of……like especially ones you like to begin with and they grow on you, that’s probably my favourite.

Amelie: Do you have any characters that are almost autobiographical in a way?

Sally: Well I think the truth is that you use everything you’ve got when you write, and really unless you want to just use yourself for one book you’re rather wasting it. I see it as…you know when you make bread, you got to put a bit of yeast in, so I put a bit of yeast – of myself into it and see what happens.

Amelie: Nice, I like that analogy.

Madison: So have any of your book characters been cos you said you put a bit of yourself into it. So have any of your characters been based on other people in your life?

Sally: Everybody. I’m merciless!

Madison: Everyone and everything.

Amelie: So my next question is – this might be quite difficult to answer, but how do you write your books. What processes do you know of go through when you’re writing a book or your idea process.

Sally: Well, when I started this out, I was, I am immensely dyslexic. So it was much harder for me. Because in those days there wasn’t much to help you. Nowadays there is Word, which has a voice recognition on it which I use. And then I have Grammerly, which I do use. I use Scrivener and I use Dragon Connect for the ipad. And then I have a thing called Remarkable, which is a pad which I write on and it’s got no internet. You can’t play a game, you can’t do anything, you just write or draw. I use that a lot to get my ideas.

Amelie: Nice

Madison: So, I was wondering just because to the people who would possibly want to become writers or anything, so do you come up with like, how do you come up with a story. Do you think in terms of chapters or do you think of an original plot and put them into chapters?

Sally: Good question. I think what I do is think of an angle. So I ask myself a question and if the question is really interesting I want the answer. I think all books are a question with an author seeking an answer. And so my story often starts with a question. Like for instance, The Door That Led to Where, the question was – what would happen if a young boy was sent back to the 1830’s, would he do better then than he does now. And that question came about because of a writer. Well I said it round the wrong way, it rather ruins the whole thing. But this chap wanted to work for The Times, and he had been to school from 5-7, from 13-15 and then nothing more, no exams nothing. And I asked this question a lot and the answer was, well he wouldn’t get a job even as a cleaner. And I thought that would be a real tragedy for English literature, because the man is Charles Dickens.

Amelie/Madison: Ah….

Sally: And that meant a lot of teachers go ‘what!’ And what I feel about writing is live, live your life, keep notebooks, keep a record of being you, and what it’s like to have a twin. And how you separate yourselves out from being twins and how you find your own identity. I think keep those books and don’t show them to each other, and then when you’re 30 or 40, start writing and remember – you make those notebooks.

Amelie: Yeah

Madison: This is a good idea. Cos a lot of books are based around like teenagers or whatever. So when you have like a diary of what you were like as a teenager, it’s easier to see into the eyes of one when you’re older perhaps.

Sally: Yeah and it’s very….The journey for you guys – sorry to go back to you guys is a really tricky one, cos you’re both very clever, you’re very worthy and you’ll most probably want to do the same thing. But I think it’s very important to find the nuances that make you you, and you!

Madison: Quite a few of your books have fairy tale qualities to them. So which one is like your favourite of them all. And why do you kind of base them off fairy tales?

Sally: Well I think fairy tales are very much to do with the soul of our being. I think they’re ancient, they are magical.

Amelie/Madison: mmm…true.

Sally: They allow the psyche to repair itself in lots of ways. They were never meant for 5 year olds, they were meant for your age, they were meant as a warning for young girls and they’re a great source of empowerment if told well. And people say to you never read Cinderella, terrible story. Actually this is a girl who gets out of a hellish situation through her own imagination. To me it’s a good feminist story.

Amelie: Yeah

Sally: I do not see it as a story of feminist submission. The only person who’s pathetic and weak in it is the prince.

Amelie: Yeah

Sally: The girl is amazing, and she may well dance her way out of that place and into something and into something quite incredible. So I think all this negativity towards fairy stories is not seeing them in the right context. They were told by old women to young girls to talk about incest, to talk about things they couldn’t actually word, and they get passed on. Cinderella, it starts in China way before the bible is ever written. It starts travelling up the Silk Road, and as it gets nearer and nearer to Europe, it develops a more European way of being told. And it has a beginning that no 5 year old and not even your age should hear the beginning of.

Madison: Wow! I mean if you think about it, there’s quite a lot of Disney films like Snow White and erm…

Sally: The only one he did that was true to the book.

Madison: Oh what’s it called – Sleeping Beauty as well and they all have very questionable themes to them really.
Amelie: Especially if you read the original stories, they’re not quite the Disney adaptations of them. Like some of them have much darker and sinister twists in them than Disney films might portray.

Sally: The problem was it starts with the Grimms, because the Grimm brothers were Calvinists, they were religious. And people got a little frightened about telling them about fairy stories, so there was a lot of make the fairy queen into Mother Mary. So when you read the stories, I’d advise the minute you get to Mother Mary, just forget it. Put the fairy queen in and it makes much more sense.

Amelie: What would you say is your favourite fairy tale?

Sally: I love a writer called Angela Carter that I’m sure you’ll come across. And I think one of my favourites is Beauty and the Beast, I love that story.
Madison: It is a tale as old as time – sorry for that awful pun

Sally: No that’s fine.

Amelie: Ok, so on my next question, I’d like to ask you how long an average does it take for you to write a book?

Sally: I’m so slow at the moment, I’m struggling to write this one so, as long as it’s going to take.

Madison: Has lockdown affected your writing?

Sally: I have written 5 books in lockdown.

Amelie/Madison: Wow!

Sally: So if anything I think I’ve slightly worked myself – exhausted.

Amelie: So does the period WW2 partially interest you or I think history in general?

Sally: I think yes, I’m interested in history. I wrote Maggot Moon after I’d written Double Shadow and really Double Shadow was a little ahead of its time and no one wanted to deal with rape in a book. In a way it would have been better if someone would have said just forget it, that’s a grown up book. It could have taken it to another level and while I was waiting, I went on a diet which you can tell never works on me and I was so crotchety that I wrote down I’m wondering what if, and then suddenly it went on and then Standish Tredwell stood up and said ‘hello, I’m here’. I wrote that book originally in 6 weeks.

Amelie/Madison: Wow!

Sally: And then I put it away for a year. Then I took it out again and rewrote it in 3 months and I submitted it and it was bought within 24 hours.

Amelie/Madison: Wow, that’s incredible.

Sally: It was good.

Madison: Thank you very much for answering our questions.

Sally: I’m so pleased to see you, so sorry about the beginning. I’ve got to do something about my computer.

Madison: It’s ok, it happens to all of us.

Amelie/Madison: It’s been really lovely talking to you.

Sally: Take care you two. Lots of love. Bye.

Amelie: It’s been so great finally getting to meet her, I’ve been a fan of hers for so long.



Invisible in a Bright Light 


Buy from Amazon

Paperback: £6.55

Hardcover: £9.34

Kindle Edition: FREE with kindleunlimited

Amazon Audible:  FREE with Amazon Audible



Maggot Moon


Buy from Amazon

Paperback: £6.45

Hardcover: £19.81

Kindle Edition: £3.99

Audiobook: FREE with Amazon Audible



The Double Shadow


Buy from Amazon

Paperback: £4.72

Hardcover: £7.19

Kindle Edition: £2.99

Audiobook: FREE with Amazon Audible





Buy from Amazon

Paperback: £6.55

Hardcover: £7.51

Kindle Edition: £1.99

Audiobook: FREE with Amazon Audible



View all Sally’s books here.

Our book recommendations:


Louise: Hi, my name’s Louise and I recommend you this book called Soulmates by Holly Bourne. This follows the romance between Poppy and Noah, however little do they know that their love is tearing the world apart and that they are being tracked by a secret international agency preparing to separate them. If you like romance with a touch of the supernatural, then this is definitely the book for you.


Soulmates by Holly Bourne


Buy from Amazon

Paperback: £6.55

Kindle Edition: £2.62





Melissa: Hello, my name is Melissa and I would like to recommend Hate List by Jennifer Brown. The story follows Valerie, a student, as she returns to school, 5 months after her boyfriend shot and killed several of their fellow classmates. Many of whose names she wrote down on a list, the so-called ‘hate list’. I would really recommend this book to anyone who likes crimes and thrillers because it is really gripping.


Hate List by Jennifer Brown


Buy from Amazon

Paperback: £8.35

Kindle Edition: £3.99

Audiobook: FREE with Amazon Audible




Evie: Hi I’m Evie and I’m going to recommend to you The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. It’s such a great read about a young girl named Starr who grows up in two very different worlds. The poor neighbourhood where she grew up in and her posh high school in the suburbs. I’d recommend this to anyone who is into activism and making a change in the world as it focuses on the Black Lives Matters movement and racism and discrimination against the black community in our world today. It’s such a great read and I’d highly recommend it.


The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas


Buy from Amazon

Paperback: £5.89

Kindle Edition: £5.60

Hardcover: £11.29

Audiobook: FREE with Amazon Audible