Dear Author...

Ela Griffiths, aged 10, from Wales puts some questions to Derek Webb

What gave you an idea for the book?

I had the idea originally that it would be interesting if a famous inventor came back from the past and saw what had happened to his inventions today and how things had changed. I've always admired Brunel and somehow the idea of Brunel being reborn came about. It went on from there, but of course the story is more about Isabel than Isambard. Sometimes you set off thinking you're going to write about one thing and you end up writing about something completely different!

What is your favourite part in the book?

I think it has to be when Isabel confronts Mr Phillips about the SS Great Eastern, when she assumes the role of a Victorian adult in the way she addresses her teacher – Isabel's use of the word 'Sir' for example gives her speech a very Victorian feel. And Isn't it every schoolchild's dream – to know more than the teachers, and he able to tell them they don't know what they're talking about? 

Who your favourite character in the book?

In some way or other I like all the characters. And I'm very fond of Is and Robert. But I do have a soft spot for poor Kevin Ryder.

(if you have a favourite) why do you like that character so much?

Kevin is so funny, without meaning to be. And all his little scams that come to nothing give him a life beyond the book somehow. There's something about him that is both pathetic and loveable and he just seems so real.

Why did the girl think she was Isambard Kingdom?

Oh, the million dollar question! No idea, but I expect that it might be something to do with Isabel's dad having died that started it. Perhaps she read a lot about Isambard Kingdom Brunel and was struck with the coincidence that he died exactly 100 years to the day she was born. Having said which, Is does seem to know an awful lot about engineering and Brunel and there are things like her handwriting that changes to a very adult hand on occasions. So who's to say she isn't actually Isambard reborn?

Where  is your favourite place to write?

I have an office which is built on to the side of the house, so I can sit and look out at the garden. It's very peaceful and conducive to writing. But I have written in many places, because there is no telling when you might get the inspiration, and sometimes you need to be in a particular situation to absorb the atmosphere and put you in the right mood. I am writing a detective novel at the moment which is set in Devon and I intend spending a week or so down there later this year for that very reason. And the children's book after next is set in a derelict theatre, so that will be challenging!

What is your favourite child child book?

It has to be Wind in the Willows. Firstly because Toad is such a wonderful, pompous character who I adore. But I think because everyone can recognise people they know in all the characters, so it actually says a lot about life – and despite the fact that it was written just over 100 years ago, still feels remarkably modern. I also think Michael Morpurgo is excellent and I love books like Why the Whales Came.

Tell me 5 funny facts about yourself?

I would like to live on a small island.

I hate Marmite.

I love cockles.

We have a cat called 'Furry' because he is. Very.

I have huge ears, green hair and 12 toes.

PS the last 'fact' isn't true


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