Interview with Philippa Dowding, author of The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden

Interview with Philippa Dowding, author of The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden thumbnail

Interview with Philippa Dowding, author of The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden

Posted on January 28 by Philippa Dowding
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Today Philippa Dowding, author of The Lost Gargoyle series, sits down with me to talk about her new book The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden.

Caitlyn: Tell us about your book.

Philippa: The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden is my 4th book for middle grade readers, following the three books in the Lost Gargoyle Series. When I was looking for a story to develop a few years ago, I kept coming back to the idea of a flying girl. I must have doodled “flying girl” in the margins of my notebooks dozens of times! As a writer, that’s when you know you should just get on with it and explore the story. I had really, really vivid dreams of flying when I was about the same age as Gwendolyn, the thirteen year-old protagonist in the story. I was always fascinated with the sad story of Icarus, too. It made perfect sense to me that any sensible kid would want to fly, no matter the cost. For Gwendolyn, her new found “gift” of flight is just another of the many annoying new changes she has to figure out as she goes through puberty. Her flight is a nuisance at first, something that she wants to hide and doesn’t understand, but as she comes to embrace it, she realizes more fully who she is, and where she fits in the world. She becomes part of a community, she develops a greater sense of the nature of good and evil, plus she answers some tough questions about her missing father, a long lost friend, and the truth about her family. It’s a touching, sweet magic realism tale about a young girl on the cusp of growing up.

Caitlyn: Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?

Philippa: I really wanted to reach readers who are about 11-14 years old, those years when teenagers are struggling with puberty and change, and everything seems strange but, also possible. Those years are a gentle cusp, where a person begins to wonder about their family, themselves, what they believe, who they are, what they might become. No longer children, but not quite adults either, young teens are almost in a chrysalis state, a metamorphosis if you like (but in this case without the terror of Kafka). If anything is possible at age 13, why not flight?

Caitlyn: Describe the most memorable response you've received from a reader.

Philippa: The most memorable response I’ve ever received from a reader was at a school event in 2012. I was a Silver Birch Express nominee that year for The Gargoyle Overhead, and was signing books for about 35 children. Each child was dressed as their favourite character from the Silver Birch books, and at the very end of the event a young girl stood in front of me and asked if I knew who she was. I slowly scanned her costume: heavy brown coat, thick glasses, white straw hat. I hesitated then it very, very slowly dawned on me. “Are you … are you the Collector?” I asked. She giggled and skipped away. The Collector, for those of you who might not know, is the villain in my Lost Gargoyle books. He’s an obsessed old antiquities dealer who wants to steal and own the gargoyles, and keep them in his secret mansion forever. So, my most memorable encounter with a reader was that: my villain came to life, giggled then skipped away!

Caitlyn: Has a review or profile ever changed your perspective on your work?

Philippa: No, a review has never changed my perspective on my work, but a few may have broadened it maybe. I’ve had a reviewer explain my book to me so beautifully, better than I could have, that I had to contact her and strike up a friendship (she lives in Australia, so it’s long distance), and that’s pretty exciting. It was like having a twin whisper in my ear, she understood my thoughts and meanings so well. I’ve had a few mediocre reviews, too, which I try to accept without too much angst. But I’ve learned that if I’ve represented the artistic vision I had for the story, then I’m happy. Stick to your vision, be true to your voice, keep an open mind looking back at your early work, look forward to new work with joy and enthusiasm. That’s the job.

Caitlyn: Who/what did you read as a young adult?

Philippa: Everything! I loved the dictionary as much as I loved Narnia, Philip K. Dick as much as I loved the Lord of the Rings. My favourite book was Charlotte’s Web, until I read the Hobbit at nine … then it was basically fantasy and science fiction forever!

Philippa Dowding

Posted by Kendra on October 30, 2014
Philippa Dowding photo

Philippa Dowding

Philippa Dowding is an award-winning children’s author, a poet, musician and a copywriter. Her many literary nominations include the Silver Birch Express, Red Cedar, and Red Maple awards. She lives in Toronto.