In conversation with Victoria Williamson, author of War of the Wind 

From Victoria Williamson (award-winning Scottish author of the Fox and the White Gazelle and The Boy with the Butterfly Mind) comes thrilling new adventure story with delightfully diverse disability representation.

Set on a remote Scottish island, War of the Wind introduces us to a cast of characters with additional support needs. It is simultaneously a page-turning eco-thriller about government testing gone wrong and a heart-warming celebration of our differences.  I spoke with Victoria about War of the Wind, read on to find out more!

Have you always wanted to be a writer? 

I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I was five years old! My parents took my brothers and me to the library every week when we were young, and stories were a huge part of my childhood. My mother used to read to us every night, putting on voices for all of the characters, from Bilbo Baggins and Winnie the Pooh, to Mr Toad from Wind in the Willows and Miss Trunchbull from Matilda. It was like going to the theatre every night, and it made sure there were never any arguments about bedtime, as we were always keen to get to bed to hear the next chapter! Although my father wasn’t keen on reading aloud, he played another important role in my love of books, which was reading a huge amount himself, and talking to me about books all the time. I learned from him that books weren’t just for children, and that reading could be an adult hobby and a lifelong passion. 

Please tell us a little bit your journey as an author? 

I started writing almost as soon as I learned to hold a pencil, although my first attempts at stories were barely-legible scrawls in small booklets made of folded paper stapled together. I’ve kept a few of these early ‘books’, which are mostly fan fiction retellings of my favourite cartoons, novels and TV shows. I wrote for fun all the way through school, and started writing my first proper novel when I was eighteen. It took me five whole years to finish, and although it (along with some other early novels) will never see the light of day, it was an important milestone in my journey to becoming a published author years later. I think many people see a finished novel on a bookshop shelf and think ‘I could do that, I just need to find time to sit down and get the words out’, which is a bit funny, as they’d never think of playing in the Albert Hall after fiddling about with a violin for a few months! I made the mistake of thinking that a writing career would be easy and inevitable when I was younger because I wrote so much and had been told by teachers that I had a good imagination, but I didn’t anticipate the amount of hard work involved in developing narrative arcs, story pacing and plotting skills. I think if I could go back now and give my younger self some publishing advice, it would be to stop daydreaming and start writing, as ideas are the easy bit, it’s the putting words down on a page after day that requires a lot of effort! 

What inspired you to write War of the Wind? 

War of the Wind was actually my mother’s idea. I was having dinner with her one night, when she said out of the blue, “Oh, I came up with an idea for a book for you today – it’s about wind turbines sending out secret signals, and it’s called War of the Wind.” She hadn’t developed the idea any further than that, but I loved the concept, and it planted the seed grew into the final novel. Wind turbines had always seemed a little spooky to me, and reminded me of the TV show and film adaptations I’d seen of The Tripods and War of the Worlds when I was a child. Every time I saw wind turbines on the horizon after that, I thought about what they might be ‘whispering’ to us, and what those secrets signals might be used for. 

Please tell us a little bit about the story and the main protagonist Max? 

The story focuses first and foremost on the journey of acceptance that Max goes on after losing his hearing in a boating accident at the age of twelve. When we join him at the start of the story on Scragness Island, aged fourteen, he’s adjusting to his new life by learning sign language and getting help in school from the additional support needs class, but he’s still angry at his life changing, and the impact this has had on his relationships with his friends and family. He’s so preoccupied that at first he doesn’t notice that people on the island are starting to act strangely after a wind farm is build off the island’s coast. But when he meets a sinister scientist called Doctor Ashwood at the substation, he notices that it’s not ordinary workers who are moving about behind the high fence, but soldiers. As the behaviour of the people and animals on the island becomes more aggressive and dangerous, Max realises Doctor Ashwood is conducting an experiment on the islanders using the wind turbines, and that he’s immune to it due to his hearing loss. It’s only by working together with three of the teenagers in his additional support needs class that he’s able to piece together the puzzle, and come up with a way to stop the experiment before it has tragic consequences. In the process, he finds ways to rebuild his relationship with his parents and accept his new baby sister, as well as finding new friends and reconnecting with old ones.  

In what ways did your teaching experience impact on your writing and in particular your development of your main character Max and his friends, Erin, Beanie and David? 

The characters in my stories are often a mixture of some of the many children I’ve taught over the years, who face many difficult situations at home and in school. Because these real-life issues crop up time and again, it’s important to give children the opportunity to discuss these themes in a safe environment, and helping pupils engage with them through books is often one way to bring up difficult themes in the classroom. As a teacher, I’ve been fortunate to hear many children’s stories and discussions, and this has helped me to portray Max and the other characters’ voices in a way that hopefully comes across to readers as authentic. Friendships play a huge role in teenagers lives, and so it was important that Max’s relationship with his family and his friends (both old and new) took centre-stage in this story. 

Society has a lot of misconceptions about children with additional support needs and this features heavily in your story, and your viewpoint as a former SEN educator is extremely refreshing to read. I wondered if you could tell us about some of these misconceptions and why you chose to write about this? 

People often underestimate what children with various disabilities and additional support needs are capable of doing, and assume that because they need help in one or more areas, then they must need help with everything, or are limited in terms of what they can achieve. I wanted to give the four main characters in this story a chance to show exactly what they could do – which turned out to be saving the day! Even though Max gets annoyed by people making assumptions about him because he’s deaf, Max himself is guilty of underestimating the abilities of other pupils in his additional support needs class – in particular Beanie and David. He assumes that David is less intelligent because he can’t talk, uses a wheelchair, and struggles to control his limb movements, but then Max discovers that David is actually the smartest boy in the class. The novel is written in the first person from Max’s point of view, so the reader goes on a journey with him as he learns about his own misconceptions, and realises that he has underestimated Beanie and David in precisely the same way that people underestimate him. Hopefully this will help readers to examine their own misconceptions about children with additional support needs, and to be less quick to make assumptions. 

How can writers ensure the representation of characters with additional support needs e.g., cerebral palsy and Down’s syndrome are as authentic as possible? 

The starting point is talk to as many people as possible with the disability or additional support need you’re portraying in your book, to ensure you represent their lived experience accurately – these experiences will be diverse, even for people with the same disability or additional support need. Make sure you do plenty of research, and use sensitivity readers to check over your work to ensure your portrayals are accurate. Charities can be a very good place to get accurate information, and you can learn a lot from their resource pages, as well as from the staff and service users. 

There are lots of Scottish words and phrases used throughout the story, how important is it that the native dialect is used? How do you think readers will relate to this? 

Scottish slang can be regional, but I’ve tried to use some current Scottish words and phrases, as well as some I heard and used growing up, to give a more authentic flavour to Max’s narration. If you’re setting a story in a particular place, I think it’s important to use phrases that reflect how people there actually talk, as opposed to writing everything they say in ‘standard English’ – which can come across as a little bit stilted, especially when writing a story in the first person. Hopefully it will show readers a way to use their own regional dialects in stories and encourage them to experiment with their own writing. I know that many readers won’t be familiar with some of these words, but I think most teenagers will be able to work them out from the context. If not, the dictionary at the back of the book will come in handy! 

I love that you have used different fonts in War of the Wind to highlight the importance of different communication methods. Can you tell us a little bit more about this? 

As a teacher, I’ve seen children communicating in many different ways in the classroom – though oral methods, written methods, and by using other methods, such as Makaton, BSL and computer programmes. I wove these different communication methods into the book and highlighted them in different fonts to help make them stand out for the reader. Hopefully this will spark some discussion by readers of the different ways that people can get a message across, and show that characters don’t have to say things out loud in order to play a full part in a story. 

What is the key message you’d like readers to take away from War of the Wind? 

I’d like readers to come away with a better understanding of various disabilities, to examine and question their own assumptions about what teenagers with disabilities are capable of, and to recognise that everyone has important contributions they can make. 

Do you have any other works in progress that you can tell us about? 

My next project for Neem Tree Press involves issues that are unfortunately very familiar to families in the current cost-of-living crisis: food banks, homelessness, and financial difficulties. It’s a story of family, and about friendship overcoming the odds. Look out for more details in 2023! 

Finally, I wondered if you could suggest three top tips for aspiring middle grade / YA authors? 

  1. Don’t write in a vacuum. Writing can be a lonely business, but it doesn’t need to be. There are lots of other friendly writers out there who can be a great source of support on your writing journey. Join a writing group, and try to get into the habit of giving and receiving reviews and comments. This will help you hone your craft, and polish your work in progress before you submit it anywhere. 
  1. Write regularly. Try to get into the habit of writing a little bit every day, or every week. Writing is a skill that requires regular practice to perfect, so try to make time to add a little bit to your story on a regular basis, rather than saving everything up until ‘the holidays’ – when you’ll find that a novel will take longer than you think, and sustaining the motivation to complete a book is a lot harder than it looks!  
  1. Don’t give up. There’s a huge amount of rejection involved in a writing career, and it’s important not to take each ‘no’ too personally. What might not work for one publisher might just be the very thing that another is looking for. So use any feedback you get to help polish your work, and keep writing new work. The more you hone your craft, and the more stories you produce, the more likely it is you’ll get that ‘yes’ that you’re looking for. 

War of the Wind is publishing September 23rd and is available to pre-order now.

Click here to pre-order a copy!

In Conversation with David Ross, author of The Three Hares: Terracotta Horse 

The final instalment of The Three Hares Trilogy by Scott Lauder and David Ross will be released this October. This historical fantasy quest series plunges us back in time, first to the vicious Battle of Maldon between the Saxons and the Vikings, and then Xi’an, home of the Terracotta Warriors in  China. I spoke to David Ross about the series, read on to find out more!

Please tell us a little bit about you and your journey as an author and working with Scott Lauder on this book. 

Scott and I met in Japan many years ago (long enough that I always stop and think “No way!” after I say the number.) I remember our shared interest in poetry; as a result, I was delighted to be invited me on this project. My writing grew in part out of my interest learning other languages. Working with Scott has made me aware of how many ways there are to tell stories.  

The symbol of the three hares has a fascinating history behind it. Could you tell us about this and how it inspired you and Scott to write The Three Hares? 

The Three Hares! What a fascinating bit of history! This image, of three hares running together, sharing the same ears so that they are almost one being, is visible at different sites across Asia and Europe. Their existence is still a bit of a mystery. The images have a mystical quality to them, one that symbolizes regeneration and life. We were drawn to the possibilities they offered for our story.  

Please tell us a little bit about the story and the main protagonist Salma. 

Salma is a teen who is learning to channel her emotions and think through her actions.  She has a strong sense of justice, of doing what’s right. A Syrian girl who has been exposed to aggression in her life, Salma is becoming aware of how she can be a force for good. 

Salma and a few of her friends are children of immigrants/refugees who have moved to the UK. Was this a conscious decision and if so, what did you want to impart to your readers through this? 

My personal experience of refugees is more directly related to the work I do in upstate NY, where I teach ENL (English as a New Language) to refugees. While these primarily come from other countries (Burma and Somalia, for example), I was very sympathetic to the plight of Salma in the UK. The challenges that immigrants and refugees face (being uprooted from one’s entire culture and having another imposed) are very real. I have nothing but respect for my students and their families. 

The Terracotta Horse is the third instalment in The Three Hares, what can readers expect to take away from this story? 

For me, the primary take-away is the importance of working together for something larger than yourself. We are all inter-dependent; we need others to see who we are and what we can be. This is probably true even when you are not trying to save the world from a crazed shaman.  

This story is rich in history, culture, and mythology, did you do a lot of research to ensure that the factual elements of the story were accurate?  

Both of us are big cultural history buffs, so we read many books to ensure our representations were as authentic as possible. I think the fantastic elements of the book(s) are made more exciting by the way they connect to actual history. They also help readers learn about these different cultures and historical events.    

If you could be transported to any other time period in history, what would it be any why?  

My first response was some time in Japan, maybe the 19 century … but you know how easy it is to romanticize the past. If I were of high-enough social status … Actually, I believe the time we currently live in is pretty amazing. We’ve seen remarkable transition and innovation – social changes that (by and large) foster increased equality, enhanced skills using computers, possibilities for creativity using AI, interconnectivity via the internet, etc. Despite some daunting problems yet to face, we live in a most wondrous time. 

Do you have any other works in progress that you can tell us about?  

Scott and I are going to work on our solo plans before we co-author again. I have two children’s books coming out that I am very excited about: And Sometimes Y, in which a consonant, X, and a vowel, O, have a child, Y, who they don’t quite know what to make of … especially when Y changes fonts and colors. I think readers will see the value and importance of embracing diversity. My other work, Yenta Claus, shows the relationship between Santa and his Jewish wife, Yenta. It’s a fun (and funny) book that depicts their shared affection as they celebrate Christmas and Hannukah together.  

Finally, I wondered if you could suggest three top tips for aspiring middle grade authors? 

I can tell you what I think about: First off, I believe that middle grade readers are ready to think about big ideas and should be presented with concepts they can grow with. Second, as many already make use of media that is predominantly visual in nature, they need to read works that use colorful, evocative language to engage them – particularly of their other senses. This should be evident in the choice of vocabulary. It is important that we don’t deprive readers of chances to learn by thinking “that word is too difficult for them.” Contextualized properly, every word can be made intelligible. And third, the obvious one: the story should be something that can matter to them. I might regard certain current issues and events as important, but if I can’t set the ideas in a way that matter, readers won’t be inclined to consider them carefully. 

 The Three Hares: The Terracotta Horse will be published October 6th and is available to pre-order now

Click here to pre-order a copy!


In Conversation with Jenna Adams, author of Can I Stray

From Jenna Adams comes the unmissable, conversation-starting debut on captivating coming-of-age tale of mental health, consent and the complex world of teenage sexual politics. In this interview, Jenna tells us about her journey as an author, the inspiration behind the book, her experience with mental health and lack of sex education in schools and how this has impacted the narrative in her upcoming contemporary fiction novel. Read on to find out more!

As a debut author, can you tell us a little bit about your journey into publishing? How has this experience been? 

It’s been long! I started writing Can I Stray when I was fourteen – so a good decade ago. Working with the team at Neem Tree Press has been amazing. So much of the last ten years has been just me and the book, typing away alone in my room for hours and hours. To have real human beings – and not just any human beings, but really awesome, smart, dedicated human beings – working on this with me has been really special. 

Have you always wanted to be an author?

After princess, pop star, and unicorn, I did find myself landing on the idea of being an author pretty young. My Year 2 teacher told my parents she was quite impressed with my writing, and as a prize for winning house points she got me some nice pens and a display folder for me to put stories in. I would have much preferred Playmobil but she seemed to be on to something. 

What inspired you to write Can I Stray 

Because of a boy – not a great reason, eh? I had a crush on a guy a few years older than me who probably didn’t even know my name, so that was the first inspiration. As I mentioned, I started writing this book at fourteen, so I kind of grew up with it – with the protagonist Brooke, especially. As I got older, my perspectives on the themes of the book changed, became more informed, and ultimately developed into the adult view that Brooke shares at the end. So this book started as an attempted love story, but it aged and grew and matured into what it is now, which is certainly not a love story – or if it is, it’s a love story between Brooke and herself. 

Please tell us a little bit about the story and the main protagonists Brooke and Matt? 

Brooke is fourteen: idealistic, hopelessly romantic, hurting in ways she doesn’t quite understand yet. Matt is eighteen, and like Brooke he’s naïve, but in a different way. The story starts with these two characters embarking on a romantic relationship. We see their ups and downs, and explore the themes of healthy teen relationships, consent, and mental health. We then revisit these characters when they’re older. We see their perspectives change, we see them question if what happened between them was okay, and then dealing with the aftermath of that. 

In what ways did your own experiences as a young adult impact these characters and the narrative?

As a teenager I started to experience mental health issues for the first time. This was pretty scary, since it felt like it came out of nowhere, and I didn’t know how to deal with it. I felt like everywhere I looked – at school, on TV, sometimes even at the GP surgery – I saw my issues being constantly invalidated, written off as a teenage girl being dramatic or attention-seeking. I postponed getting much-needed treatment for a long time because I didn’t feel deserving of help. So I think my experience as a teenager informed the narrative a lot, and I hope that my book does encourage readers to reach out if they’re struggling, even if it feels like their problems are small. Everyone deserves help. 

Why did you choose to write Can I Stray using a dual narrative? 

Good question! It seemed to come about very naturally in the writing process, I think maybe just for the practicality of covering what’s going on when certain characters aren’t around. In Can I Stray we see both Brooke and Matt’s perspectives, but I do think the story belongs to Brooke. She’s a bit of an unreliable narrator – like my fourteen-year-old self, there’s a lot she’s yet to realise, and she comes to see things very differently by the end of the book. Matt’s not terribly reliable either – both characters have their own biases, their own ideas about what is and isn’t okay – so hopefully having both voices makes it clear that Brooke’s opinions shouldn’t be taken as gospel, and the reader should make up their own mind about the ethics of the situation. 

The theme of consent features heavily in Can I Stray. Why did you decide to write a book on this issue and what can readers take away from this story? 

While Brooke and Matt’s relationship is fiction, the world Brooke grows up in is the world I was surrounded by when I was her age. As a teenager I was surrounded by people at parties who were too drunk to consent but hooking up anyway; I was surrounded by abusive relationship behaviours that were seen as normal, like reading your boyfriend’s text messages. Talking to my friends at school, I realised that most of us hadn’t been taught what consent was – that wasn’t just the absence of a no, but was a verbal, sober, enthusiastic, overage, continuous “yes”. There was a massive lack of education around what consent and healthy relationships actually looked like. So I think part of the story came from the frustration about that, about how badly we need better Relationships and Sex Education (RSE). Things seem to have improved a bit since I left school, but there’s still a long way to go. 

Your protagonist Brooke has a bit of a mental health rollercoaster as she deals with codependency. For readers who have not heard of this before, can you tell us a little bit about that? 

If you google “codependency”, you might see a lot of information about codependents tending to fall for addicts or narcissists, but I think in reality it often can be more subtle or nuanced than that. It was first explained to me as a one-sided relationship. Codependents can tend to be a little needy and struggle to be on their own, while also constantly trying to fulfil their partner’s needs out of fear of abandonment. And we do live in a bit of a codependency culture – with song lyrics saying stuff like “I’d die if you left me,” or “I’m only happy when I’m with you,” we do seem to be conflating love and partnership with dependence and need, with inability to cope by ourselves. 

Understanding codependency and dealing with it has not only meant that I’m able to have much healthier relationships, but has also removed massive barriers to my happiness. So I did go on a similar arc to my protagonist Brooke in terms of her becoming less dependent on her partner, and finding out where all her edges are. 

What is the key message that you would like readers to take away from Can I Stray? 

I hope it encourages people to ask for help when they need it, and I hope it continues the conversation about needing better RSE in schools. Mostly I’d just like it to give people who are going through tough times the hope that things can get better for everyone. 

Finally, I wondered if you could suggest three top tips for aspiring authors? 

As Zadie Smith said, uninterrupted writing time is key. And that does mean writing in the evenings, weekends, it does mean turning down invitations. I guess you have to make it a priority, if you can. Don’t let your book take ten years like mine did! 

Feedback is your friend. Every time someone gives you feedback, it’s helping you to make your writing better. I mean, don’t listen to every single thing that every single person suggests, but get enough beta readers so you can gain consistent feedback. And then take that darling and strangle it. 

I’d also say to give up on the dream of being “a writer” and all the stuff that comes with it. As a teenager I was holding on to all the wrong reasons for writing – my name in lights, winning prizes, yadda yadda. Now I just dream of waking up and writing. That’s the best bit, after all. 


The unmissable, conversation-starting debut CAN I STRAY will be publishing October 11th 2022!

Click HERE to pre-order a copy now.



 About the Author

Jenna Adams lives in London and writes from her third-floor flat which is covered in plants. She is a regular contributor at The Book Network and Can I Stray is her first novel. Jenna is passionate about exploring mental health, consent, and codependency in her writing. You can find out more about her work on Twitter (@JennaAdamsBooks), Instagram (@jennadamsbooks), TikTok (@jennadamsbooks) or her website,