We are spending this week celebrating a fabulous new addition to the Star Club series by Natasha Mac a'Bháird, Laura's Spooky Show. In the run-up to the launch, you will be hearing from five kidslit people and we are all very excited to present our thoughts, questions, hopes and reviews of this brilliant new book for middle-grade/younger teen readers.
If you're in and around Dublin, you're all very welcome to the launch of Laura's Spooky Show. So be sure to drop into Hodges Figgis Bookshop in Dawson Street this Saturday, 14 September at 2pm.  It's a launch you won't want to miss.
Natasha Mac a'Bháird is the author of 11 previous books, including the Star Club series; Hannah in the Spotlight and Starring Meg.
I was delighted when Natasha agreed to take the time to answer a few questions about her inspiration and hopes for the Star Club books; featuring Laura's Spooky Show. We talked about the characters, the book, her writing life and her journey bringing this particular book to press. So...let's hear what Natasha had to say!

-I want to start by asking what inspired you to create the Star Club books? From your biography, it seems you had a very creative childhood that was encouraged and fed your desire to go forward in life as a creative person. Did Star Club come from that childhood experience, initially?
Yes, very much so. My mother read me my first book when I was six weeks old and it was the start of a love affair with books. I was the eldest and when I was very young she would spend hours sitting on the floor playing with play people with me, creating their worlds. As I got older and had siblings to play with creative games featured very heavily, especially one we called Orphans of the Wild where we pretended we were living in the wilderness and having to fend for ourselves. We loved dressing up and putting on plays and that’s where the inspiration for Star Club really came from. I loved my speech and drama classes too and taking part in school musicals and pantomimes – I got such a thrill from being on the stage.
-The books are very supportive and inspirational to fostering the creative spirit in young people. And it seems that this is part of their intent. Could you say something about your feelings on the importance of encouraging /inspiring children’s creativity? And how this affects their confidence?
I do think that encouraging children to explore creativity is so important. Whether it’s writing or art, drama or music, being able to express themselves creatively is such a vital part of development. I also felt it was important to show children doing it for themselves – the shows they perform are very much their own work, and although they have supportive adults in the background (especially Meg’s granny, Sadie, giving them suggestions and letting them raid her attic for costumes), essentially they are the ones making things happen. Being on the stage is a wonderful way to boost children’s confidence. Speaking in front of people is something everyone will need to do at some stage in their lives, whether that’s in front of a whole conference or around a small table at a meeting, and the younger you start doing this the less daunting it will seem. Books and drama teach us so much about the world. Even if you're never going to work in an industry that's focused on creativity, learning about people's motivations, why they do what they do, what has shaped them to become the person they are, is a hugely beneficial lesson for life.
-I really like the group of friends you have created here. And using the background of a theatre group is an interesting vehicle to show off different personalities, talents and concerns while also being exciting and fun. What can you tell us about using the theatre/acting theme as expression of the triumphs and turmoil of friendship, family and individuality?
The four girls all share a passion for being on the stage, but it means different things to all of them. I liked showing how each girl brought her own set of talents to the group, and also how their different attitudes, and what was most important to each of them, led to conflict. Putting on a play is an immensely rewarding thing to do, but it’s a stressful one too, and that inevitably causes tensions. 
-The spooky house and the old woman within as Laura’s inspiration for her writing is a lovely touch. I feel it allowed for interesting social issues, as well as a discussion of misunderstanding and empathy to enter the story in a broader sense. Can you talk a bit about this?
I think a lot of children will be able to relate to the idea of a spooky house or an eccentric neighbour who doesn’t conform to social norms. Laura has a tendency to let her imagination run riot, which can be a good thing for a writer, but also a dangerous one when it starts to impinge on the real world! Without wanting to give too much away, the girls do learn a lot about prejudice and misconceptions, and I think that’s important. Books are always such a useful way to be able to see the world from someone else’s point of view.
-When Laura’s vision for the play is challenged by the other girls desire not to be type-cast, for individual reasons of their own, this does cause a quite bit of conflict, both within the friendship and in Laura herself. What can you say about this in terms of being true to yourself and yet listening to others?
The Star Club girls are at a critical age where your sense of identity is really starting to form, you’re beginning to become more independent from family and friendship is central. In this third instalment in the series the girls do clash a lot more – a natural stage in friendship compounded by the challenges of taking on such a big project together. Knowing when to compromise, and when to hold firm, is tough enough as an adult, never mind as a twelve-year-old. There isn’t always an easy answer.
-The first two books in the Star Club series were published by (the wonderful) O’Brien Press. For Laura’s Spooky Show, you made the decision to self-publish. What I’m really wondering about this is, with your background in publishing and as a writer, what are the differences in these two approaches? The challenges and the advantages?
The biggest difference is that self-publishing is an incredible amount of work! I am a freelance editor and previously worked as a production manager, so although getting the book into print wasn't without its challenges I was on familiar ground. But that’s only a small part of getting the book to the reader, and without the benefit of the sales and publicity team I had with my other books, I’ve had to get out there and try to sell the book myself, something which doesn’t come naturally to me at all. I’m so far outside my comfort zone I’ve forgotten what it looks like. I think too that booksellers and reviewers are naturally going to be a bit more suspicious of a self-published book. Having the imprint of a publisher with the high calibre of the O’Brien Press is like an automatic quality seal, so I did need to work harder to convince them that my book is of the same high standard, but I think the fact that I’m not a newcomer to publishing (this is my tenth book) does help. The huge bonus of going the self-publishing route has been the new connections I have made. The booksellers who are so passionate about getting books to readers and are willing to take a chance on me. The reviewers who rejoice in their ever-growing TBR piles and never mind adding one more. From the people who helped me design and publish the book to those at the frontline, I have had such incredible support, and I feel very lucky to work in such a brilliant industry.
-And very quickly, there will be a fourth book telling Ruby’s story, won’t there?
That’s the plan! I'm working on something else at the moment, but I do want to come back to Star Club again – Ruby deserves to have her story told too. Observant readers may spot that I’ve planted the seeds for her story in this book, as I did with the others. I am very fond of these four girls and not ready to say goodbye to them yet.

And review!

Author: Natasha Mac a’Bháird
Glenbard Books (September 2019)
ISBN: 9781788460996
Halloween is fast approaching, so it’s time for the Star Club to plan a brand new show, filled with magic, mystery and witches. But this show will be even more exciting for Laura, as she’s going to write it herself! Laura throws herself into her creation, finding much inspiration from a spooky, crumbling house just down the road and the mysterious old woman who lives there, all alone. And now, there seem to be strange comings and goings around the old house. Is it really haunted? And what does Laura’s sister have to do with this? She’s been very secretive lately.
Absorbed in her writings, Laura has specific ideas about how the show will go and who will play who. It seems the rest of the Star Club don’t agree at all. They don’t want to be ‘type-cast’.  As tensions mount and arguments break out, will the Star Club be able to find a way through and combine their talents and friendship to put on another brilliant show? And poor Laura! Locked in rewrites and struggling with her vision, she is still haunted by the events at the spooky old house. Whatever happens, the show must go on!
A story of friendship, community and family, Laura’s Spooky Show throws in a bit of mystery and magic with a few good twists and turns to create a truly wonderful and intriguing read. The closeness and conflicts between the friends bounce off the concerns of the young creative spirit, making it lively, entertaining and just plain fun! There are great, believable dialogues; clearly depicted scenes and a brilliant atmosphere, and amazing twists and turns throughout. It is written in a light-hearted, easy style, but includes a number of social concerns woven into the story  without disrupting or overriding the feel and the enjoyment. In fact, I would say it adds to the inspirational quality. This is a book for anyone with creative dreams, fast and firm friendships and a flair for a bit of mystery. The third book in the Star Club series, this may be the best one yet! Engaging, well-written, warm-hearted and completely delightful, it grips you from the very start and doesn’t let go!

One last bit of information. If you're wondering where you can buy Laura's Spooky Show, here's a list of bookshops that are stocking it so far...

Congratulations to Natasha for an absolutely wonderful new book! And many thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.
Next up on the Laura's Spooky Show Blog Tour...the incomparable Sarah Webb! Can't wait to hear what she has to will be insightful, I'm sure. You must check out her entry. In fact... you must check all the entries out...brilliant, brilliant women that I am thrilled to be associated with; especially for a book like this!


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