Interview with Philippa Dowding, author of Jake and the Giant Hand

Interview with Philippa Dowding, author of Jake and the Giant Hand

Posted on October 30 by Philippa Dowding
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Halloween is tomorrow and acclaimed author Philippa Dowding, (The Lost Gargoyle series, and The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden) sits down with us to talk about her new book Jake and the Giant Hand.

Tell us about your book.

Philippa: Jake and the Giant Hand is a creepy ghost story/magic realism mind-bender for children aged 9-12, complete with huge flies and a giant’s hand. Set on Grandpa’s perfectly ordinary farm somewhere in southern Ontario, extraordinary things start to happen after Jake hears a gruesome ghost story about a giant hand from the twins down the lane. A dark little ghost story at its heart, Jake and the Giant Hand is a quick read, about 20,000 words, and is accompanied by 4 wonderful illustrations by Shawna Daigle that are sure to draw in even the most reluctant reader (although the book isn’t specifically written just for reluctant readers, anyone will enjoy this quirky tale). Jake’s story is the first book in a new series called Weird Stories Gone Wrong.

How did you come up with the idea for this work?

Philippa: When I was growing up, I lived next to an old farmer’s meadow in a new subdivision in Oakville, in southern Ontario. I’d walk through the long grass on the way to school and see pheasants, rabbits, hawks, ground squirrels, snakes. There were remnants of an old apple orchard and an old barn, all on a single acre of untouched land. It was a wonderful place to play, to explore, to imagine. One day when I was about nine, the land was sold for development and that summer I watched the field turn into a new subdivision. As I wandered through the skeletons of soon-to-be-built houses, I discovered the most amazing collection of detritus from the past in the freshly turned field: a heavy silver fork, a wooden doll, broken plates, brass buttons, and a rock that I’m still half-convinced was an ancient carved head. That started me digging for more treasures, and although I was sorry to see the beautiful grassy meadow changed forever, it did set me wondering about the stories that lie hidden just beneath our feet. Even today, whenever I look at an open grassy area I often wonder what secrets lurk there, just out of sight. Jake and the Giant Hand is a response to that.

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

Philippa: I really wanted to write this story for my son, but since he’s almost out of his teens now, I waited a little too long! But it’s the kind of story that he would have loved when he was nine or ten: Spooky enough to be gripping, and with a narrator who talks directly to you so you might think you’re in reliable hands (although you aren’t), the story unfolds so that you have to decide what’s true and what isn’t yourself. Weirdly real, yet strangely magical, with short chapters and a fast-moving style, I wrote Jake and the Giant Hand for kids who like ghost stories, and a few thrills and chills.

Describe your ideal writing environment.

Philippa: I have a really tall, skinny house in the city. I like to see my family off to work and school, then I brew a pot of coffee and disappear to the top of my tall skinny house and work in my office on the top floor until lunch time. I can see downtown Toronto and the CN Tower from my desk. Those three or four hours are the most productive of the day for me. Sometimes the dog comes and lies at my feet, surely wondering what on earth is so fascinating about the box I’m staring at.

What are you reading right now?

Philippa: Right now I try to alternate my reading between adult titles (usually Canadian bestsellers) and young adult or middle grade books. My current book on the go is Kenneth Oppel’s new title, The Boundless, and the book before that was The Psychopath Effect by Jon Aronson, preceded by Zomboy (Richard Scrimger) and The Orenda (Joseph Boyden) before that, so I’m kind of all over the place! Next up is Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments, because I was at a cottage with an 11-year old this summer, and I handed her a copy of my latest book, The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden. She immediately asked if it was like Cassandra Clare (her favourite author), and I had to admit I’d never read anything by her. So I have to fix that.

What is your new project?

Philippa: The next two books I’m working on are both in the Weird Stories Gone Wrong series: Myles and the Monster Outside and Carter and the Curious Maze. They’re keeping me pretty busy!

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.