An interview with children's author Gill Lewis

Author Gill Lewis with her dog, Murphy

Children's author and wildlife enthusiast Gill Lewis will be appearing at Wray Children's Book Festival in March. We spoke to her about her latest books, what inspires her writing and her favourite National Trust places.

Tell us about your latest and forthcoming books

My latest book, Gorilla Dawn, is the story of Imara, a child soldier held against her will within a rebel army in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Imara must help the armed gang control the illegal mineral mines in the forest home of the gorillas. These minerals are needed in the manufacture of mobile phones and computers around the world. Powerless to stop the armed gang members, she witnesses the collaboration between them and foreign corporations in pursuit of these minerals at the cost of the forests, animals and local communities. It is only when she encounters the son of a wildlife range and a young gorilla taken from its family that Imara begins to work out what she can do to change her future and that of those around her.

Gorillas are in real trouble. The eastern lowland gorilla population has suffered a collapse of 70% over the last 20 years and the problem is still growing. Gorilla Dawn was inspired by many people striving to protect gorillas, habitats and people: conservationists, wildlife rangers who put their lives at risk and also people like Bandi Mbubi, founder of Congo Calling who campaign for laws to ensure electronic manufacturers are sourcing their minerals from conflict-free mines.

I also have two books coming out in 2017, and while they are very different to Gorilla Dawn, I am struck by the similarities and connections between them all.

A Story Like the Wind is about a group of refugees drifting in a small inflatable boat in the middle of the sea. One boy, Rami, carries the only thing he could not leave behind: his violin. It tells him the stories of home and keeps his memories alive. But it also tells another story – of how music has the power to overcome oppression.

The refugee crisis is a humanitarian crisis on a huge and complex scale. It is a global problem. A Story Like the Wind tells the human story of those who have to leave their homes and loved ones behind.

Sky Dancer, like Gorilla Dawn is a story about the illegal killing of wildlife and the need to protect and restore wild habitats. Set in this country, it explores the land management of our uplands and the continued persecution of birds of prey, and how the gamekeeper’s son, Joe, has difficult decisions to make when hen harriers nest upon the moor. I hope to be able to raise funds to sponsor a satellite tag upon a hen harrier.

'Gorilla Dawn' tells the story of two children, one gorilla and their incredible journey to freedom
A section of the cover of Gill Lewis' 'Gorilla Dawn'
'Gorilla Dawn' tells the story of two children, one gorilla and their incredible journey to freedom

How did you get into writing children’s books?

I have always love writing and drawing and making up stories. However, as a child with poor spelling and messy handwriting, I never thought I could become an author. At secondary school we never wrote any stories, and so I followed my other interest in animals and the natural world and studied to become a vet. It was only after having children of my own, and brought back books from the library to read to them, that I rediscovered my love of reading stories, and also writing them. I started writing stories and after quite a long time of trying, managed to find an agent and publisher.

How does nature and the great outdoors influence your writing?

My stories are always about natural world and our connection with it, and so it influences all my writing. As a child I could always be found outdoors, scrabbling in the dirt after insects or fossils, or climbing up a tree, as far as I could. The natural world is a constant place of wonder and drives our imagination. As an adult I need it just as much, to remember what it is to stop and wonder at the world, to observe the small things, to simply have headspace to think and breathe.

" The natural world is a constant place of wonder and drives our imagination. "
- Gill Lewis

What are you most excited about for the Wray Children’s Book Festival?

I’m really looking forward to meeting readers and sharing stories about wild animals, wild places and also the antics of the puppies in Puppy Academy.  

While I’m in the Lake District, I hope to visit Ennerdale and see the re-wilding project there, as this is something that interests me a lot and is a theme in a book I am working on. 

It’s a bit too early to visit the ospreys at Bassenthwaite, otherwise I would have loved to have popped in to one of the viewing points. 

I also hope to be able see Petr Horacek painting his wonderful animals illustrations and hear Nicola Davies talks about her animal stories too.

Whiteford, on North Gower, is one of Gill Lewis' special National Trust places
Viewe of dunes and headland at Whiteford Burrows, Gower
Whiteford, on North Gower, is one of Gill Lewis' special National Trust places

Do you have a favourite National Trust place?

An impossible choice. I love exploring new National Trust places as well as firm favourites.
However, I think my favourite place would have to be Whiteford and North Gower in Wales. My dad grew up on the north Gower coast and he kept a small boat there for many years. I remember many childhood holidays pootling about on the estuary, and sleeping out under the stars, being rocked to sleep by the incoming tide. In fact I think it gave me my love of estuaries – places of change, where the sea, the sky and the earth become one, and watching the multitude of life feeding on the ebb and flow of the tides.