An image of author Lucy Brandt and illustrator Gladys Jose on a blue and purple collage background next to some chocolate, a Mr Gum book, Winnie the Pooh audiobook and a library card
21 Questions

‘If I wasn’t an author, I’d be a wolf dentist’: 21 Questions with Lucy Brandt and Gladys Jose

The author and illustrator of Leonora Bolt: Secret Inventor on working in a polystyrene factory, jumping from hobby to hobby, and their ideal writing and illustrating scenarios.

We’ve been excitedly anticipating the drop of this STEM-themed debut from author Lucy Brandt. Brought to life by illustrator Gladys Jose’s gorgeously detailed artwork, it follows the adventures of young inventor and scientist Leonora Bolt. Left an orphan following her parent's disappearance on a sailing trip, Leonora lives with her rather unpleasant uncle on a remote island. One day, a strange boy called Jack washes up on an inflatable lobster and reveals some jaw-dropping news about her uncle and his evil misdeeds. Leonora is going to have to use all her brilliant brainpower and problem-solving skills to defeat him.

To mark the release of Leonora Bolt: Secret Inventor, we caught up with Lucy and Gladys to ask them both our 21 questions on life and literature. Below we learn what superpowers they wished they had, breaking into the publishing world, and fearing mutant tarantulas.

Which writer do you most admire and why?

Lucy Brandt: I’ve always loved Ali Smith. Her books fizz with energy, wit, and inventiveness. They’re joyful and moving.

Gladys Jose: Neil Gaiman. I think what I love most about Gaiman’s work is his ability to switch his writing style between his books.

What was the first book you remember loving as a child?

LB: My mum read the Winnie-the-Pooh books to me and my little sister and would do lots of funny voices, which we found hilarious.  

GJ: The first book/series I remember being absolutely obsessed with was the Wayside School series by Louis Sachar.

What was your favourite book when you were a teenager?

'My best advice? Work on your craft every day.'

LB: During my angsty teenage years, I’d probably have pretended it was War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. But it was actually Calvin and Hobbes.

GJ: The Chronicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis.

Tell us about a book that changed your life’s path

LB: I read Andy Stanton’s Mr Gum to my kids, and it was so funny and anarchic that it inspired me to try to be a children’s writer. Thanks, Andy!

GJ: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

What’s the strangest job you’ve had outside being an author?

LB: Working in a polystyrene factory. Nowhere near as glamorous as it sounds.

GJ: It wasn’t that ‘strange’ really, but I used to build props out of repurposed everyday items for photoshoots.

What’s the best piece of writing/illustrating advice you’ve ever been given?

LB: All writing is rewriting. No book ever arrives without countless hours of editing. I’ve stuck that advice like a post-it note to my brain ever since.

GJ: Work on your craft every day, even if only for a short period of time.

Tell us about a book you’ve reread many times (and why)

LB: I only tend to reread poetry because life is short and brilliantly, so are poems. Emily Dickinson, Maya Angelou, Wendy Cope – I could go on and on.  

GJ: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, I read it once a year or whenever I need a good dose of motivation and hopefulness.

What’s the one popular children’s book you’ve never got round to reading?

LB: I’ve never read Tarka the Otter by Henry Williamson, but then again, otters are my favourite animal and I hear it doesn’t end well.

GJ: Charlotte's Web by E. B. White.

If I didn’t become an author/illustrator, I would be ______

'I only tend to reread poetry because life is short and brilliantly, so are poems.'

CS: Wolf dentist? Lava juggler? Probably a librarian.

GJ: I fell into the publishing world by accident. I was a graphic designer before, so I imagine I’d probably still be doing that.

What makes you happiest?

LB: I’m always happiest striding up a hill. My family, however, are always happiest when we go home again. There’s no pleasing some people.

GJ: Spending time with my daughter (who is five years old). She’s the funniest and makes it pretty impossible to be in a bad mood.

What’s your most surprising passion or hobby?

LB: I’ve recently taken to winter dipping in the sea. I know, you don’t need to tell me, it’s totally daft.

GJ: I jump around a lot when it comes to hobbies, I’ll spend a month or two studying, learning, and working on a set of new skills like gardening, for example. Then once I feel satisfied with what I’ve learned I sort of move on to the next thing I want to learn to do. So I guess in shorter general terms I’d say my passion is learning new skills.

What is your ideal writing/illustrating scenario?

LB: A weekend morning, tea in bed, scribbling ideas in my notebook that I’ll later cobble together into sentences. Absolute bliss.

GJ: Cup of coffee and a window facing a sunrise.

What was your strangest or most embarrassing author/illustrator encounter?

LB: I haven’t had one yet, although my kids assure me that I’ll be spectacularly embarrassing when I visit their school. I won’t disappoint them!

GJ: I was having my portfolio critiqued by my favorite illustrator. And when he complimented my work… I started CRYING! Happy tears, but he was very confused at first.

If you could have any writer, living or dead, over for dinner, who would it be, and what would you serve them?

'My superpower would be to make everyone on the planet get along.'

LB: I'd have John Milton over and inflict the worst possible punishment for me having to study Paradise Lost at college: my cooking.

GJ: Lucy Brandt! I’d probably let her pick something out as long as it's not something from the ‘Menu a la Mildred’.

What’s your biggest fear?

LB: Bad things happening to the people I love. Aside from that, mutant, face-sucking tarantulas.

GJ: My biggest fear is to lose sight of my ‘whys’.

If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

LB: The power of persuasion! I’d make everyone on the planet get along, like a super awkward, global team bonding experience.

GJ: Super speed, so that I can get more done in a day.

What’s the best book you’ve read in the past 12 months?

LB: I absolutely loved The Girl with The Louding Voice by Abi Daré. A powerful story told with such beauty and humour.

GJ: Leonora Bolt: Secret Inventor, of course!

Reading in the bath: yes or no?

LB: Audiobooks, yes.

GJ: No.

Which do you prefer: chocolate or crisps?

LB: Chocolate-covered crisps. Final answer.

GJ: Chocolate.

What is the best book you’ve ever read?

LB: This is obviously an impossible question, although Little Women by Louisa May Alcott took up permanent residence in my heart a long time ago.

GJ: Leonora Bolt: Secret Inventor by Lucy Brandt.

What inspired you to write your new book?

LB: Leonora Bolt is a series that I hope will encourage budding inventors everywhere to solve problems, have a go at building things and let their imaginations run wild!

GJ: I haven’t written anything… yet.


Leonora Bolt by Lucy Brandt and illustrated by Gladys Jose is out on 20 January 2022.

Creative: Victoria Ibbetson/Penguin

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