A Kind of Spark tells the story of 11-year-old Addie as she campaigns for a local memorial in memory of the witch trials that took place in her Scottish hometown. Supported by her older sister, Keedie, Addie hopes to challenge how people see her, and her autism, and make a difference.

Author, Elle McNicoll was kind enough to be interviewed about her debut book and here is what she had to say…

A Kind of Spark is your debut novel and published during lockdown! Did that add any complications?

Yes, it did add some complications, absolutely. The supply chains all took a bit of a hit in the early process, and my book came out before bookshops were allowed to open back up to the public. So, on publication day, the only place to buy was online. The book sold out quickly on Amazon, Waterstones, Blackwell’s and Hive. In a wonderful way, that forced a lot of people to turn to independent bookshops instead. Rocketship in Salisbury sold 41 copies in one day, their entire stock!

As someone who is neurodiverse, what was your experience of reading growing up? How relatable were the books you read?

I loved reading and used books as a tool to study and understand how neurotypical people think and feel. It was a way of making sense of the world. And I felt uninvited in the world. So, at the time, it made perfect sense to feel that I didn’t belong in books. That didn’t strike me as odd. I was used to feeling like an alien, like someone who didn’t belong, and books were for people who belonged. I never questioned it.

As an Own Voices author, how much of you is in Addie and Keedie? Are they replicas of you when you were 11 and then later in your teens?

I’ve always felt like they’re reimagined versions of me, rather than retellings. Keedie is the imaginary friend I needed at 11 years old, and Addie is far braver than I am or was.

The difference between Mr. Allison and Miss Murphy’s approaches to Addie and the effect on her, couldn’t be more different; one nurturing and one bullying. Why does somebody who is supposed to inspire and support young people behave in this way?

Because they’re human. Miss Murphy and Mr. Allison do not behave in the way that they do because they are educators, but because they are human. Both of them have lived and partaken in an ableist society. A society that marginalizes disabled people. Mr Allison has more natural empathy, and can see the extra effort and struggle Addie goes through in order to fit in. Miss Murphy has no such empathy and believes that autistic children are just naughty and that the label is an excuse. This is a deeply held belief by many still, even though it is incredibly ignorant and wrong. Mr. Allison sees the truth, but Miss Murphy is seeing Addie through a lens of prejudice.

Addie comes across as pretty tough considering everything she has to deal with and finds the strength to stand up for what she believes in. If you had to describe her in 3 words, which would you use?

Autistic and proud.

What are the key messages you would hope a Coram Beanstalk reading helper would explore with a child when reading A Kind of Spark?

I would hope that empathy and compassion are the main takeaways from the novel. I think the themes of injustice are an excellent doorway to discussing systemic issues for ND people in our society. I also love to hear about the conversations people are having around being nice vs being good. I think there is a lot to unpack there.

All the best