From Tudor Courts to WWII Skies: Lesley Rawlinson Talks About Her New Book

Tell us a little about the book you have written.

The story is about three children, April, Maisie and Zac, who are determined to solve the mystery of a stolen priceless necklace. They need to solve the mysterious clue left by the thief, describing himself as ‘The Weatherman,’ and their search takes them punting on the river, chasing the infamous university Night Climbers, and getting involved in a race against time across a historic airfield. Aided and abetted by two clever cats, Bunter and Miss Marple, as well as Granny Ruby, they learn that being detectives isn’t as easy as they thought!


What inspired the story?

A couple of years ago, I wrote a piece for my writing group when the prompt was ‘April Showers’. I came up with the idea that it would be the name of a little girl who lived in an umbrella shop. I’d always fancied writing a detective story for children, and I decided she would have a friend called Maisie Flowers, who became her detecting partner. I was also inspired by my visits to Cambridge, where there are many little alleyways in the old part of the city, and that seemed the ideal setting for the umbrella shop.

King’s College Chapel in all its glory

The River Cam

The alleyways of Cambridge that inspired Lesley’s fictitious Fitzroy Alley


How long did it take to write?

It took about eighteen months to write. As usual, I spent a long time sketching out a rough plan and thinking it through before actually starting to write.


Why do you pick middle-grade readers as your target audience?

As a school teacher, I taught all primary-age children at some point and really enjoyed working with children aged eight and above when it came to creative writing. I loved writing with them, and although I’ve written shorter stories for younger children, this was the challenge I wanted to take up.


Did any of the plot change as you were writing it?

Yes! In the beginning, Zac was a minor character who wasn’t going to play a significant part in the story. As I developed his character and the challenges he faced, it also made me realise that the link to the story of Douglas Bader and the Spitfire could be more important. I originally called the story ‘Reaching for the Sky’ with reference to the Weatherman clue, but the Bader story gave that theme more relevance.


You have picked some historical figures in your book to centre some of your story around. Why did you choose those characters in particular?

I wanted the necklace to have a historical connection and on my visits to Cambridge, I’ve seen the carved H&A for Henry and Anne in the rood screen of King’s College Chapel. The famous portrait of Anne Boleyn also made me think she would be a good choice, especially when I discovered that no one knows what exactly happened to her necklace!

The link to Douglas Bader is a more personal one. He was my father’s wartime hero, and Dad was also in the 19th Squadron, where Bader started his career. I read the book Reach for the Sky as a girl and remember watching the film, too. Zac’s battle to walk again seemed to be a modern-day reflection of his story, and as I knew that Bader’s office was still at Duxford, where the story reaches its climax, I had to include it.

A portrait of Lesley’s dad in his RAF days, by her cousin Diane Firth, next to a copy of Reach for the Sky.

Is there an author you admire and why?

There are many authors I admire for different reasons. As a children’s author, I would choose Emma Carroll as someone I really admire. She writes adventure stories with a wide variety of backgrounds, often with a historical connection, and creates real rounded characters.


What are your biggest moans about other people’s writing?

This is very hard! I try not to be critical of other authors, especially knowing how hard it is to write that book and get it out in the big wide world. I suppose, like most people in my position, I would like to think that publishers selected books on merit rather than because the author is well-known in another field.


You’ve published quite a few books now. Anything you know now that you wish you knew at the beginning?

I think the main thing I would say I’ve learned is to not stress about planning every last detail. The story is in my head or roughed out on a few pieces of paper, and I find that, as I write, the sketchy ideas follow their own path, and the story develops. Once it’s done, then I can begin to improve and modify the whole thing.


What is your go-to genre when you read for pleasure?

I love a good crime/mystery novel. I was brought up to love the likes of Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and Dorothy L Sayers, and to that golden age of crime fiction, I would add the likes of S G Maclean, Lindsay Davis and C J Sansom, whose historical crime fiction is a particular favourite.


Who would you like to read your book on Audible?

My first thought was either Griff Rhys Jones or Stephen Fry. I think they would capture the range of voices perfectly. Then there is David Tennant, but, as a Scot,  I’d have chosen him for Osprey Girl (I’d love to have a go at something like this myself, but I don’t think I’d sell as many copies!)


What was the best thing about working with TAUK Publishing?

I’ve been with TAUK Publishing since 2017 and I’ve found the friendly, constructive advice to be so helpful. They really are the best team to work for!


Lesley’s book is now available from Amazon.

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