Q&A With Author Alexandra Sheppard

When the team from Faber & Faber got in touch to tell us all about a new children's book with a storyline involving magic & herbal tea we were eager to hear more! We reached out to author Alexandra Sheppard to ask her all about her new book, her favourite tea (of course!) and tips for budding young writers...

Can you tell us about your new book, Alyssa and the Spell Garden?

Of course! It’s about Alyssa, an eleven year-old girl who is sent to stay with her mum’s family in North London over the summer. As she has never met them, she isn’t pleased about it. While she’s there, she discovers that she is descended from a line of ‘magically-inclined’ beings and her hidden magical powers explode into life. She also discovers that her great-aunt runs a spell garden called Silverleaf that protects the neighbourhood from changing and pushing out the people who have always lived there. But when the magic starts to run out, Alyssa must fight to protect her newfound community.

In the book, Alyssa’s grandmother runs her very own tea shop, Jasmine’s Teas. What’s your favourite thing about the tea shop?

I loved writing about Jasmine’s Teas because it’s my dream sort of shop: an Aladdin’s cave filled with all sorts of random bits, from china tea sets to house plants. But my favourite thing about the shop is that it sits on a very normal high street, much like the one I grew up near, yet is thrumming with magical goodies. Isn’t that more exciting than a Tescos?

What’s your favourite kind of tea?

It depends on the time of day. First thing in the morning, I have to have an English Breakfast tea (milk, no sugar) brewed for at least three minutes. In the afternoon I like something herbal and citrussy - my current favourite is fennel with lemon. And after dinner, there’s nothing like peppermint tea to help digestion.

What was your favourite book growing up, and why?

I had so many! I loved to read, and still do. If I had to pick one I returned to time and time again, it was The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot. The ten books kept me company throughout my teen years and I never got bored of them. I loved Mia; she was funny, self-deprecating, smart and principled. It was a joy to see her character develop throughout the series.

Where did your ideas for the book come from? What were you inspired by?

I got the idea for my book during the first lockdown. When my access to green spaces was limited, I developed a taste for house plants and a renewed appreciation for my garden. I was writing a children’s novel about food, heritage and protecting the community at the time - but something about it wasn’t working. Then, I had the idea of putting a botanical spin on the story. I wrote a new draft and Alyssa’s story was born.

If you could have any magical power, what would it be?

Teleportation, hands down. I would save a tonne on aeroplane tickets!

What’s your number one writing tip for budding young authors?

You’re never too young to start writing and getting your work out there. Form a creative writing group with like-minded friends, read each other’s work and get feedback. Revise, revise, revise.

What’s your favourite cosy read?

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. It’s the most magical, awe-inducing and wonderful book. I came to it as an adult but reading it made me feel like a child in the best possible way.

Are you planning to return to the world of Alyssa and the Spell Garden?

Yes, I am. I can’t say much about it now, but I will say that the sequel is set in a very different place to North London…

About Alexandra Sheppard:
Alexandra Sheppard (she/her) was born in North London, where she still lives with her family. Oh My Gods was her first YA novel. Alex is also the co-author of Fly High Crew and The Day We Saved The Future in collaboration with the Banjo Brothers and has contributed to Happy Here, an anthology of stories from Black British authors and illustrators. Her second YA novel, Friendship Never Ends, published to great acclaim. Her middle grade novel, Alyssa and the Spell Garden, is out now.