There is no big bad wolf...
Ewa Jozefkowicz, children's book author and bookworm takes inspiration for her stories from people of other cultures and times because, she says "we have so much to learn from them." She still finds it hard to believe her books are in bookshops and people read them! She very kindly spoke to Louise Ellis-Barrett about her latest book The Wolf Twins, about wolves, twins and books in general...
When I saw the title of your latest book The Wolf Twins my first thoughts went to ancient Roman myths! Is that just my background as an ancient historian and classicist as an ancient historian and classicist or did you find inspiration there too?
Someone else mentioned this to me recently too! But I’m afraid that the book doesn’t have anything to do with the Roman myth of Romulus and Remus. It just happens to be about twins and wolf rewilding.
I’ve been fascinated by I've been fascinated by wolves for a very long time now.
We’ve all read Little Red Riding Hood, and I think we're conditioned as children to be frightened of wolves, when in reality they’re often just as scared of us as we are of them. They’re deeply intelligent creatures; they can communicate over vast distances, and they’re pack animals who really look after their young.
There are so many stories, ideas, myths and ‘facts,’ about twins that authors could tap in to. Did you write this book with the hope of being able to dispel some and set the record at least a little straighter?
Yes, just as is the case with wolves, I think many people have preconceptions about twins, particularly identical twins. It’s commonly believed that they’re very similar both inside and out – that they can’t live without each other, they share thoughts, and can finish each other’s sentences.
There may well be some identical twins who have a very strong connection like this, but I know several examples of twins who have very different personalities and feel perhaps a stronger need than the average person to assert their individuality because they’re so outwardly similar.
Do you feel that identical twins particularly, lack representation in children’s books?
Yes, I think there are few identical twins in children’s books. Double Act by Jacqueline Wilson is the one book that really sticks in my mind as exploring the often difficult relationship between twins. But I feel that there’s definitely space for further exploration.
Lucy and Alpha, the twins of the title, find their interests diverging quite quickly once the story has opened. I wonder if this divergence is not limited to twins but impacts siblings and even freinds. Was this a resonance you hoped
readers would find too?
I think you're right - this is something that can impact any people who are close to each other. Such a separation of interests can lead to them drifting apart, which of course can be very painful.
I also explored this theme in my first book, The Mystery of The Colour Thief, in which the main character Izzy finds her best friend Lou slowly drifting away from her.
Many children are disconnected from nature in this modern world. Was that part of the drive for your plot; to try and encourage a reconnection?
Definitely. I think that we have so much to learn from nature! Sadly we are waking up a little too late to the fact that humans have been destroying the natural world for so many years now. I’d love for young generations to really find their connection with it again – it’s so good for the soul.
I was lucky enough to visit some amazing woodland recently, including Białowieża in Poland, which is the one of the largest remaining parts of a primaeval forest that once covered most of Europe. It’s home to some incredible animals including bison, lynx and wolves. You feel an amazing sense of peace when you're there.
The chapters alternate, giving us the voices and points of view of Lucy and Alpha. It is nice to hear from the characters directly, did you choose to write in this style to maintain a smooth, synchronized story with two first person narratives to give readers greater insight?
Yes, I really wanted to bring the characters of Lucy and Alpha to life and show their very different perspectives on events. I thought that having a ‘train of thought’ quality to the story would help the reader bond with each of them. It was fun trying out distinct writing styles to suit each of their personalities.
Did you actively try to make Lucy and Alpha “typical” identical twins or is there a definite sense of ‘poetic licence’ in their story?
I have to say that I don’t think there are ‘typical’ identical twins. My main aim in the story was to highlight the wonder in the fact that we’re all so unique, and to celebrate the differences between people – particularly those who might outwardly look very similar.
Although you are a parent of twins did you still need to do some research into the psychology of being a twin and their behavioural traits?
Yes, I’ve been reading up a lot on the subject, and have spoken to the parents of identical twins. Their relationships
are really fascinating, and what to me was interesting was the question of whether its good to split twins up into different classes at school, or whether it was better to keep them together.
The answer of course is that it depends on the children, and how they feel about having their brother or sister so close to them all the time. But what’s even more important is to give each twin space to develop their own interests and friendships.
Hopefully many sets of twins will read The Wolf Twins, along with many curious children who are not twins! What would you like your readers to take away from the story?
My main message is not to take anything at face value. Just like a wolf may not be the frightening, vicious animal that we may think it to be, twins may not be alike in personality.
Everyone should be treated and respected as an individual – with their own beliefs, likes and dislikes. Aside from being an exciting adventure, I wanted The Wolf Twins to be a celebration of that uniqueness.
Finally can you tell us about what you loved to read as a child and what your favourite childhood story was?
This is a very difficult question as I loved so many books as a child!
I was a book devourer - and felt that I was super lucky because my dad was a bookseller. I spent many a great hour in his bookshop reading my way through the children’s section. I think my favourite book of all time is Skellig by David Almond. It’s simply beautiful, and I'm so pleased that it recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, and that children are still enjoying it today.
Ewa Jozefkowicz's The Wolf Twins is out now, available from all good bookshops. Our thanks to both Ewa and Polly Grice from Head of Zeus for making this interview and blog possible.