Monica McInerney on ‘Marcie Gill and the Caravan Park Cat’
Marcie Gill and the Caravan Park Cat (Puffin, November) is Monica McInerney’s first book for children. Set in South Australia, it follows Marcie Gill as she tackles family troubles with help from a magical cat called George. Reviewer Annie Waters says ‘amid expert plotting and pacing, gentle messages about kindness, community and learning to listen shine through’ in the middle-grade book. She speaks to the author.
The setting of this book—a well-maintained but affordable caravan park by the sea—is quintessentially Australian. Is this what your family holidays were like growing up or did you find inspiration elsewhere?
I grew up in a family of nine in the Clare Valley of South Australia, where my dad was the railway stationmaster. I’d love to have gone to a seaside caravan park for our family holiday but there were just too many of us—we’d have needed a fleet of caravans. Instead, we’d go to railway-owned holiday houses by the beach. I have a clear memory of walking past caravan parks on our way to swim, enviously looking in at the people staying there. All these years later, I finally get to have my childhood caravan park holiday via Marcie’s eyes—and even better, she lives there full-time.
I like that although Marcie Gill is for young readers, you don’t skimp on plot—there are multiple narrative and character arcs that are successfully resolved even in such a short book. Are you a plotter or a pants-er?
I’m so glad you enjoyed the different strands, thank you. I wanted to include all the family fun, drama, adventure and plot twists that I have in my ‘adult’ novels. I never plot my books in advance. I imagine my fictional family, think about the characters for months beforehand and then bring in a big event or two—in this case Gran’s accident and Marcie’s parents’ troubles—and then follow the resulting ripples and action. The fun part of writing Marcie Gill was including magical elements with George the cat—I’m tempted to use magic in my adult novels now too!
You also write (very successfully!) for adults. Why did you decide to write this story for a younger audience and how has the children’s publishing experience been different for you?
I have 18 nieces and nephews and have been using them as guinea pigs for my children’s stories for years, writing tales about them as the lead characters. I also clearly remember how exciting books were to me as a child, the excitement of a world that straddled reality and magical adventures. I wanted to re-create that feeling. It was such good fun writing Marcie Gill and the Caravan Park Cat and I’m hoping it is only the first in a series of Marcie Gill books. I was so lucky to have immediate enthusiasm from Puffin Books publisher Laura Harris, publishing manager Kristin Gill and my editor Mary Verney. I had a lot to learn about writing for children and I still do. There’s no time for slow building backstory, you have to hit the story-road running. A special part of the process has been the illustrations, a first for me with my books. The South Australian artist Danny Snell has done such beautiful work, bringing Marcie, George, the Gills and Snorkel Bay to life in ways beyond my own imagination.
What authors did you love to read as a child?
I adored Enid Blyton’s books. I’d borrow them in stacks from our small local Clare library or get them sent up on the train from the big Adelaide library. I loved the feel of those hardback covers and the surprise of an illustration every few pages (which makes the look and feel of Marcie Gill even more special to me). The stories felt so real—I’d go looking for the magic in the everyday, wanting to see wings on chairs and lands at the top of trees. I also loved the Milly-Molly-Mandy books (that map of the village at the front!) and Nancy Drew.
Do you have a cat? Are they as wonderful and erudite and amusing as George?
I share a wonderful black cat called Nicholas with my mum Mary. (He’s named after my Irish great-grandfather.) I found myself stranded in Australia by Covid in March 2020, far from home in Dublin and my Irish husband. Mum and I shared her tiny apartment in Adelaide for nine months, quite a change for us both. Early on, my wise younger sister thought it would be a good idea to introduce a kitten as distraction and entertainment. We adopted him from a shelter—he was the last kitten there, a green-eyed black scrap. I’d already written many drafts of Marcie Gill, including all of George the cat’s scenes. I now found myself doing the final edits in South Australia (where the book is set), with a black cat the spit of George sleeping on my lap, walking across my manuscript or curled up in a ball beside my laptop. He is the best cat in the world and gives us constant amusement and entertainment. He’s also excellent inspiration for more Marcie Gill books …
Image credit: Matt Turner