LeannReadsBooks: What was your inspiration for this uncle/nephew mystery-solving duo?
Sam: It was really important to us that Harrison had a kind and encouraging mentor for his adventures – and someone who would ignite his lifelong love of trains. A travel writer seemed like the perfect choice. Uncle Nat is curious about the world, respectful towards others, and happy to help Hal discover the joys of travel. I’ve always felt uncles are a great fit for adventures – they can be weird, mysterious and exciting, but aren’t in your life most of the time. Hal and Nat’s relationship is one of my favourite things about the series.
M.G.: I am a fan of likable adult characters. Too often in stories for children, the adults have to be bad, die or be got out of the way before the action can happen. In my Beetle Boy books I have an understanding and supportive uncle called Max. I think Uncles, Aunts and Cousins are under used and provide wonderful opportunities for drama. Uncle Nat and Hal are a perfect example of the kinds of adventures that are possible with the right kind of grown up.
LRB: How do you come up with the mysteries in your books?
Sam: I’ve always enjoyed inventing games and puzzles – and I used to have a company that designed bespoke murder mystery treasure hunts for adventurous Londoners. For me, there’s no finer mystery plotter than the Queen of Crime herself, Agatha Christie – so I always like to draw inspiration from her. We always aspire to have the puzzle pieces slot into place at the end of the story with a satisfying click. The mystery needs to be complex enough to be challenging, but simple enough so that when you see the solution it all instantly makes sense without needing to be over-explained. It’s a tough balance to strike, but incredibly fun.
M.G.: Each book features a different type of adventure. We wrote a long list of all of the kinds of adventures we could think of and worked out which crimes would work best with the locations we were planning to write stories about. Sam is a veritable encyclopedia of mystery stories and always has brilliant ideas about who could have done it and how. I am very interested in character motivation and how action comes from the behavior of and relationships between the people on the train
LRB: I love the high stakes adventure on trains! What’s your ultimate bucket list trip by train?
Sam: As a lifelong train fanatic, this is an incredibly tricky question for me! But I think the undisputed beast of railway journeys that I would love to experience is the Trans-Mongolian Express, which takes 7 days to travel from Moscow to Beijing. I’d stop off in snowy Siberia to see the Ural Mountains, hike round glassy Lake Baikal, and ride camels in the desert in Ulan Ude. It’s one of the world’s great engineering masterpieces and one of the finest railway adventures there is.
M.G.: I have always wanted to travel around India by train, experiencing the dusty, overcrowded, carriages with people sat on the roofs, and then contrast of this with a luxury train journey, like the Maharaja Express, they kind aimed at wealthy tourists.
LRB: Do you have a bucket list of travel destinations or things you want to do? What are some places/items on your list?
Sam: Maya and I would both love to travel together to help find inspiration for the future books in our series. We’re both very keen to explore India by train – I would love to ride the narrow gauge steam railway up to Darjeeling in the misty peaks of the Himalayas. But at this moment in time, I’d settle for taking a train into central London. With strict lockdowns here in the UK, I’ve hardly been out of my flat for months!
M.G.: If Sam and I got to go on all the train journeys we plan to write about, I would be very happy. I still haven’t travelled on the California Zephyr (Sam did), so that would be the first train journey I would want to take.
LRB: Do you have any writing quirks? Or any superstitions while you’re working on a book?
Sam: The more I write, the fewer quirks and superstitions I let myself have. I used to be incredibly picky about how and when I would write, or feel that the ambience needed to be perfect otherwise the words wouldn’t come. But the truth is, when you’re being paid to deliver a manuscript to a tight deadline, you find out that you can write anywhere! Writing is my job, and so I try my best to treat it like one.
M.G.: I journal extensively, keeping a record of the amount of work I’m doing each day, week and month. It’s very easy to feel like you’re not making progress when you’re doing hours of work. It helps to remind yourself that this is a job and you must put the hours in to produce a good book. If you have a record of the hours, you know you’re doing it, even if the book isn’t coming together just yet. I have written more than ten books now, and I’m finding myself falling out of love with the computer. I’ve started writing more and more with a fountain pen and on paper, and it’s very pleasing. I am planning for the first draft of my next book to be written entirely on paper, and then I’ll type it up.
LRB: What made you want to write middle grade fiction?
Sam: I studied creative writing at university and it left me with the impression that the only writing worth doing was about serious and important issues. I’ve done a lot of different writing in my life – I’ve been a poet, a journalist, a playwright. But it was only when Maya and I began coming up with ideas for The Highland Falcon Thief that I realized how much joy I’d been missing out on in my writing. It was like a dam had burst, and all the things that gave me joy in my childhood came rushing back. These days I write for the ten year old boy I used to be – the boy that knew how to have fun. I write books to make people happy. And I think that’s the most important thing there is.
M.G.: My first book, Beetle Boy, was, I thought, for grown ups. It turned out that my narrative voice is about twelve years old, as is my sense of humour. It took me a while to understand that I gravitated towards writing children’s adventures because, inside, I still feel like a child. And, I love writing middle grade fiction. It has the best readers. They will tell you exactly what they think, and if they like what you’re doing, you feel pretty special.
LRB: What authors or books do you draw inspiration from?
Sam: Although all of our books are mysteries set on trains, each one follows a new railway journey somewhere around the world – so all the stories have quite a different feels. We like that readers get to have a taste of a different country and culture whenever they pick up one of our adventures. It also means the books have different inspirations. The Highland Falcon Thief feels like an old-fashioned Agatha Christie novel, but Kidnap on the California Comet feels much more like a thriller by Graham Greene. The book we’re writing at the moment, Danger at Dead Man’s Pass, was inspired by The Hound of the Baskervilles. We try to draw our inspiration from as wide a range of books as possible.
M.G.: Everyone from Shakespeare and Dickens to Neil Gaiman and Susannah Clarke. I love stories and have read widely in many genres. Two of my favourite books are Dune by Frank Herbert and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. I draw huge inspiration from non-fiction books on many subjects and love a good poem. I’m a fan of Cressida Cowell, Phillip Pullman, Erin Morgenstern and Jessica Townsend. I love reading, but I also believe that after a few chapters if a story isn’t for you, you should put the book down and find a new one.
Book Title: Kidnap on the California Comet (Adventures on Trains #2)
Author: M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Release Date: February 23, 2021
Genres: Middle Grade, Mystery, Adventure
Book Purchase link:
In this second book of the middle-grade Adventures on Trains series, amateur sleuth Hal Beck travels to the U.S. with his uncle to ride a famous train–the California Comet–and stumbles on a new mystery to solve, in M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman’s Kidnap on the California Comet…
After his adventure on the Highland Falcon, amateur sleuth Hal Beck is excited to embark on another journey with his journalist uncle. This time, they’re set to ride the historic California Comet from Chicago to San Francisco.
Hal mostly keeps to himself on the trip, feeling homesick and out of place in America. But he soon finds himself drawn into another mystery when the young daughter of a billionaire tech entrepreneur goes missing!
Along with new friends–spunky 13-year-old Mason and his younger sister, Hadley–Hal races against the clock to find the missing girl before the California Comet reaches its final destination.
M. G. Leonard is the award-winning, bestselling author of the Beetle Boy books. She works as a freelance digital media producer for clients such as the National Theatre and Harry Potter West End. She lives in Brighton with her husband and two sons, all of whom are crazy about trains. She is the co-author of the Adventures on Trains series.
Sam Sedgman is a novelist, playwright, and award-winning digital producer. He works as a digital project manager for the National Theatre, where he also hosts and co-produces their podcast. He grew up with a railway line at the bottom of his garden and has been fascinated by trains ever since. He is the co-author of the Adventures on Trains series.
Enter to win one (1) set of finished copies of The Highland Falcon Thief and Kidnap on the California Comet by M. G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman! Open USA only. There will be 1 winner.
Giveaway starts: Monday, February 22, 2021
Giveaway ends: Monday, March 1, 2021 at 12:00 a.m. CST