I’m so delighted to be part of the Books on Tour Blog Tour for Ashling Kwok’s brand new picture book The Battle. This is a gorgeous book – both the story and those illustrations (by Cara King)! – about facing fears that are holding you back. Ashling was kind enough to answer some questions about the book and the inspiration behind it, so I’ll let her tell you more!
Can you please tell us a bit about your latest title, The Battle?
The Battle is the story of a little boy named Edward who is anxious about starting knight school. He’s sure that it will be full of ogres and dragons so he puts on his armour and prepares for battle. As the day progresses, Edward soon realises that the dragons and ogres he imagined don’t actually exist. They were figments of his imagination brought on by his fear.
What are the main themes in the book, and why did you want to write about them?
The main themes are fear, anxiety, friendship, kindness, perception, and the power of the imagination. The Battle was based on real life experience so most of the themes naturally evolved. However, I did try to highlight the role that perception plays in our lives and how sometimes our fears are so strong that they make us see things that aren’t really there.
I would love to know whether there was a particular event or person that inspired this story? And how close is your character, Edward, to the real-life inspiration?
The Battle was inspired by a very special person – my son, Aiden – who developed a fear of going to school when he was 11 years old. He believed that he was being bullied by his friends and that the only way to escape them was to hide away from the world. It took a long time to get Aiden to face his fears and to reframe his thoughts – but we got there in the end!
Edward and Aiden couldn’t be more alike. Everything from their physical appearance, to their mannerisms are exactly the same. Every time I look at Edward, all I can see is my beautiful little boy.
Do you have a favourite part of the story, or an area that was particularly difficult to write? Why?
My favourite part of the story is when Edward realises that his armour is holding him back. I think that’s such a powerful concept because we all wear armour sometimes and don’t realise how much better our lives would be if we let our guards down.
The hardest part to write was the opening paragraph because it reminded me about how terrified Aiden actually was. Watching my son walk into school every morning broke my heart but I knew that if I didn’t send him into battle, he would never learn how to manage his fears.
The themes of the book are pretty universal, and I think will resonate with a lot of readers. How do you hope readers, parents and educators will utilise your book following their literary experience?
I hope that The Battle is not only enjoyable to read but that parents and educators use it as a tool to introduce children to the concept of perception and the fact that how we perceive the world around us directly influences everything we do. If we see ourselves as someone who is weak or unworthy, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy and we will always struggle in life. If we perceive the world as scary, we will approach people and places with trepidation or choose to hide away. It’s such an interesting and important topic to explore.
The illustrations, by Cara King, are absolutely gorgeous. Are there any little quirks or particular aspects in them you would like to draw our attention to?
When I saw the sample illustration that Cara sent to EK Books, I almost cried. Cara has never seen a picture of my son but Edward is the spitting image of him. Everything from his wavy dark hair, to the look in his eyes, to the way Edward sat on the floor reluctantly getting dressed for school was indicative of my son. I knew from the moment I saw Edward that Cara was the perfect illustrator for the job.
Finally, I’d love to know whether there are other children’s books covering similar themes you have enjoyed, and did you draw inspiration from any of them?
I can’t think of any other picture books that focus on the exact same themes as The Battle but there are lots of fabulous books about overcoming fears, making friends, and starting school such as Jessica’s Box and Sarah’s Heavy Heart by Peter Carnavas.
To be honest, I didn’t draw inspiration from any other books when I was writing The Battle. It was based on an issue my son was going through so I basically watched the story unfold before my eyes. I could feel my son’s pain so deeply that I had all the emotion I needed to tell this story.