WRITERS' MINDS Candy Gourlay (Part 2)


Here's the second part of Sarah Broadley's interview with author Candy Gourlay about her novel Wild Song and her latest project – a graphic memoir. 

The St Louis World’s Fair of 1904 was an amalgamation of cultures from all over the world. You describe it in your acknowledgements by its original name of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Is there a reason why you changed the name? 

I decided early on to simplify it but I did explain about the Louisiana Purchase in one of the videos on my Instagram page. The Louisiana Purchase in 1893 was when the United States bought the territory of Louisiana from the Kingdom of France. The territory included land from 15 states, including what is now Texas! The World’s Fair was supposed to happen on the 100th anniversary of the purchase in 1903 but there were delays and it happened in 1904. The Philippine Reservation occupied 47 hectares of the Fair 
– its presence jived with the Fair’s celebration of American territorial expansion. It was also a public relations effort by the US government to justify its continuing presence in the Philippines.

You touch on racism, misogyny, sexism etc which unfortunately in various parts of society is as extensive today as it was back then. How important do you think it is for writers, in particular children’s writers, to discuss these themes in the narratives and plots of the stories they write?

Writing Wild Song was a voyage of self-discovery. It was a chance to explore a time that continues to impact my life today. It is so important to ask the questions even though the answers inevitably are SO complicated, with many shades of grey.

Candy Gourlay with Wild Song, published 2 March 2023
(David Fickling Books)

There is a lot of banning going on in the United States today, the argument being that many truths 
about gender, about feminism, about race – would cause harm to a child. Don’t they realise that, unlike writers for adults, we children’s writers always have our young readers prominent in every choice we make?

When I appear on diversity panels I tell the story that I had never seen myself in books and I thought that Filipinos were not allowed to be in books. But that is not the whole story. The other, more complicated story, is that I was brought up to believe that white culture was better than ours, that white people were more attractive, that, as demonstrated in movies, books and TV, only white people had deep, complex feelings. I had to live in England to compare myself to white people and realise that no way was I inferior.

You’ve created picture books, early readers, middle grade, YA books and so much more. You’ve collaborated with many fantastic illustrators and designers along the way. What’s been your favourite experience of that process? Do you ever get to meet them in person?

I love collaborating! Editors are very careful to protect illustrators from overzealous authors and so I have not actually met illustrators face to face, except Francesca Chessa who illustrated my picture book Is it a Mermaid? (Otter-Barry Books) … but only after the book came out when she was at our book launch.

Francesca had never been to the tropics so I sent her photos of a family holiday on the island of Camiguin. When I saw her illustrations I totally recognised Camiguin but was amazed by the way the pages exploded with colour!

For the factual graphic novel, about the explorer 
Ferdinand Magellan, I wrote for David Fickling Book’s First Names series, I was so impressed by the speed with which illustrator Tom Knight rendered his illustrations. The turnaround was quick and tricky because there were a lot of indigenous people portrayed in it and, because we didn’t know how they really looked in the 1500s, we had to kind of suggest the way they might have looked. But Tom worked so fast and his drawings are so funny!

Leo Nickolls worked on the cover of Wild Song. His brief was difficult as he had to evoke the cover of my novel Bone Talk by another illustrator while still using his own style. It was so exciting to see the result. David Fickling Books added a finish to the cover that makes the character and the title leap off the page!

What is next for Candy Gourlay?

When I was a kid I wanted to become a comic
 maker when I grew up. Wild Song was a long, exhausting project and I’d like to do something completely different next. So I’ve decided now is the time to make comics! I am making a graphic memoir.

There are things I learned writing Wild Song about my parent’s generation that I’d like to explore 
– their childhoods during World War II, the Japanese invasion, their Americanised upbringings.

It’s certainly been very different from waking up in the morning knowing that you’ve got to grind through more chapters of your novel. I just love thinking in pictures and not having to write words! It’s been an absolute joy!

*Header image: Wild Song by Candy Gourlay, cover illustrated by Leo Nickolls 
(Published by David Fickling Books)


Candy Gourlay was born in the Philippines, grew up under a dictatorship and met her husband during a revolution. Her books range from Greenaway nominated Is it a Mermaid? illustrated by Francesca Chessa to Carnegie shortlisted novel Bone Talk. The sequel, Wild Song, transports its characters to the 1904 World Fair in America. “Wild Song is a stunning achievement” 
– The Bookseller.


Sarah Broadley writes for children of all ages and lives in Edinburgh. She is a member of SCBWI Scotland, the Society of Authors and the Scottish Book Festival Network. Sarah is also a trustee on the board of Cymera 
– the UK's only sci-fi, horror and fantasy writing festival. She chats with creatives on her Words & Pictures feature Writers’ Minds and is a children’s book reviewer for on-line resource My Book Corner.

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