June Author Spotlight: Steve Voake
Our author spotlight this month is on Steve Voake, whose book Insect Detective is featured in the Wonderkin Insect Box and on our list of "Eight Great Books About Insects To Support Nature-Based Learning."
What is your favorite outdoor childhood memory?
When I was about five years old, my mother told me that if I found a four-leaf clover, it would bring me good luck. I think she regretted telling me, because after that every time we went out I would search through patches of clover for hours, trying to find one. I searched for years without finding one. But then one day when we were having a picnic in a field somewhere, I found one. And then another. And another. And then I found one with five leaves, and another with six. We took them home and pressed them under a pile of books and I was so happy. I don’t remember what happened to them after that, but I do remember that it felt like magic and I’ve never forgotten it.
What inspired you to become an author?
I’ve always loved writing stories but it was something I did for fun and never thought it would ever be something I could do as a job. So I became a teacher and then a principal of an elementary school, which I enjoyed very much because children are very open to the world and eager to discover more about their surroundings. Then one hot summer’s day, I was walking in the fields behind my house and I was tracked and bitten by a horsefly. And I thought: ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting if there was a little pilot inside, flying it around like a little fighter jet?’ That became my first book ‘The Dreamwalker’s Child’ which changed my life; I became an author and a teacher of creative writing at Bath Spa University, helping others to find their stories too.
What was the most surprising thing you discovered while researching Insect Detective?
When I was younger I was always fascinated by insects. I would spend hours feeding sugar water to exhausted bumble bees or watching wasps from a safe distance as they flew in and out of their nests. So researching Insect Detective gave me the chance to do that again and although I didn’t put it into the book, I was surprised to discover that if I put a circle of stones around the entrance to a solitary bee’s nest it would use them as landmarks to find its way home. If I moved them to a place nearby, it would fly over to them, thinking its nest was there instead. But I always put them back afterwards!
The beautiful illustrations in Insect Detective add nicely to your text, and the illustrator, Charlotte Voake, is your cousin! What was your collaboration process like?
Charlotte was a very successful author for many years before I wrote my first book and I had always loved her work. So when our publisher suggested we work together, I was thrilled. I would send early drafts to her and she would send back the most exquisite drawings which was wonderful. As the book neared completion we met at the publisher’s office in London and had great fun working with the art director to see how everything might fit together. Charlotte and I share a similar sense of humour, so I seem to remember there was lots of laughter too!
What is your favorite children’s book?
Hard to choose, but I think probably ‘Charlotte’s Web’ by E.B. White because what on the surface appears to be a simple story about a little girl, a pig and a spider is actually a love letter to the natural world and a poignant contemplation of the passing of time.
Finish this sentence: “Spending time in nature makes me feel…”
That we all need some respite from our hectic, twenty-first century lives. A quiet walk along a beach or a still moment in a sunlit forest will soon remind us that we live in a unique, extraordinary world full of mystery and magic…
Steve Voake is the award-winning author of several young adult novels including The Dreamwalker’s Child, The Starlight Conspiracy and Blood Hunters (Faber & Faber). He has also written the Daisy Dawson and Hooey Higgins series for younger readers and Insect Detective, a non-fiction picture book.