Bury St Edmunds’ Literature Festival – 21st October 2023
Back in April 2020, Hannah Gold talked to Jacquie Knott in an online Author Event for SBLabout her debut novel for children, The Last Bear.* This was one of the first interviews she gave, but she’s done hundreds since, including some on national TV, and has gone onto huge success. She’s been published in twenty-five countries and was winner of the Waterstones’ Children’s Book Prize and the Blue Peter Book Awards 2022.
Now, after also publishing a book about The Lost Whale, Hannah has written a sequel, Finding Bear, where April is called back to the Arctic by Bear to find him guarding a cub. As soon as I sat down in the Unitarian Meeting Hall, I could hear the excited chatter of children discussing which of these books was their favourite. In this intimate venue, Hannah was able to talk to the children in the audience beforehand, and have photos taken with them and their own polar bears.
Hannah’s books handle themes of climate change in a way which is accessible to younger readers and this talk was threaded through with the loss of ice around the real-life Bear Island and the effects on Arctic creatures. The focus though, was on a love of animals and the children being empowered to find their voice – their roar, as Hannah calls it. She asked if the children had any unusual pets. One had a turkey which, being not too far from December, Hannah said sounded a little worrying! She told us that as a child she’d woken up every Christmas morning longing for a horse. She talked a little about how shy she was and how she’d channelled ‘polar bear courage’ to write. ‘Shy people can achieve incredible things’. Later, in the Q and A a girl asked how long it takes to write a book. Hannah said The Last Bear was unusual in that it only took eleven months from blank page to finished book, but that it really took ‘twenty years of failure’, which is, I suppose, somewhat encouraging to us aspiring authors!
Hannah read a short piece from her latest novel, where April wonders at the Northern Lights as she comes close to finding Bear. We watched videos full of the amazing artwork, by Australian artist Levi Pinfold, which is so integral to these books. We discovered, during a quiz, that a polar bear’s fur is transparent and a newborn cub is the size of a guinea pig. We enjoyed a husky ride film, and heard about Hannah’s trip to Svalbard, which means ‘cold shores’. She didn’t find bears but saw lots of other Arctic creatures; many of these endangered too.
A golden bear was hidden under one of the children’s seats, which caused great excitement. There are more hidden in her books in the bookshops with a year’s supply of books as prizes. Hannah told us that the manuscript she’s currently writing features ‘lots of animals’ but right now, is at the stage where it’s ‘quite messy’. She wouldn’t reveal her bear cub’s name, though the children had some great guesses, like Aurora, and Hope. Hannah talked about the ‘beauty of children’s books’ and I left topped up with the children’s hope and wonder, in a world which suddenly seemed more full of possibility than it had when I went in.