Meet the Author

K L Knowles

K L Knowles was born in Gosport where she still lives. She loves local history (but says she is no expert) and feels proud to live in this area of Hampshire. As a child she always wanted to go on an adventure and explore the town, so where better a setting for an adventure story, she thought? She kept her writing a secret from her family and friends until one day decided to send off the manuscript of The Road To Apple Dumpling Bridge to Chaplin Books. When the offer for publication came through, she decided she had better start telling people! When she did, they all told her she should be shouting about it. K L Knowles is a civil servant working for Hampshire County Council. In her spare time, she loves woodcarving: she has converted her garage into a workshop and can spend hours (which seem like minutes) in there whittling away, happy as Larry. "This hobby completely relaxes my mind," she says, "and no 'shoulda woulda coulda' thoughts or conversations come into my mind. Bliss."

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K L Knowles also enjoys drawing. Here's her sketches of the shed on the Brockhurst Allotments that leads to the headquarters of the resistance; and of the wire across the harbour - a treacherous journey for Agatha and Floppy.

This is your first novel. Have you always been interested in writing?

As a child I would always write little notes to myself in a secret notepad which I would hide away in my bedroom. They were ramblings of little sayings I would come up with and ideas for stories that never got written. When I say I would hide them away, I mean I would literally lock them up in a box and then hide away the key in another locked box and then hide that key too. I think I was a little odd! I never liked school as I wasn't very confident and was incredibly shy. I didn't like to read at all and struggled. It wasn't until I went to St Vincent College in Gosport that the pressure of school life suddenly disappeared, and learning started to make sense and become much easier for me.

Why did you choose to write for young adults? Which young adult novelists do you most admire? ?

That's easy - the mighty Brian Jacques and his Redwall series. It was incredible and was the first full-length novel I had ever read and to this day is still the best in my opinion. I loved how he described the food and wine that the animals would have, and the opening line just hooked me in immediately. So simple!

I remember reading Mrs Frisby and The Rats of Nimh by Robert C O'Brien. We read it as a class in school and I recently re-read it. I love his style of writing and thoroughly enjoyed this story. I do seem to love adventures involving animals. I think it makes a story more interesting, particularly when faced with a smidgeon of peril.

You describe your book as Watership Down meets Schindler's List meets The Da Vinci Code. Which of these most influenced you when you were writing?

Well, firstly they should never have re-made the film of Watership Down because 'if it's not broke, don't fix it'. Me and my brother grew up reciting some of the lines from the original film and to this day we still do. Whenever I go to Portsdown Hill the line "come and look, you can see the whole world" still comes into my mind. Love it!

Schindler's List is one of my top five films and obviously a really important one. I've always been interested in World War II and wanted children who knew nothing about the war to say "that's a bit far-fetched" when they read my story and the parallels to the Holocaust. My hope is that it sparks their interest and they want to learn more about the war and the incomprehensible nature of what happened.

I came up with the idea when I about 11 years old. I'd read something about Grey Squirrels being poisonous to Red ones and how they were brought over to this country from America and all but wiped the Red ones out. I started to make notes for the story and originally had the squirrels living either side of the River Alver in Gosport. I then began making up place names for certain locations. I then packed all my notes away (in a locked box of course) and didn't touch them again for years, except to say that more ideas kept popping into my thoughts over the years as I got older and learnt more. I picked it up again about four years ago and decided to extend the whole thing and looked to Portsmouth and real place names instead of making up silly ones. As for the tunnels, well they were always going to feature in whatever I eventually wrote because I've always wanted that particular urban myth to be true - I do so wish the tunnels connected all the Palmerston Forts. How great would that be!

There are a number of riddles in the book that the characters have to solve. Are you the kind of person who enjoys puzzles and riddles?

It wasn't until a third of the way through that I introduced the idea of the Holy Grail (The Ark) which was also of interest to Hitler, I believe. When I was younger, I recall my Gran telling me a story about Grandad being in a PoW camp and being allowed to send letters home as long as he did not disclose his location. He got past this problem: when Gran received the letters each one had a different middle initial to his name spelling it out. I'd always remembered this and wanted it to feature in a story but instead it heavily influenced the introduction of riddles in the book.

How important was it to you to set the book in your hometown?

I'm Gosport born and bred. It could only be set here. I wanted to make more of a feature of the tunnels because as I was growing up I loved the thought that they connected all the Palmerston Forts from Gosport, over Portsdown Hill and into Portsmouth. This area seemed to complement the story very well and I was able to merge some of our local history into it. As a child I wanted to go on an adventure and my favourite film was the Goonies which I would watch and re-watch till the tape gave out. I wanted to work out clues, read a map and save the day of course. Where better to do this than in my local town?

How long did it take you to write and did you have a strict writing regime?

I had the idea at age 11 and had piles of notes about it but it wasn't until four years ago that I properly sat down to write it. I would pick it up and put it down again over that time, but something would always pull me back to it. I wanted to know what happened and could never abandon my characters. The central premise was World War II set locally with an animal twist. I was excited by the idea that I was familiar with these places and could see them in my mind. I knew which places I wanted to feature in the story such as Rats Island, Priddy's Hard, the 17th Century Village, Portsmouth Dockyard and Old Portsmouth. Whilst I knew roughly what places were going to feature, I had no idea where the characters were going to take me. I had a rough outline but didn't know how important one character was going to be until a third of the way through the story. As soon as this lightbulb moment happened the story just spilled out onto the page for me.

The central quest in the book is for an acorn carved by the animal God. Is it right that you have carved one of these yourself?

Yes, and let me tell you it's harder than it looks. I started wood carving in 2014 and attended an evening course every Thursday in Portchester thinking it was best to learn the craft properly, given that I had put a chisel through my finger. There were lots of different characters on the course and different ages. I loved sitting quietly working away while listening to their stories. They were all local people and they would talk about mutual acquaintances, local stories that you just can't get from books, buildings and workplaces that no longer existed, old haunts and new developments. They were from all walks of life - one chap was a bespoke wine-rack maker, another an undertaker, a couple of tree surgeons, office workers, and some serving in the forces.

If the book has a moral, it is that kindness is everything. Do you think that kindness is a quality we have lost in today's world?

I have met a variety of people in my job as a children's social worker from all walks of life and backgrounds. I've seen poverty, heard horrific stories of abuse, and witnessed the impact of trauma. Most of these people need support and care, and even when dealing with the most horrific abusers, it's easy to spot a cycle of abuse based on their own early experiences. Even when you are getting pots and pans thrown at your head or being chased out of a house by an angry person, there is usually some redeeming feature to them when you catch them on a good day.

It doesn't take energy to be kind. We often don't know the impact someone has on our lives. It might be a teacher (and often is) who may say something so profound and meaningful to you that you remember what they said forever even if it was (for them) a passing comment. It's as simple as saying hello to someone at the bus stop or thank you for holding the door open. I think the trick is to be unassuming and always kind. You have no idea what a difference your words can make to someone's day and how you deliver them is even more important.

When you are not writing how do you spend your time?

I'm a bit of a home-body. You will find me in my workshop in the garage, wood carving with the radio on singing away to myself most weekends.

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