For our first Q&A of the new year, we were very excited to speak to actress, television presenter, playwright and writer extraordinaire, Cerrie Burnell. Cerrie is back with The Girl with the Shark’s Teeth, a richly-detailed, fantasy world quite unlike anything else out there.
This magical adventure stars Minnow, a young girl who feels an irresistible pull to water, and beneath the waves she feels free. When Minnow’s mother is taken from her, she answers a call from the Wild Deep she has been waiting for her whole young life. In her brave and fearless mission, Minnow is transformed forever.
Your magical book, The Girl with the Shark’s Teeth, is a fantastical adventure filled with mermaids, pirates and sharks. Can you tell us a bit more about where the inspiration for it came from?
I have always loved the sea, and always felt it holds mysteries far beyond our understanding. I adore mermaid mythology, but wanted to portray mermaids as strong and fearless, as women with shark teeth. The real inspiration for the book happened at a children’s party, when my daughter – who is of dual heritage, was given a tiny shark’s tooth in her party bag. She held it up to the gap between her teeth and as I stared at her, I suddenly had the characters of Minnow and Mercy and knew I had to seek them out and write their story.
Minnow is of dual heritage and her mum Mercy has a hook. It’s fantastic to see wider representation in fiction, particularly in middle-grade books. Why do you think it’s important to champion books that are more inclusive and diverse?
We live in such a huge, colourful, multicultural world and it’s absolutely imperative that children’s literature reflects this. When a child sees themselves in a story, that’s when the magic begins.
Minnow encounters a book of Old Norse tales that have more of a foundation in reality than she originally thinks. Did inspiration for your book come from any specific Norse tales, myths or fairy tales?
I think every fairytale I heard as a child or have come across as an adult has influenced my work in some way. Particularly in this book, The Little Mermaid, selkie myths or folk songs warning of the dangers of the sea such as Sea Lullaby by Elinor Wylie- it’s wonderful and terrifying.
If you could go on an underwater adventure with one of your characters, who would it be and why?
It would be Minnow. I would love to hold her hand in the deep, dark water and have the courage to swim with a shark.
If World Book Day had a gate like the Gate in the Wild Deep, which song would you sing to enter? And can you give us a magical fact about your book that readers may not already know?
I think the gate to World Book Day, would be a glorious place and deserve something joyful and story-based. Maybe ‘Lets Go Fly a Kite’ from Mary Poppins. A magical fact that readers may not know about The Girl with the Shark’s Teeth, is that The Wild Deep is real. Yes. If you have the right map, you can find it. I went once as a very young child. It’s somewhere in the ocean between Iceland, America and the tip of the Caribbean.
A lot of young readers will recognise you as one of the television presenters on CBeebies. What made you want to take a detour from the world of TV to become a children’s writer?
I have always been a writer in my heart. To be lucky enough to tell my own stories and create new worlds for a modern community, feels like a wish that continues to be granted. I haven’t disappeared from screens all together, but I want to influence diversity in different ways.
You’ve spoken about how hard it is to find stories filled with diverse characters. Have you come across any great ones that you can recommend?
To my delight there is definitely a sea of change occurring, with some wonderful new books being swept up on our bookshelves. Some recent favourites are the Sam Wu series by the fabulous Katie and Kevin Tsang, Sky Song by the wonderful adventure-seeking Abi Elphinstone and Children of Blood and Bone by the sublimely talented Tomi Adeyemi.
Finally, if you were a mermaid, what colour would your scales be? I think it might be fun to have glow in the dark fins!
I have imagined this A LOT. They would be every colour of the sea, and iridescent like moonlight.
The Girl with the Shark’s Teeth, published by Oxford University Press, is out now.