Animal tales inspire young readers
It’s been a whirlwind year for Hannah Gold, who has realised her lifelong dream of becoming a published children’s author, with her debut scooping two top awards. Interview by Kate Chapman.
Already hailed a modern classic, The Last Bear is a heart-warming story of kindness and magical adventure. The tale, aimed at 8-12 year olds, focuses on environmental themes and is proving a huge hit with young readers who love animal stories as well as teachers, librarians and booksellers.
And since its publication in February 2021, Hannah’s story has won the Blue Peter Book Award, the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize as well as many other regional accolades. It was also nominated for the Carnegie Medal and shortlisted for Children’s Fiction Book of the Year at the British Book Awards and the Indie Book Awards.
Hannah cites the natural world as her main inspiration and her second book The Lost Whale, which also tackles big environmental themes, is also doing well in the bestseller charts.
“You never know how a book is going to do, so to win all these awards is wonderful,” says Hannah, who moved to Stamford in 2012 with her husband Chris so they could be closer to his family.
“My aim with The Last Bear was to write about the things I love – that’s animals and the natural world. Whilst climate change can be frightening, I’m passionate about sharing stories which still inspire hope – especially for children. [Stories] that show, by working together, we can all make a difference – no matter how small we are.”
Hannah has always been passionate about writing and storytelling and studied scriptwriting for film and television at university. She wrote a couple of books for young adults during her 20s and 30s but didn’t secure an agent. After taking a break, she eventually picked up her pen again to try once more.
“I was at a very low ebb, and I’d almost given up on the dream of being a writer. That is until a friend gave me the nudge to try again,” recalls Hannah.
“In February 2019, I sat down to write The Last Bear – I’d always wanted to write a children’s book but until that point hadn’t been brave enough to give it a go. But by now, in my mid-40s, I knew it was now or never.
“I also realised all the time I’d previously devoted to writing hadn’t gone to waste. It had helped me learn the craft and given me an understanding about story structure and character.
“I knew I wanted to write about animals. To this day I don’t know why, or where the idea came from, but this polar bear came to me. I hadn’t particularly been fascinated by them, but one day he was looking at me with his dark chocolate eyes and I knew there was a story he wanted me to tell.
“I started researching them, where they lived and while I was looking at a map of the Arctic I came across an island, called Bear Island! Well, I couldn’t believe this place existed. It was named after the polar bears that used to live there, but which no longer can due to the melting ice caps – and that was the start of the story.
“I had the beginning, the middle and knew the ending I wanted to get to, so I wrote it quite quickly, within three months – it was quite transcendental. It just flowed, the story was there and it just sort of came out complete.”
Hannah secured representation with her first-choice agent Claire Wilson, at RCW Literary Agency, and went on to gain a two-book deal with HarperCollins Children’s Books.
Although, not everything went to plan. The Last Bear was released during the pandemic, so rather than the planned publisher in-person launch, Hannah had an online one instead, for which she was joined by friends, family and members of the publishing world from across the globe.
“On a personal level, it was disappointing when you look at what other authors get to do and what I missed out on, but this was during a pandemic, and in the scheme of everything else it was just one of those things,” she adds.
“We had a great launch online and I did visit my local independent bookshop in Stamford, where they had my book in the window! It was still lovely, just in a different way.”
Her second book, The Lost Whale, also illustrated by Levi Pinfold, is another middle-grade novel, telling the incredible story of the connection between a boy and a whale and the bond that sets them both free. It was inspired by a whale watching holiday in Mexico.
For the past few months Hannah’s life has been a whirlwind of festival appearances, book signings, virtual school visits and award ceremonies – including a live appearance on Blue Peter to accept her prize.
Since then, she’s secured a new three-book deal and is now working on her next title, the details of which are shrouded in secrecy. Suffice to say it will be another of her trademark animal tales, told from the heart and featuring environmental themes.
“I’m incredibly grateful for the success that I’ve had, especially because of the opportunity it gives me to reach all of these readers. Being a children’s author really is the best thing and I absolutely adore it,” Hannah smiles.
“Now I just need to keep writing and drawing on the environment around me for ideas! Luckily, there’s lots of lovely green spaces here in Lincolnshire for inspiration.
“It took me a long time to make my dream come true, but now there’s no stopping me!”
The Last Bear and The Lost Whale are both published by HarperCollins Children’s Books and illustrated by Levi Pinfold. For more information about Hannah Gold visit hannahgold.world
Photographs: Hannah Gold/HarperCollins Children’s Books/Levi Pinfold