A NEW MYSTERY: Anna Battese

Anna Battese dives into childhood adventures and real-life stories in the third instalment of PD McPem's Agency for Mysterious Mysteries series, Case Three: The Baffling Beach Bandit.

What do you love about writing children's books?

I’ve always loved reading children’s books (even now, I’d much prefer a beautifully illustrated picture book or middle grade over something “Grown Up”), so being able to write for children is a privilege and an extension of the happiness I feel when I read.

When I write children’s books, I get to return to a world that is new and bright and silly and full of hope. It’s a fun place to lose yourself in and there’s such delight in bringing characters to life and seeing what adventure unfolds.

Plus, getting to meet small readers when a book is released is such a joy. I love hearing what they love about a book, what they didn’t and what their (truly brilliant) ideas for their own stories are.

What inspired you to write the PD McPem's Agency for Mysterious Mysteries series?

I’m really passionate about all kids being able to see themselves in the books they read, so I wanted to write a series that celebrates single-parent families and the gorgeous relationships that kids have with their Grandparents (PD and her puppy Scooter live with their Mum but spend a lot of time with Granny and Grandpa, while PD’s best friend Theodora lives with her Aunt Dot at the zoo).

The story grew from watching the total mischief that my little girl gets up to with her own Granny and Grandpa and from my own memories of making even the smallest of things into a delicious and chaotic adventure.

It’s one of the things I love most about children – their ability to find magic (and mystery) whenever they look.

What inspired you to write your newest addition to the series, Case Three: The Baffling Beach Bandit?

I drew inspiration from (spoilers ahead!) the hilarious and wild escapades of a certain seal, by the name of Neil. Neil is a gorgeous southern elephant seal, who lives in Tasmania and was hanging around town while his fur moulted. He caused a little chaos, but I love that the locals looked out for Neil and did their best to remind visitors to give Neil his space (it is, after all, his home!). Neil is Insta-famous now – you can find him at neiltheseal22 or Google for more Neil news!

I was also inspired by some small friends of mine, who find school excursions (especially to the beach) Extremely Nerve-Wracking. My heart swells when I see kids like that trying new things, even though it makes them worried. I hope they feel seen in this story and know that they’re the bravest of everyone and not alone.

What is exciting and challenging about writing a new addition to a series?

Figuring out a new mystery that feels new and exciting is always a little daunting. Who are we going to involve? What is going to go terrible wrong? And how is PD going to grow, just a little, through each adventure?

With a series, the stakes need to get a little higher – and the story a little bigger – every time, which can being a little scary.

It’s probably about 90% exciting, and 10% terrifying, if I’m being honest.

Did any personal experiences contribute to this new book?

In my Before-Author times, I was a marine biologist, so I love writing about the ocean and its creatures (especially and always sharks!).

While I haven’t worked with (spoilers!) seals, I did spend time over in South Africa helping out on a Great White Shark research project. People often ask if I was scared going into a cage in the water and my answer is definitely not! Sharks are incredibly beautiful and graceful up close and fun fact – they have really distinct personalities! I was however, FREEZING. The Southern Ocean does not muck around.

Do you have a typical writing process? How did the writing process for this book compare?

I am, unfortunately, a Pantser (a Wild Thing who writes as the story comes to them, without any sensible plotting or planning) and this story was no different!

I love the advice that the first draft of a book is just you telling the story to yourself, so I tend to write the first (very) rough draft quickly. Then I take my time (along with a lot of coffee and sour worms) to review chapter by chapter until the story is layered and I’ve weaved in plenty of clues and a few red herrings along the way.

My writing process also relies on the World’s Greatest Writers Group, who critique all my stories and make them infinitely better. If you are a writer too, my best advice is to get yourself a group of writers to brainstorm and draft with (you can’t have mine though, mine are taken).

What do you hope your readers will take away from Case Three: The Baffling Beach Bandit?

That there are baffling and brilliant mysteries in this world, everywhere you look, and those mysteries are always best solved with friends (and Grandpas).

That it’s okay to feel scared and even more okay to ask your friends for help.

That Theodora has some really good advice when it comes to keeping our beaches clean and our marine animals safe.

And finally, that no one has ever really proved that a Sharktopus doesn’t exist.

What was it like to work with an illustrator on this story? Were there particular images or experiences that you were excited to see?

I am so lucky to have Ruth-Mary Smith illustrating the PD series! Right from the beginning, Ruth-Mary just got the story and the characters. I was blown away when I saw the very first illustrations for Book 1 – Ruth-Mary had drawn Scooter the dog exactly as I had imagined him (he happens to look very much like our own dog Scout, who inspired the character).

In this story, I was especially excited to see how Ruth-Mary would capture the beach scenes (the beach is my favourite place to be) and the Beach Bandit, themselves. And of course, Ruth-Mary did not disappoint – the last illustration in the book makes my heart pop.

Do you have any other projects in the works?

I sure do! Another PD mystery is on its way in August 2024, and we’re planning two more for 2025. Stay tuned, Detectives!