Lauren Child is nervous. “A little bit terrified”, in fact. This week her first Ruby Redfort novel came out, Look Into My Eyes, the first in a series of six that was requested by her thousands of Clarice Bean fans.
Clarice loves reading the Ruby Redfort series, about an American schoolgirl who solves crimes in her neighbourhood, and whose parents doesn’t know she’s a secret agent. “I decided to have Clarice very passionately reading a series, because I remember my sister very passionately reading Nancy Drew and Miss Marple when we were younger.”
Lauren says that every time she did an event, fans would ask her where they could get the Ruby Redfort books. “In about 50 per cent of the mail people write about Clarice, people will mention Ruby.” More than half a million Clarice Bean books have been sold, meaning Ruby was probably in very high demand.
A fictional hybrid of Jodie Foster and Tracy Beaker, the inspiration for Ruby came from the hours of American crime shows Child would watch when she was younger. “They never quite rang true if they were in Britain,” Child says. “America, certainly when I was growing up, was a very aspirational world – it was where they have branded things and big fridges and deluxe kitchens and all of the things we didn’t have, particularly back then when there was less of that sort of stuff. My mum never bought real Coca Cola – we had the supermarket version. When I was a child I looked at it and thought it all looked terribly exciting.”
Child believes that the children’s shows and Disney films she used to watch were “very good then; very anarchic. You got a lot more on children’s TV than you do now; it’s a lot more censored. A circular debate that I always hear is ‘what is good fiction, what is bad fiction’ – what should children be reading or watching, and it’s something that irritates me because I think if you’re reading and enjoying it then that’s a great thing. Not everything you read has to be educational, or somehow brain enhancing.
“I think escapism is fantastic – just to escape into your own world and enjoy the pleasure of picking up a book. In Clarice Bean, Clarice’s teacher is very disapproving of the Ruby Redfort books and says they can’t teach her anything, when in fact it helped Clarice deal with a lot of life’s tricky problems and she uses Ruby as a way of dealing with her own.”
It’s not just TV that’s changing, either. “In my darkest moments I do worry about will there be a book to read that isn’t digital," Child admits. "I’m not worried about children not reading books because I think children do read books and always will – I’m just worried that we won’t be making books in book form available.
“The whole thing of a book is so brilliant, there’s no better invention really. It’s such a perfect object. I think when you look at a picture book particularly, there’s a lovely thing about the smell of the ink, how the paper feels; you can see just how much you love it and how many times you’ve read it because it starts to disintegrate. I remember that really well as a child, about books being really precious, and so I’m not very easy about the whole digital book thing.”
Child’s fans would probably agree: the author and illustrator has sold over 3 million books, including the Charlie and Lola series that made her name. The Independent cites her as the eighth most borrowed author from UK libraries; she has an MBE for services to literature and has even cracked America. And she has high hopes for little miss Redfort.
“I hope Ruby’s more successful [than Clarice] because that would be fun. It’s interesting when your character is very well known. It’s less about me wanting to be well known because that’s intimidating, but one question you get asked all the time as a writer is ‘do you want to be as famous as J K Rowling?’ And the answer is no – I think what you’d really want is for your books to be as well loved as her books and that’s where you get a big kick. It’s really nice if you feel what you’ve written or drawn is well loved.”
Ruby Redfort looks set to already be well loved by the Clarice generation as they transcend into teenagedom, as Child plans “a book a year” in the Ruby series. Seeing as she has written a book for her fans, as requested by them, it looks like Lauren Child has no reason to be nervous at all.
Ruby Redfort: Look Into My Eyes is out now, published by HarperCollins.