Set on Culion Island in the Philippines, The Island at the End of Everything (Chicken House Books) follows 12-year-old Ami,” Kiran Millwood Hargrave explains. “She lives with her mother, who has leprosy. They are happy, but this changes when a malicious government official arrives. Culion is to become a leper colony and all healthy inhabitants are to be subject to mass migration.
“Ami is taken to an orphanage, where she meets a mysterious, honey-eyed girl, and they plan to return to the island at the end of everything. It’s about friendship, family, wildness and hope.”
In terms of the inspiration for the book, the 27-year-old author says she heard someone read aloud a poem about the Culion Leper Colony, and “morbid fascination” led her to research it further. “What struck me was the process of Culion becoming a leper colony - the forced separation of the ‘healthy’ and ‘sick’ - and my reaction to it. I wanted to explore the story further, in a way that didn’t sensationalise illness. I wanted to tell a human story,” she says, “so I placed a girl at the heart.”
The success of her début, The Girl of Ink & Stars, took her “entirely by surprise”, but she isn’t overawed by pressure surrounding its follow- up. “It’s impossible to assume that this [novel] will achieve success in the same way,” she says. “Personally I prefer it: it’s quieter but kinder, smaller in scale but bigger in heart.” She says the prizes - including being named the British Book Awards’ Children’s Book of the Year, beating J K Rowling, David Walliams and Nadiya Hussain, among others - have affected her career “immeasurably. [The book is also] Waterstones Children’s Book of the Month again, which is the greatest gift any author could hope for. It means visibility, window displays, events, increased and lovely correspondence with booksellers and readers. But most of all, it has given me confidence. My ambition has grown further. I aspire for my best book to always be my next book.”
And what is she working on next? “I have my fourth poetry collection coming out in the autumn, and I’m starting to write poems regularly again. I’ve started my third kids’ book; It’s set in the Dark Ages in a Slavic wilderness, and follows three sisters on a dangerous journey to save their brother’s life. I think it wants to be magical realism.”
Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Barry Cunningham will be speaking at The Bookseller's Children's Conference 2017 about The Girl of Ink & Stars and its success. For more information on the conference click here.