Elle McNicoll is an award-winning Scottish children’s author.

Her phenomenal debut novel, A Kind of Spark, is a big hearted story of courage and integrity as 11 year old Addie campaigns for a memorial to the 16th century women tried as witches in her Scottish hometown. Featuring a feisty autistic heroine, it was crucial and fresh, and was shortlisted for a raft of awards winning both the Blue Peter Book Award and the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. On winning the Blue Peter Award, Elle said: "As someone who grew up watching Blue Peter and discovering brilliant new books from the show, it is an extraordinary moment to be recognised. To be a part of their World Book Day celebrations is great, and to have been voted the winner by readers is life changing." 

Elle followed this success with Show Us Who You Are, a story of friendship with a cast of neurodivergent characters, and then in Like a Charm, she introduced us to Ramya Knox. Like a Charm is ablaze with magic, mythical beings, and the indomitable derring-do of its inspirational neurodivergent heroine. Concluding the dazzling duology, and just published, Like a Curse is a thrillingly plotted, magic-rich adventure underpinned by inspiring themes of self belief.

As a neurodivergent writer, Elle is passionate about disability rights and representation and in 2022 founded The Adrien Prize, to recognise children’s fiction that explores the disability experience. 

Elle is published by Knights of Media, an award-winning inclusive publisher focused on bringing underrepresented voices to the forefront of commercial children's publishing, and Children’s Publisher of the Year 2022.

We are proud to welcome Elle McNicoll as our Guest Editor for February. Read on for her book recommendations and find out more about her writing..but first she has written a letter to her readers... 

One of my favourite writing spots, and by that I mean a place where I sit and stare at strangers while doing no writing at all, is Abbey Road in North London, which is very close to my flat. It’s the perfect place to research character because all sorts of people come to that famous crossing to try and recreate an old album cover. There are arguments, celebratory moments and attempted murder from some of the drivers.

For me, story and character are the most important elements of a book. A lot of novels have plot, which is very different to story in my mind. There’s an amulet here, a treasure map there, a prophecy from an ancient relic in the next chapter. These things are all fine and can help create plot. But they still need story. Who left the amulet behind? Who first buried the treasure?

Only by answering questions like that can we find story within plot and, for me, going to tourist spots like Abbey Road in London help me find my next character. I like looking outside of myself as much as I like to look in. Take a look at people the next time you’re on a train and be curious about their stories!

I hope your reading is diverse and far reaching but if you’re like me, and you believe character is plot, you’ll like my books and you should enjoy the ones I’m about to recommend.

Happy February and let’s dive in!

Both Like a Charm and Like a Curse read beautifully – they’re finely-paced, perfectly-plotted and, at the same time, there’s an instinctual fire to them. What was your initial spark for the duology? And how fully-formed did the characters, world and themes come to you? Ramya came before anything else did and because her gift allows her to see through the veil of the supernatural, I suppose I was thinking about that very specific neurodivergent experience of seeing through certain facades that other people lap up. Then the fantasy elements arrived.

Blending magic and folklore with the real-world is no easy feat. How did you tackle doing exactly that? Folklore has always been about “the real world”, I suppose, the stories just end up being frozen in the past. But they were once contemporary.

Thinking of Ramya’s rousing assertion that, “If there’s one thing I know as a dyspraxic girl, it’s that staying down is not an option. People expect you to. They sometimes want you to. So, I always get back up,” how much of her character relates to your personal experiences? Almost all of it. I’ve been very open about the challenges of being diagnosed at a young age, and I’m also always keen to remind every reader that most of these challenges are created by outside forces.

Who/what are your all-time favourite writers and books? Do you find yourself returning to certain writers or books for bookish sustenance? Dickens, Austen, Tony Kushner, Tennessee Williams, Nora Ephron, Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Jason Reynolds, Toni Morrison, Simon James Green, Benjamin Dean, Jacqueline Wilson, Robin McKinley, Robin Stevens, Juno Dawson…

What do you hope readers take from reading Ramya’s story? As ever, I really hope they leave with more curiosity and more questions.

What are you working on at the moment? At the moment, I’m working on my fifth middle grade, featuring a character readers may already know. An anthology with a very famous character people will definitely know. A top secret book. And the tv adaptation of my debut, A Kind of Spark, which will air in April, 2023.

As our Guest Editor, Elle has given us her top five children's book recommendations and chosen a Book of the Month for February 2023;

Guest Editor Book of the Month Glitter Boy by Ian Eagleton.  Glitter Boy is about James, who loves music and performing. He’s invited to sing in a surprise choir performance for his teacher’s wedding, but his father expresses discomfort because the ceremony involves two men getting married. James himself is experiencing homophobic teasing at school, and is starting to see patterns of intolerance from people he loves and in the world outside of his Nan’s acceptance. Glitter Boy is a nuanced, heart-warming and character led story of finding joy and love outside of other people’s narrow beliefs. It confronts prejudice with a gentle but truthful touch. Ian Eagleton is a writer with a strong narrative style and this Middle Grade is a beautiful addition to the growing library of LGBTQ+ books.

Elle's Top 5 Children’s Books of All Time

Matilda by Roald Dahl

Iconic character. Iconic villain. The blue print for Child vs Adult story.

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

Speculative fiction at its very best, this book redefined what children’s books can do and be.

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Worthy of as much criticism as praise, but a female heavy cast makes this a classic you can dismantle. You have to know the rules before you break them, as a writer.

All of Jacqueline Wilson

Impossible to pick just one.

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

Reimagined fantasy for young readers at its very best.

With thanks to Elle McNicoll for her brilliant recommendations and insight. You can read more about Elle's published novels below and download the first chapter.