Lizzie Huxley-Jones is an autistic author and editor who grew up in Rhuddlan, North Wales, and spent their childhood exploring old castles, windswept coastline, awe-inspiring mountains and the deep lakes of the Welsh landscape. This love of Wales, and interest in Welsh myth and legends inspired her magical adventure series which began with her debut novel, Vivi Conway and the Sword of Legend. 

Lizzie was formally diagnosed as autistic aged 26, and is a vocal advocate for neuro-diverse stories. In writing from the point of view of their autistic narrator Vivi, the books combine an action-packed and magical story with a nuanced look at how true friendship comes from learning about and supporting one another’s differences.

The second in the series, Vivi Conway and the Haunted Quest, is an exhilarating sequel that sees endearing Vivi embark on a high-stakes adventure, with legends of King Arthur, Avalon and Ceridwen’s cauldron at the fore.

Lizzie joined us to tell us a bit more about their page-turning adventure stories.

Q. Which came first — Vivi’s character and the desire to represent an autistic protagonist for middle grade readers (8-11), or the magical, myth-laden adventure she and her friends embark on?
A. It was Vivi who came first, really. A few years ago I’d been exploring a dark YA fantasy version of a story similar to this that just didn’t feel me, even though I desperately wanted to write these myths into a story. I went back to basics, watched a few cartoons I love like The Owl House and Avatar the Last Airbender, and realised that was the vibe of story I wanted – funny, scary, adventure fantasy! And from that moment, Vivi walked into my head and hasn’t stopped talking since.

Q. Was Vivi Conway and the Haunted Quest totally mapped out before you sat down to write it? And was the process easier or trickier than writing the first book in the series?
A. Mostly, yes. I’m a major planner (in fact I’m working on the Vivi 3 plan today!) so I knew what I was attempting from the start, but we changed a few things as we went along. I would say it was different because the second book in a trilogy is always difficult, but I had my incredible editor Eishar by my side for support when things weren’t working. Working with her is the greatest gift.

Q. Vivi feels fabulously authentic, especially when it comes to how she interacts with and views the world, and her relationships with family and friends. How much of your personality and experiences are in her character?
A. Everyone always asks me if I’m Vivi and truly, no! She is so much more reluctant about her destiny than I am – give me a sword and magic and I am throwing myself into battle! The only thing we really share is the experience of being bullied around the same age, by people who were our friends. But I would say there’s probably little bits of me in every single character.

Q. You have a wonderful way of evoking Wales — from its lush landscapes of green hills, to its myths, not least when you evoke Vivi’s feelings of *hiraeth for Wales now she’s moved to London, and her joy at returning to Wales.

Do you identify with Vivi’s hiraeth? Do you have plans to take inspiration from — or reinvent – more Welsh myths and legends in future?

* Hiraeth is a hard-to-define Welsh word that conveys a longing for home; it’s a distinct kind of deep homesickness that expresses a deep love for Wales.

A. Oh, I really do. I had a tough time growing up there, but as I got older and understood myself better, I started to miss Wales so much, and I’ve been continuing my journey learning Welsh via online classes. I grew up by the sea, surrounded by mountains, and I constantly miss the landscape. I try to go back a few times a year to feel recharged by it all.

I think, realistically, I will always be calling back to Welsh myth or Wales in some form, because that’s where my childhood was, but also because I really care about representing Wales in children’s fiction. When I was growing up, the only real Wales I saw was from the point of view of English evacuees. I definitely want to keep writing about Welsh kids romping up mountains, finding weird portals, and speaking Wenglish, haha.

Q. Kind-of related, we love Gelert, Vivi’s talking dog companion! Could you share the legendary story of Gelert and Llywelyn the Great? Is the version of Gelert in your novels based on a real dog?
A. Yes, my version is based on the Gelert of the town Beddgelert. Once upon a time there was a Prince called Llywelyn the Great, who had a faithful hunting dog, an Irish wolfhound named Gelert. One day, the Prince was unexpectedly called away from the palace – there had been reports of wolves in the area, and he wanted to investigate. His baby son was very young, and so he tasked Gelert with guarding him… and that’s all I’ll tell you for now, as you can find out the full story in Vivi Conway and the Sword of Legend, but I wanted to write Gelert into the books to give him more adventures.

Q. Which children’s authors, past or present, do you most admire and feel an affinity with?
A. This is a quite tricky question to answer! Huge admiration for Elle McNicoll who has been kicking doors open left, right and centre. In terms of authors I think my work aligns with Elle, and Zohra Nabi, Thomas Leeds, Aisha Bushby, E. L. Norry, and Patience Agbabi all come to mind. We centre our stories, often magical adventures, around diverse characters who have not traditionally been main characters.

Q. Which children’s books do you return to?

A. The two books I adored as a child, that I’ve read and reread many times, have been Northern Lights by Philip Pullman and Sabriel by Garth Nix, both of which feature girls trying to save their worlds. In terms of more recent releases, The Strangeworlds Travel Agency by LD Lapinski and Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s books are those I return to regularly; there’s always something new to discover in their work.

Q. What does LoveReading4Kids mean to you?
A. I grew up in a school where our library was funded by donations from the public, and I loved that space. It was a safe place for me, where I could escape into stories. All children should have access to a wide range of stories in their school and local libraries, and that’s why LoveReading4Kids is important to me. I just think about the kids like me reading books they might otherwise not have had access to. Stories are a powerful thing.