S3E26 This week Steve is at Chorlton Water Park Nature Reserve in Manchester with author and illustrator Emma Reynolds. Emma's debut author-illustrator book "Amara and the Bats" was published here in the UK in July 2021 and she sits down with Steve to tell us how the book has been received, what she thinks the future of children's books holds and what it was that inspired her to write a kids book about bats.
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Hello, welcome to the next episode in series three of BatChat from the Bat Conservation Trust. Today we're talking books with author and illustrator Emma Reynolds. I'm Steve Roe a BCT Trustee. And if you're a returning listener, it's great to have you back once again. And if this is your first time welcome along, episodes are released every second Wednesday from now through to the spring. And you can join the conversation online, use the hashtag BatChat. that's all one word. As we meet each of the guests in this series, you'll hear stories from people working to make a difference in the world of bat conservation. You'll hear from people who care about individual species, people who concentrate on one particular part of bat ecology, and people who are working with bats at a landscape scale, as well as keeping up with the latest news and hearing from people in the world of bats. We hope that you'll be inspired to get involved because bats need our help. Today I'm at Charlton waterpark with someone who is spreading the good word about bats through books. Emma Reynolds is an author and illustrator based in Manchester and in September I met Emma at the Chilton waterpark nature reserve on a hot summer's day, we found a spot in the shade of some trees by the side of a footpath and you join us as Emma explains the plot of her newly released book Amara and the Bats.Emma Reynolds:
Well, firstly, thank you so much for having me on. I'm such a big fan of BatChat. I listen to it all the time. And I've listened to each episode maybe three times I think,Steve Roe:
oh, wow!Emma Reynolds:
It's I'm very honoured to be here. So I've always loved bats since I was a kid, and I really wanted to tell a story about bats and specifically bat conservation. So Amma and the bats is all about a little girl called Amara who loves bats. And her favourite thing to do is collect that facts and watch the bats with her family at nighttime. But when her and her family moved to a new town, she's really sad to find that the bats no longer live there because they're losing their habitat. So inspired by real life youth activists like Greta Thunberg, Dara McAnulty and Takata i&i, she rallies her friends and her community to save the bats. And I have always loved that since I was a kid. So I wanted to make a book all about bats, and specifically about bat conservation. Because most bat books of the few that there are, have a bat main character. So I wanted to make a human centred book so that readers could put themselves in Amara shoes, and see how they can help banks as well.Steve Roe:
One of the questions I've got down here was actually a review that I found while I was looking online yesterday, and one of these reviews said that you've created an an inspiring story about community action, perseverance, and what to do in the face of climate anxiety, was climate anxiety, something that you considered when actually writing it?Emma Reynolds:
Yeah, it was, it was a huge part of it, actually. I think we've all felt really overwhelmed. And I that's something I really wanted to capture. In the book, there's a moment where Amara finds out that the bats are no longer there in the park in her new town. And she goes home, feeling very, very blue and has like a horrible feeling in her stomach and sort of just curled up on the bed, feeling like the whole weight of the world crashing down on her. And that's something I really wanted to capture. Because I felt like that. And I know a lot of young people have climate anxiety. So that at that point in the book is when she discovers that lots of young people around the world are doing things that can make a difference, especially to conservation. And that's when she becomes inspired to do something that she can. And it's all about, you know, starting locally, thinking globally, and following your passions for something that you really care about. And that can really make a difference to conservation.Steve Roe:
I mean, things like all those things you've just described, there are clearly very hot topics of the minutes, particularly in schools and things. Do you think that going forward, future children's books will start to have that sort of trend of talking about those subjects for children?Emma Reynolds:
Yeah, I think, I think since the Youth Climate strikes, in 2019, late 2018, a lot of the books were fast tracked, so that we had books about Greta Thunberg, almost straightaway, which was a really fast turnaround for publishing. But yeah, I think in general, we're going to see a huge amount of books about saving the planet, what we can do about the climate crisis, and they're already on the shelves now. And I think we're just going to see more of that, which can only be a good thing, because it's the collective consciousness that needs to change. And eventually, that will lead to hopefully a cultural shift, which will eventually lead to politicians doing what they should be doing.Steve Roe:
And what did you do before Amara, and that's your right head you published before this, or was this your first book?Emma Reynolds:
So this is my first author illustrator book. So this is my debut as author and illustrator. Before this, I illustrated one book, but I'm quite new to publishing. I got made in 2018, and now it's turning 21. So a few years before that, I had a background in I'm a character design for Kids TV, but I wanted to tell my own stories. So I worked on my portfolio and made this dummy book of Amara and the bats, which I thought of in 2016. So it's been like a good five years, I've had the story in my head. And it's, it's so such an honour and so nice to see it out in the wild. And I met managed to make it a reality.Steve Roe:
And what's the sort of process of publishing? I mean, is five years sort of the typical length of publishing a book? Or can it just variant in terms of what's going on at the time?Emma Reynolds:
I think it varies. I mean, five, that five year span I mentioned was literally me thinking of the idea. And then, because I was working full time, I had to do stuff for my evenings and weekends. But in terms of us actually getting the book deal and it but coming to publication, it's it is usually a couple of years, because you need to spend a year like six months minimum to a year making the book and then it joins the back of the queue for the marketing. And, yeah, so it's usually two or three years between success, successful pitch, successful pitch and publication.Steve Roe:
So the book was released here in the UK on the 22nd of July. How well is the book been received so far?Emma Reynolds:
Yeah, really? Well, as far as I can tell. But yeah, I've had some absolutely amazing feedback from parents and kids, there was one the few that a few that stick in my mind, especially, is a kid that read the book, and then immediately ran upstairs and dressed all in grey, like a bat, which I thought was so adorable. And a few kids have already, you know, beg their parents to put up a bat box in the garden. And they're, like, now obsessed with bats. And that's just more than I could ever have hoped for. Because that was exactly my aim. And for it to actually happen is is more than I could have dreamed. Oh, really?Steve Roe:
I guess it must be nice when you hear those stories of the kids who have read those books, and then actually take action themselves.Emma Reynolds:
Yeah, absolutely. And that's, that's the aim of it. I mean, it's it's a fiction book. But it's got a lot of nonfiction elements weaved in, there's bad facts throughout. And at the end, there's a lot of back matter all about more about facts, how echolocation works, how you can look after the bats at home, how to put up a bat box or bat house as they're known in the US. And there's lots of links in the back as well, including Bat Conservation Trust, of course.Steve Roe:
And why bats? What was it about bats that made you want to make this the focus of the book,Emma Reynolds:
I just absolutely love bats. I've always loved them since I was a kid. And I just don't think there's that many books about them. There's, there's obviously a few really good ones. But nothing compared to how many books there are about bears or rabbits or a lot of the popular animals. And I just felt like they're a bit of an underdog really. And I just really wanted to show everyone how amazing they are. And in doing the research for the book, I fully came to understand, you know how vital they are to all life on Earth. You know, the pollination, they're good biodiversity indicators. You know, they eat crop, destroying insects and save farmers billions of pounds and dollars a year. They're just incredible. And yeah, I just really wanted to celebrate them. And I felt like microbots especially needed a chance to shine because fruit bats are very, very popular. Because they look like sky puppies although they're obviously absolutely adorable. But I really wanted to show microbots up close. And you know, most of bats in the world are microbots is 1200 out of 1400. And I wanted to show people what microbots were like up close the bats that they're most likely to see flying above their heads.Unknown:
I was gonna say when I was growing up, there weren't there was only two books, I think that were about bats for children, which was Silver wing and Sunwing, which are taken from the perspective of the bats. And I know over in the US, there's another one called Stella Luna. Yeah,Emma Reynolds:
that's really popular, but actually we're both repped by the same agency, which isUnknown:
Oh really! So main subjects about bats, and you've decided to write a children's book, Why write a book specifically for kids?Emma Reynolds:
I absolutely love picture books. I think they're such an incredible medium. And I fully believe that they're not just for kids. This picture books about really tough topics like war, immigration, depression, and they can be such a powerful learning tool. But for me picture books. They're incredibly powerful. They're humans first experiences of stories. They're often read together at bedtime snuggled up together with the parent or carer and it's just an incredible moment for bonding. And those stories are so enduring. I remember books from 25 years ago when I was really young, and I still remember them now, even though I haven't reread them. So picture books are super powerful in that those messages we carry into adulthood, they can teach us empathy. They can inspire lifelong passion for a subject and seeing some of the comments about my book and that their kids are now bat, fans, but obsessive that just like makes me so happy to think that they might grow up to love bats or even become a bat conservationist. And that's what it's all about for me. And I think, inspiring the next generation is such an important job.Unknown:
They certainly can work because those two books that I used to read and all the materials that are produced by Shirley Thompson for the young network that inspired me as a kid, and here I am now. So did you know anything about bats before writing the book? And did you have to get out there and learn about perhaps before writing it? I knew a bit, but I would definitely not call myself an expert when I started. And I think that was quite useful in a way because I was coming to it. In a kind of very open minded, curious way, it kind of helped me write the book and know what facts other people who are coming to it fresh would need to know as well. And joining my local back group, which is the south links back group, was super, super useful. And I had such an amazing time there. Pre COVID, I was able to go on a bat box, check a licenced check. And I got to see a nacho bat in the hands up close. And that dislike was the best experience ever. There's so so cute. And that was something that I wanted to capture in the book is that feeling of oh my goodness, this is what they look like up close because it's something most people don't get to experience. And it's what a lot of bad workers and bad carers have told me that got them first either changing their subject matter in uni or like getting into bad work was seeing them in the hand. And yeah, so I've learned a huge amount researching the book. Steve Parker, my bat group leader was kind enough to fact check the book for me, as well as Lizzie Platt and Merlin Tuttle who also gave additional fact checking. And yeah, because I wanted to make sure it was as accurate as as I could. You mentioned that bats are very well known. I guess that's another reason why it's probably so popular is that the kids of today probably don't know that much about bats themselves. Because again, it's one of those creatures there out a night, isn't it? So I guess the kids are intrigued by by something being nocturnal. Your based at Manchester. We're based here at Chorlton Water park for the day day just on the edge of Manchester. What do we know about the bats of Manchester? We're gonna put you on the spot here. Oh bats of Manchester. So we see a lot of the different kinds of pipistrelles we see noctule serotines and Daubenton's I love looking for Daubenton's, because, you know, it's them for to start because they always along the water. And I've been learning how to distinguish between the different types of pipistrelles. I'm still practising. But I was really happy when I identified my first noctule by its flight pattern, and I was like, Yeah, I'm learning. So the story Amara in where she lives. First off in the first house, she's got loads background, and then she moves with the parents to a different area, where there's loads of development, and there's not so many bats in that area was Manchester the inspiration for the book setting?Emma Reynolds:
It was so I know, I knew that I had to make it a tiny bit universal because my main publishers, the US and the UK one, although I'm based is actually the export edition. So it wasn't I didn't use any particular landmarks. But I was definitely inspired by having lived in Manchester city centre for five years and the crazy amount of flat developments luxury flats, because every last patch of greed and Manchester city centres being built on and that obviously affects wildlife corridors, it affects anyone having anywhere nice to sit. So it was definitely inspired by that the wanting to save the park in the city. That was massively inspired by Manchester. Yeah.Steve Roe:
Can you remember your first memory of about what was the first encounter you had?Unknown:
I actually can't but I remember one of the main reasons I love bats when I was really young, just because you made one of those bat kits that were around in the 90s. So you can still buy now, I think, where you can sew your own bat. But I remember seeing them when we were camping, I think at night and my parents would point them out to me. And then I saw fruit bats in the zoo. So yeah, I didn't. I didn't see bats that much. But this is that's another reason I wanted to tell people they know that they are around you just have to know where to look and when to look.Steve Roe:
And what do you think is the current perception about bats amongst children at the moment?Emma Reynolds:
I mean, I can't speak for all children, but the ones that have told me that they're the ones that have read the book. They're just really excited. They think they're adorable. They want to help them just like Amara and I just think, you know, because kids don't have those preconceived notions and they might not have been told the kind Have horror stories yet the complete myth about bats. They're really open minded and they just, they're just excited to learn. And I think they're really excited when they see them in their own garden or the local park, because I think they just didn't realise they were there. And when they do they, they're just so excited to see them every night.Steve Roe:
Have you been invited to any schools to do readings? Yeah.Emma Reynolds:
I've been to a library and another workshop, but it's only been out six weeks. Yeah. So I'm really early days. Yeah, early days. And I'm I can't wait to do more community outreach and go into schools, and do my workshops.Steve Roe:
And were there any books that you read as a child that inspired a love of nature?Emma Reynolds:
Oh, that's a really good question. I love the flower. That's a really good question. I love the flower fairies books growing up. I'm trying to think I just loved illustrated books, and I'm sure some of them had natured but I think because I was lucky enough to grow up in the countryside, kind of in the middle of nowhere. I was just in it a lot. We we'd go walking, we'd make dens you know, we would go camping for some holidays. So I think I think I just when you grew up there, you kind of just think that's normal. And then when I moved to the city, you have a greater appreciation of finding those spots of green. You know, and making sure that you get back, get back into nature when you live in the city.Steve Roe:
I'm doing very well stay calm around this wasp.Emma Reynolds:
Get out of here. I had one earlier that was trying to take my baked beans. And I was like get out of here.Steve Roe:
We should say where it's available to purchase, where can you buy Mr. And that's from?Emma Reynolds:
Well, you can buy my own the bats from all good independent bookshop. So I always encourage people to shop local, you can also buy it in all the usual places online. And it really helps to leave book reviews on the big Amazon, even if you don't buy it from there just because then he ranks higher and algorithms and then I get to make more books.Steve Roe:
Very nice. What's I mean, I was gonna say a touch on that. What's your what's your view of independent bookstores and the future of books and publishing, I guess,Emma Reynolds:
oh, independent bookshop so absolutely vital. I think they're under obviously, a huge amount of pressure, like most of the High Street is to create more of an experience, not just be a shop because people COVID Or otherwise, you know, they might want to shop from home, they might find a cheaper deal online. But I think it's really important to remember that even though you might find a book 20% cheaper on Amazon, it's because they don't pay the tax. And that's why they're undercutting businesses. So if you support your local indie, that also helps authors. It helps the community. In a lot of them run events. Like lots of stuff for kids. So yeah, always, always try and support local if you can and get involved.Steve Roe:
In the link to the show notes, I'm going to put a link to a website that allows you to buy books from your local bookstore, or even if you buy it from a large bookstore, that allows you to donate a percentage of the sale. So we'll put them the link to the show notes. And have you got any other books planned at the moment?Emma Reynolds:
Yes, I'm working on one that I pitched in 2020. But I can't say what it is yet. Even though I've had the book deal for over a year, I still can't talk about it. But if you are fans of the environmental themes of Amara, you'llUnknown:
Are you allowed to say whether it'll follow Amara definitely like this book, herself.Emma Reynolds:
It's not about Amara, it's for a slightly older audience. And it's not just me, and it's me and lots of other people. So I can say, I'm really excited about it.Steve Roe:
Watch this space. Yeah. So just moving on to your social media. You're very active on social media. And just last night you were doing was it last night or the night before?Emma Reynolds:
I don't know what day it is. What is time Wednesday, it's Wednesday, it was last night.Steve Roe:
And so you've just last night you're doing a face? An Instagram Live. And this is part of a series that you're doing called bachelor live, isn't it?Emma Reynolds:
It's about club line. That's such a good name. But it's already taken by good Steve. Yeah, back club live is an Instagram Live series where I chat to back experts from all over the world live on Instagram every Tuesday at 6pm. So I've got two more of this like mini series. And then I started them again, a couple of weeks after that, and they leave all the way to the end of the year. Yeah, had some really good chats with people. It's been good,Unknown:
great stuff. So we'll put the link to Emma's social media accounts in the show notes. But yeah, just want to say thank you very much. And thank you so much for taking the time to sit in the shade on this really uncomfortably hot summer's day. It's so hot we keep getting attacked by wasps. Great stuff. Thank you.Steve Roe:
Thank you. Bye.Unknown:
And thank you to Emma for meeting me on that incredibly hot day back in September, and thank you to you for listening to this episode. I hope you've enjoyed it. If you take a look at the show notes, you'll find links to Emma's website and social media pages, as well as that bookshop link that we mentioned. Now last episode we launched BatChats first ever competition. Emma, who you've just heard from and children's author Angela Mills have kindly donated prizes. Angela has donated a copy of Bobby the brown long-eared bat signed by both Angela and Chris Packham, and Emma has donated a copy of her newly released book Amara and the bats to enter the competition. To win one of these brilliant books. All you have to do is write as a review about the show, and the two winners will be picked at random at the end of this series. Not all podcast apps allow you to leave reviews. So if you're an Apple device user, leave us a review on the Apple podcast app which is already installed on your device. If you're an Android user, you can leave us a review on the podcast addict app. And if you don't listen to the show on a mobile device, you can write your review on the pod chaser website. instructions of how to leave your review in each of these places can be found in the show notes of this episode. Remember, we need to be able to contact you if you win. So when you leave your review, make sure you give us your twitter or instagram handle in the review. If you don't use these drop us an email two email@example.com with a copy of your review, we're only able to post the prizes to addresses in the United Kingdom. If you've missed any of that it's all in the show notes of this episode. We'll be back in two weeks with Rich Flight from Cumbria bat group who has been surveying the latest rates Hills for bats. And I'll leave you with a taste of what's to come in that next episode. I'll see you then.Rich Flight:
I started off with a few little trips up there just at night just to to see if I can find them and kind of quite audaciously started off with a wasn't a proper advertised activity but I did. I tried it locally and a couple of families decided they wanted to come along and at this point I didn't actually know if we're going to find me back so we went up into the into the hills at night. It complete with kids who were staying up late and we want to stick with time anybody knows that? It's quite an easy route up, please. 550 metres up and up in the hills. And we just kind of waited.