Magical debut for North Devon author

Joseph Bulmer

Tom Leaning meets Claire Barker, to talk about her debut children’s book Magical Mail and the inspiration behind it.

A MAGICAL universe full of dragons, tooth-fairies and taxmen has been created in a South Molton coffee shop by local author Claire Barker and is capturing the imaginations of young and old alike.

But the hard work has only just begun for the Filleigh-based children’s author, who is currently on a whistle-stop tour of the South West, promoting her debut book, Magical Mail. Tom Leaning caught up with Claire to chat about her foray into the world of children’s fiction.

Interpsered with sips of coffee and the odd pastry, great chunks of her first novel were written at That New Place coffee shop in South Molton, an unconventional office but one which proved fertile ground for creative ideas.

Published by Boxer Books, Magical Mail tells the extraordinary story of Faith Smyth – the most ordinary and least remarkable member of a beautiful and talented family.

But according to Claire, heroes come in different forms: “It’s the people who appear the most ordinary that can become the biggest heroes,” said the mother of two. “Being ordinary doesn’t exclude greatness.”

Claire, 40, grew up in Plymouth, read English literature at university and later studied Illustration at North Devon College, where she developed an artistic talent:

“I was surrounded by very talented people,” said Claire, “so having the chance to put my work next to theirs gave me a lot of confidence.

“The staff there were so great. They encouraged me to join the Association of Illustrators. I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t done that course.”

But, for Claire, being an author and an illustrator goes hand in hand: “Story and image is key. For me, there isn’t one without the other. The two are completely linked. I see words as illustrations,” she added.

Indeed, the initial idea for Magical Mail came out of an illustration: I was just sitting there and an image of a witch appeared in my head. I drew her and this black and white cartoony image was the result. The whole story came out of that one image.

“That helped so much, because it gave me something to visualise as I wrote.”

Over the next six months, as words and ideas spilled out onto the page, Claire juggled with her roles as a full-time mum, a part-time teaching assistant and a freelance illustrator. Throughout the writing process, daughters Daisy and Maya worked well as their mum’s literary consultants:

“Children are very unforgiving as book critics. If they are bored, they will let you know. But the book seemed to tick all the right boxes.”

Writing the book has been an extension of motherhood for Claire, who says that she could not have written the book without having children:

“The book is the result of being a mum, exploring my creativity and meshing them together.”

Magical Mail has not just appealed to children, much to the delight of the author:

“I’ve found that a lot of adults are reading it, but on a different level,” said Claire, who believes that the book can relate to older readers, “In the book, there’s a dragon who’s also a life coach and a tooth-fairy who’s being investigated by the taxman!”

Having already written a sequel to Magical Mail, and with aspirations to add a third book to the series, Claire is currently working on another story:

“It’s called Knitbone Pepper: it’s about a beloved family dog that dies and comes back as a ghost. I’m six chapters in already,” added Claire. Is there no stopping her?

Magical Mail is available to purchase from Waterstone’s and

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