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In Conversation With Fleur Bradley

As many of you already know, I adore spooky middle grade books! I love middle grade reads in general, but the creepy ones will always have a place in my heart. My earliest memory of this genre was when I was around eight or nine years old, and my dad gave me my first Goosebumps book - I was hooked from that moment, going to the bookstore as often as I could to pick up a new Goosebumps, and always coming home from the bookstore so excited to curl up and read. I have always been an avid reader. As some of you may not know, I am also a bit of a chicken! I am much too scared to watch horror movies (Thirteen Ghosts gave me nightmares for weeks!), but I love to read horror. Middle grade horror is the perfect fit for me because, let's be honest, they can be downright creepy! They give me the scary and spooky vibes, but in a way that is a little easier on my heart rate. I also love that middle grade reads always have such beautiful and important messages, and bring me back to when I was the age of the characters in the book. It is a unique magic that I cherish. As you can imagine, I have read a lot of books from this genre, so it is a very big thing for me to say that this novel, Daybreak On Raven Island, is one of my new all time favorites. It is haunting, emotional, creepy with genuine scary moments and educational in that I learned something new while reading this book, which I love. I am so excited that the incredible author of this novel, Fleur Bradley, agreed to chat with me all about this awesome new book!

Ashley: Hi Fleur! Before we begin chatting about your novel, are you able to tell us a bit more about yourself?

Fleur: Thank you for having me! I’m Fleur Bradley, and I love mysteries. I love to read mystery books, watch crime TV shows, and I also love to write mysteries. My most recent middle-grade is Midnight at the Barclay Hotel, and hot off the press is Daybreak on Raven Island.

I’m from the Netherlands, and grew up riding my bike and catching tadpoles. I was a pretty carefree kid; I love writing for kids now, as a reminder of that wonder and excitement about the world.

Ashley: When did your love of reading begin, and when did you realize that you wanted to become an author?

Fleur: I loved reading as a kid—it was the perfect escape, especially since I often felt awkward. Books were my world. I was lucky to grow up in a house where there were books everywhere. We would make regular trips to the library, too.

But as a teen I fell out of reading for fun and didn’t pick it back up until I was in my mid-twenties. As I fell in love with reading again, I also began to dream of writing my own stories. I wrote short mysteries for about ten years; I still try to write at least a few every year, since they’re so great for craft.

Ashley: What books have had the biggest impact on you throughout your life?

Fleur: I was a big Roald Dahl reader—The BFG was probably my very favorite. I also loved Astrid Lindgren (Pippi Longstocking was my hero) and Dutch writer Joke van Leeuwen’s books—she writes these really quirky stories with great illustrations.

As I got older, I worked my way through my local library’s kid section. Since there was no YA department at the time, I started reading Agatha Christie. I still remember devouring The ABC Murders and so many mysteries since.

Ashley: Daybreak At Raven Island is your new novel that just came out on August 23! For our readers who may not have read it yet, can you share what it is about?

Fleur: Daybreak on Raven Island is about these three kids: Tori, Noah and Marvin, who are not friends but go on a field trip to Raven Island, where there’s an abandoned prison. They miss the ferry home, and have to spend the night with the ravens, this ghost hunting crew, and a whole lot of spirits… There’s a decades old mystery and a current day one that they have to solve before daybreak.

The short pitch I like to give is it’s Alfred Hitchcock for kids.

Ashley: Raven Island is based upon Alcatraz Island, now a tourist attraction, but once a horrific prison set in the sea. What inspired you to use this as the setting of your novel?

Fleur: After Midnight at the Barclay Hotel, I started brainstorming ideas for my next middle-grade mystery. I usually start with a real-life setting which I then make my own by fictionalizing it (the Barclay Hotel is modeled after the Stanley Hotel). Alcatraz instantly came to mind, and I loved the idea of making Daybreak on Raven Island a little scarier. It was so fun to come up with haunted locations.

Ashley: Edgar Allan Poe is one of my favorite authors, so I was excited to see that one of the namesakes of Raven Island was named Poe. Do you have a favorite Poe story, and what are some of your other go-to authors for spooky reads, either adult or middle grade?

Fleur: I love Edgar Allen Poe! I honestly like The Raven the most—there’s a morbid sense of humor that I love about that poem.

I’m just uncovering more horror authors, both for kids and adults. I’m part of the Spooky MG author group; there are so many amazing authors I’m honored to call friends.

On the adult side, I recently discovered Stephen Graham Jones, Catriona Ward, and Gabino Iglesias. I find it helpful to read outside middle-grade, so I can bring what’s great on the adult horror side to the kid audience. I always like to think that us writers of kids books, whether it’s mystery or horror, are growing tomorrow’s readers.

Ashley: Tori, Noah and Marvin are some of my new favorite characters. They are each unique, intelligent and kind and are going through some tough things. Tori is struggling with the fact that her brother is incarcerated, Noah has just lost his mom and Marvin struggles with finding his voice and place within his family along with the fact that his best friend just moved away. What were some of the challenges of writing each of these unique characters, and what do you think we can learn from Tori, Marvin and Noah?

Fleur: It's funny, because I often don’t realize what I’m doing as a writer until after the book is done… I wrote Daybreak on Raven Island during Covid lockdown/restrictions, which meant that like everyone else, I spent a lot of time alone. There’s something strange about seeing people via Zoom, but being so far removed at the same time.

Daybreak on Raven Island is about what it means to be alone, and to carry a problem around without telling anyone. All three kids have their own struggle, and it isn’t until they begin talking and sharing that they are able to solve the mystery, and make it to daybreak. I hope kids learn that from the story: don’t isolate yourself with your struggles.

As far as the characters, I loved really making these very different kids come to life and become friends. The biggest challenge is to walk away from them now, since this is a standalone book!

Ashley: Out of the three characters, I can most identify with Noah. Shy, anxious, curious and really thriving when I feel like I belong. He is also a loyal and kind friend. Which character do you most see yourself in?

Fleur: Noah is close to my heart because he has a million fears. I did as a kid, and my daughters both deal with extreme anxiety. I tried to weave that experience into Noah’s character. I probably see myself most in him.

Marvin is a lot like some of the kids I meet during author visits: enthusiastic about his movies, and off in his own world. His family is a lot like mine: large and bustling.

Tori is strong in a way I always wanted to be. I was never much of an athlete, but always wished I was. I kind of lived my athletic dreams through her. Tori has a brother in prison, which allowed me to explore a little what that feels like.

There are parts of me in all three characters, I’d say.

Ashley: Another thing I really adored throughout the novel was watching the friendship between each of our main characters grow, and also seeing how those newfound friendships really helped each of them bloom individually. How big of an impact do you think childhood friendships have on us, both when we are kids and as we grow into adulthood?

Fleur: Childhood friendships are so important! I also think classmates and teachers can really shape us, just by proximity.

As an adult, I’ve made friends who might not be an obvious choice, but people who are going through the same life stage as you are. I have mom friends, writer friends, spouse friends—people of different ages and backgrounds that enrich my life experience.

Facebook gets a bad rap, but it allows me to keep up with friends from the past, which is fun. It’s cool to see where people ended up and keep in touch.

Ashley: It is mentioned in the novel that “Noah was one of the few kids from Greeneville Middle School who was actually excited to go to Raven Island. Sure, the place was old and abandoned, but it was an abandoned prison! With a lighthouse! And who knows what other spooky stuff…” I have a two part question for you here – would you stay the night on the fictional Raven Island, and what is one spooky place that you have not visited yet but would really like to? I would love to go to the Lizzie Borden house, but don’t think that I could stay the night there.

Fleur: I would love to stay on Raven Island! Although I do get scared, so maybe a daytime visit would be better.

Although I modeled Raven Island after Alcatraz, I’ve never visited the island. That’s definitely on my haunted locations wishlist…

Ashley: There are a number of important topics that you have woven together beautifully throughout the story - How did your research and writing process differ from that of Midnight at The Barclay Hotel?

Fleur: Midnight at the Barclay Hotel is aimed at a slightly younger reader, so I was very focused on the murder mystery and giving readers an introduction to the traditional mystery. For Daybreak on Raven Island, I started with Alcatraz and that Twilight Zone/Hitchcock vibe and went from there. I researched Alcatraz’s history, including a famous prison break in 1962 that remains a mystery…

I usually do a lot of research, and then give myself permission to make stuff up. Daybreak on Raven Island was fun, because I was able to frame and plot the story around Marvin’s love for scary movies.

Ashley: One of the issues explored is that of prison reform and incarceration. In your authors note you say “I am by no means an expert on prison reform. Research is part of a writers job, however, and the more I dug into the way prisons are run today, the more my heart broke right along with Tori’s.” What are some of the facts you discovered during your research into this issue that you think people would be surprised to learn?

Fleur: I’ll reiterate that I’m no expert… But just a little research made me so angry and scared for people who might get caught up in the system. As a white person, I’m lucky.

The prison system in America is driven by profit: there are a lot of companies that are making big bucks off incarcerated people. If you are arrested, if you don’t have money to make bail, you can be in prison for many months before you even go to trial.

The system is designed to profit off the poor. I could go on a while, but the most heartbreaking statistic to me is that 1 in 28 kids has a parent who is incarcerated. That’s one kid per classroom who is suffering and might be too embarrassed (like Tori in the book) to talk about this.

The research made me sad, but most of all, I hope kids like Tori may feel brave enough to talk about their experience. It’s no good to carry this alone.

Ashley: In that same vein, while at the prison chatting with Noah and Marvin about an isolation cell that they found Tori says “I read up on it. Prisoners called it the Hole. It was an isolation cell used as punishment. Sometimes prisoners would be put down there for no reason at all. They’d be down there for days, weeks sometimes.” What were some of the challenges that you faced tackling a topic like this and turning it into something that a middle grade audience could more easily understand?

Fleur: The sad part is that the actual isolation and punishment at Alcatraz was even worse… They would make prisoners stand up in a cell where they couldn’t move for days. And today, some prisoners are kept in solitary confinement for long periods of time, which amounts to torture.

It was hard to look at these facts and translate them in a book for kids, but it was necessary since I set the book at an abandoned prison—I couldn’t not talk about it. With every fact, I tried to think of my ten-year-old reader, and how I would explain things to them.

Ashley: Noah suffers from extreme anxiety. I myself have Generalized Anxiety and Panic Disorder, so I really appreciate a book with strong representation of this. It can sometimes be a hard thing to accurately depict, but I truly think that you did an outstanding job of showing the reality of both the physical effects as well as the dialogue that goes on inside the head of someone struggling with anxiety. In the novel it is explained that “he started to be afraid of random things, like taking the bus to school or falling down the stairs. Or setting the house on fire while cooking macaroni. At first, his fears were about the people he loved getting hurt. But then he became fearful of even the smallest things.” Why do you think it is so important to write about a tough topic like this, especially in the middle grade genre?

Fleur: My youngest daughter suffers from extreme anxiety, as do a lot of kids (especially post-Covid). I wanted to show what that feels like, so kids who have anxiety like Noah feel seen.

I wanted to shed light on anxiety, so rather than keeping it a secret we can talk about these feelings. Keeping fears bottled up just makes it worse—plus, I find that the more I talk about mental health, the more people I get to know who have the same problems.

Ashley: Daybreak On Raven Island is fast-paced, creepy and so atmospheric. The island, the prison, the storm, the inhabitants – everything combined to create the perfect scary story. It had my heart pounding more than a few times throughout my reading of it. What makes a scary or mysterious story really stand out to you?

Fleur: The scary element of any story is so much about anticipation: what will happen next? Mixing mystery with horror makes for a heightened anticipation, since you’re looking for clues and waiting for the monster to jump out (so to speak).

As a reader, I look for that page-turner quality. As a writer, I aspire to make my books fast paced for reluctant readers.

Ashley: What do you hope readers take away from this story?

Fleur: You’re not a alone. Share what bothers you and be open to making friends with kids who are different (from you).

Also, don’t miss the ferry on a field trip…

Ashley: Are you able to share anything about what you are currently working on?

Fleur: Most of my projects are still in the writing studio so to speak, but I can share that I’m working on a YA mystery and another scary middle-grade… Both are a joy to write; I can’t wait to tell everyone more…

I want to say a huge thank you to Fleur Bradley for answering all of my questions! It is still such a surreal and incredible experience being able to talk to authors that you respect and admire. I highly recommend Daybreak On Raven Island to middle grade and adult readers alike. And, I would love to hear your thoughts on the book after you have read it! Let me know what you loved about this book either in the comments or on our Instagram (@bent.biblios.podcast) and let me know! Also, what are some of your favorite spooky middle grade reads?

Daybreak On Raven Island releases today - August 23, 2022, and can be found anywhere books are sold, along with Fleur's first novel, Midnight at the Barclay Hotel. And you can keep up to date with Fleur by visiting her website at and on Instagram at @fleurbradley.

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