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Reader Q&A with Jenni Spangler


The Incredible Talking Machine by Jenni Spangler is a wonderful gothic adventure for ages 8+. We love the atmospheric illustrations by Chris Mould and the spooky story of ghosts, gadgets and mystery.

Set in Victorian Manchester, the book tells the story of a Talking Machine that arrives at the theatre where twelve-year-old Tig works, bringing with it secrets, mystery and dangerous adventures.

Arthur aged 9, reviewed the book and loved it, here is his review (via Mum!):

"He said he has never read a book like it; it was full of mystery and was spooky. He loved the fact it was set in the Victorian times and felt like he really got to feel what it was like during those times. He thought the talking head was awesome! He loves machines. He couldn't put the book down and would have given it hundred stars if he could!" 

Arthur won the chance to ask Jenni some questions about the story and her writing - read on for the full Q&A and you can also read an extract of the book here.

Reader Q&A with Jenni Spangler

reader q&A with Jenni Spangler

1) What inspired you to write the story and to have a ghost in it? 

I find it hard to write stories without ghosts in them! I was massively into theatre as a child and theatres have always felt magical to me. They’re sort of in-between spaces – between reality and imagination – and full of delightfully odd people, shadowy spaces and superstitions. So a theatre ghost story came very naturally to me.

Reader Q&A with Jenni Spangler

2) Where did you find out about Joseph Faber's real talking machine? 

 He was briefly mentioned in a book about Victorian inventions (I can’t remember the title!) which I was using to learn about early cameras for the first book. I think that if people had liked the talking machine, it wouldn’t have caught my attention so much. But everyone found it creepy and even Faber was said to be a sad, troubled soul – it made me imagine what could be so terrible about it.

3) Did you have to do a lot of research into what life was like in the Victorian times and about Faber's machine to help write this book? 

Yes, I read a lot of books and old newspapers, consulted old maps, and looked up pictures of Victorian clothes and buildings. I don’t mind though – history is full of free story ideas so it’s always worthwhile to spend some times researching and exploring.

4) How long did it take to first come up with the idea of the book to finishing it?

About a year. Coming up with the idea is easy, working out all the details to make the story work is hard.

5) Did you base the Theatre Royale on a real theatre? 

 Yes, there was a theatre in Manchester called the Theatre Royale or The Queen’s Theatre (it changed its name) which was on Spring Gardens. That let me use real place names and landmarks. I couldn’t find a plan of the inside, so I stitched together the layout from a few different theatres from the same time period to try to make it as realistic as possible.

Reader Q&A with Jenni Spangler

6) Did you want your audience to have an appreciation of life in Manchester during  the 1800s, and also for Faber's machine? 

 I always want to catch the mood of a time and place when I’m writing and 1800s Manchester has so many interesting details to explore. And I would love Professor Faber to be better known – he achieved something really amazing and was never appreciated for it. If I can spark someone’s interest, that’s brilliant.

7) Why did you base the story in Manchester?

I grew up in Greater Manchester and I love the place very much. Plus it was such a major site during the industrial revolution it seemed like a great place to set a story that was all about machines. 

Reader Q&A with Jenni Spangler

8) Are you planning to write any more stories?

I’m working on a book for 2022 at the moment about a boy who becomes an apprentice to the grim reaper. Hopefully lots more to follow, too.

9) What is your favourite part of being an author?

So many things! Getting the first glimpse of illustrations is always really special. All the lovely new creative friends that I’ve made are wonderful. And hearing from children who liked the books is the best feeling in the world.

10) Was there a reason you named the main character Antigone, after the daughter of Oedipus? It isn't a very well known name, so do you know anyone called Antigone?

No, I’ve never met anyone with that name, but we studied Oedipus and Antigone at school. The plays are all about whether the future is fixed or if a person can outwit their fate, which is a lot like Tig’s problem in the story. Plus Antigone was a very bold and stubborn character who was determined to do what she felt was right – so it seemed a good fit. 

Reader Q&A with Jenni Spangler
Book pages Placeholder Book

The Incredible Talking Machine

Pull back the curtain and enter a world where mystery and magic take centre stage in a gloriously gothic adventure from Jenni Spangler, illustrated by Chris Mould.

Twelve-year-old Tig works at Manchester's Theatre Royale, cleaning, selling tickets and doing anything else that is asked of her by her tyrannical boss, Mr Snell. Tig will do whatever it takes to get closer to her dream - to become a Stage Manager and spend her days inventing new ways to imagine and build the intricate machinery and props that bring the exciting productions to life!

But when a strange new act - a talking machine - arrives at the Theatre Royale, it moves and behaves in a way that Tig just can't work out. It's as though it's alive somehow . . . And when the machine appears to be hiding a dangerous secret, Tig must race against time to solve the mystery, before everything and everyone she cares about is lost forever.

A Victorian adventure full of ghost, gadgets and shifty villains, from the critically-acclaimed Jenni Spangler, who's debut The Vanishing Trick , was selected as Waterstones Book of the Month.

A thrilling, original, evocative and eerie tale - I adored it!' Michelle Harrison, author of A Pinch of Magic

'A thrilling page-turner. Madame Pinchbeck is a gloriously Dickensian villain' Abi Elphinstone, author of Sky Song

'Ghosts, gadgets, likeable villains and unlikely heroes: The Vanishing Trick is a dark and dazzling adventure' Emma Carroll, author of Letters from the Lighthouse

'A completely enthralling tale, oozing with atmosphere and originality' Catherine Doyle, author of The Storm Keeper's Island


17th August 2021

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