Reader Q&A with Katya Balen

Author Katya Balen and reviewer Merrilees

October, October by Katya Balen is an evocative middle-grade story, about the beauty of living wild.

October is eleven. She lives in the woods with her dad. Together, they are free and they are happy, but everything changes the day October's mother returns. Suddenly, October has to fight to find the space to be wild in the world beyond the woods.

Our reviewers adore this book, giving it five stars. One young reader, Merrilees aged 10, said in her review "I would rate this book as 5 stars, It was a great story and I couldn't put it down!". 

Merrilees also got the chance to ask Katya some questions about her writing and the book. Check out their reader Q&A below.

You can also download the free teachers' notes for the book here.

Reader Q&A with Katya Balen
Reviewer, Merrilees, aged 10

What inspired you to call the main character October, is it a special month for you?

It took me ages to find a name that felt right! For a long time, October was called Sylvie, because that name means ‘tree.’ But it just didn’t fit. I do love the month of October, and I loved the idea of connecting my character to the beginning of this beautiful season where everything changes. 

October was very reluctant to move to London, but started to enjoy herself once she made some friends. Have you ever been reluctant to do something and how did you overcome those feelings?

All the time! I have a very annoying habit of not being keen to do something, and then absolutely loving it when I actually go and do it. I think it’s so important to push yourself, because it’s really easy to stick with what’s safe and familiar. 

Have you ever been to London, if so, what was your favourite place to go, and where would you still like to visit in the city?

I have indeed been to London – I live here! It’s one of the most brilliant cities in the world and I love it so much. There’s always something new to discover and there’s so much history. My favourite place is probably on the banks of the Thames, mudlarking, or perhaps Borough Market eating tacos. I would absolutely love to go to the top of the Shard, and weirdly, down into the secret tunnels below London. Lots of them were built during the war, and I’d love to explore them.

Were the woods October lived in with her Father based on a real wood, and if so, what inspired you to choose that particular place for your story?

They were! About ten years ago, my father-in-law bought a big wood and built a house there. He’s pretty isolated, and he makes all his own electricity and heat. I thought it was just a beautiful and strange way to live, and I wondered what would happen if a child was brought up that way. I love going to stay in the woods – it’s so peaceful – but I have to say, I prefer the city!

Every birthday October and her Father planted a tree, do you have any family traditions, which is your favourite and why? 

Hmm, now that you mention it, we don’t really! Perhaps now is the time to start? Planting a tree would be a good one!

As a child October’s Mother enjoyed treasure hunting, which is a hobby October has adopted. Do you have any hobbies that were influenced by family or friends from a young age? 

Reading! I was encouraged by everyone in my life! It’s such a great hobby because no matter how old you get or how much your interests change, there are always books to suit you.

Did you find writing about a separated family difficult and what helped you tackle the subject?

It’s always tricky to write about sensitive topics, and it means I have be really careful. I read a lot, I listen a lot, and I try to write about the things that matter without focusing too much on unnecessary details.

Do you find writing your stories difficult and do you have plans for your next book?

I really do find it difficult! I am not someone who writes every day, and I often find myself getting quite frustrated. It can take a long time for a story to click, but it’s wonderful when it does. 

My new book THE LIGHT IN EVERYTHING is out in April 2022, and I am currently writing the next one! The story is taking a bit of time to unfold, but I'm excited about where it's leading me.

If you could be a character from any story, who would you be and why?

I think I’d like to be a Moomin. Living in Moominvalley sounds absolutely perfect to me – their adventures are just magical, but they can always go home for tea and cake. There's always an interesting visitor staying, and everyone is fun and kind but never boring. Also Moominmamma gives everyone in the house an apple and a candy cane on their bedside table each night – how brilliant would that be?!

Which three words best describe you?

  ‘Always reading books’

Reader Q&A with Katya Balen
Book pages Placeholder Book

October, October

Katya Balen's October, October is a very special new addition to the shelf and deserves classic status - Times Children's Book of the Week 

A classic in the making for anyone who ever longed to be WILD. October and her dad live in the woods. They know the trees and the rocks and the lake and stars like best friends. They live in the woods and they are wild. And that's the way it is. Until the year October turns eleven. That's the year October rescues a baby owl. It's the year Dad falls out of the biggest tree in their woods. The year the woman who calls herself October's mother comes back. The year everything changes. 
 Written in Katya Balen's heart-stoppingly beautiful style, this book is a feast for the senses, filled with the woodsmoke smell of crisp autumn mornings and the sound of wellies squelching in river mud. And, as October fights to find the space to be wild in the whirling chaos of the world beyond the woods, it is also a feast for the soul.


First published


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