Book Review, Middle Grade Fiction

Chocolate Milk, X-ray Specs and Me by Bethany Walker & illustrated by Jack Noel – Blog Tour with Special Guest Post by the Author!

We’re thrilled to have a guest post from the author herself, Bethany Walker:

Chocolate Milk, X-Ray Specs and Me – An unconventional spy story

Think of your favourite spy story.

Does it contain attractive, suave secret agents?

Is it set in a very glamorous location?

Is the villain intent on taking over the world?

Are there mind-blowing gadgets a-plenty?

You will find all of these things in Chocolate Milk, X-Ray Specs and Me – sort of!

The journey of Chocolate Milk, X-Ray Specs and Me started with my lovely agent (Jo Williamson, Antony Harwood Ltd) encouraging me to write something longer than picture books. The first idea I came up with was a 10+ book about a girl who found what turned out to be a spy rocket in her shed. I wrote 50,000 gadget-filled words of ‘Rocket Girl’. It was serious. The stakes were high. There were real-life ‘issues’ going on. But when I came to re-read the story, there was one overwhelming feeling about it: I had enjoyed writing about secret agents that this was not the book I wanted to write. I wanted to write something FUNNY.

Of course, there have been many funny spy stories before and, as much as I love straight spy stories, I probably enjoy the funny ones more. In fact, I enjoy pastiches of all kinds (one of my favourite TV programmes from when I was young was Police Squad!)  – playing with the clichés of any well-loved genre really appeals to my sense of humour: combining the familiar and the ridiculous. The world of secret agents, with its high-stakes action, exotic settings, hi-tech gadgets and glamorous characters, is ripe for poking fun at, which is why films like Johnny English, Spy and Spies in Disguise have all met with great success. But was there a new way of telling a funny spy story? And, most importantly, could I come up with it?

What I love about the world of secret agents and supervillains is that, in our minds, it is so much more glamorous and fabulous than our normal existence. However, in interviews with former secret agents, they are often at pains to describe how ORDINARY and BORING their work is. Normally, ordinary and boring are not words you want to bring into a children’s book but having the seemingly fancy world of spies colliding with the ever-so mundane world of suburbia was a contrast too delightful to ignore. I was talking about this with a friend in a cafe over a mocha when, suddenly, inspiration struck – what if my main character was surrounded by the world of espionage BUT NEVER REALISED. Freddy Spicer was born!

Freddy is the perfect foil to all the spy stuff going on around him. His parents have told him that they are sprout farmers and, no matter how many suspect gadgets, from x-ray specs to acid pens, Freddy finds, he doesn’t work out what’s really going on. It is easy to laugh at Freddy’s naivety in not realising the truth – but can you really blame him?  Freddy is caught up in an alternative world that is designed to deceive. It would be more surprising if, on the evidence of just a handful of weird gadgets, Freddy knows that his parents are spies. We are far more likely to believe the reality that is projected for us and Freddy’s innocence and obliviousness highlights the ridiculousness of the world of espionage – or, at least, the world of espionage clichés.

Click on the cover below to find out more or purchase on-line from Amazon.

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