Cardiff Children’s Literature Festival: M.J. Leonard

From growing up with an intense fear of all things creepy and crawly, M.J. Leonard has gone on to write a much loved and rejoiced book about beetles. Beetles have taken over her life and infested her home, filling it with beetle ‘knickery-knackeries’, and even a beetle teapot.

Her debut novel, ‘Beetle Boy’ is a children’s novel about an inquisitive and persistent thirteen-year-old who goes in search of his kidnapped father. In his search, he discovers the wondrous world of beetles, and a villainess with a startling and sinister interest in insects.

You had to overcome a fear of insects whilst writing Beetle Boy, tell me about that: I hated all insects, I thought they were put on this planet just to scare me- I thought they all needed to be poisoned! It was Dr Sarah Beynon, entomologist (insect expert) who helped me overcome that fear.

Describe Beetle Boy in three words: Dastardly. Action. Funny

How many beetle themed items do you currently own? Oh my god, I’ve got so many beetle related things. I’ve got an entire wardrobe, and I mean an entire wardrobe of beetle themed clothing. The only item of clothing I don’t have that has beetles on it would be lingerie. There’s a huge gap in the market, clearly.

Did you ever eat bugs as a child? Through Sarah (Beynon), I’ve eaten a variety of insects as an adult. If you know how to season them they’re quite delicious. However, my phobia of insects as a child would never have gotten me close to one, let alone eat one.

If there was a museum to honour your life, what would fill it? It would be an eclectic and weird museum, there would be a lot of 16th century theatre, and a lot of ballet exhibitions. And of course, there would be an entire wing dedicated to beetles.

You had to research a lot of Latin words for your novel, what’s your favourite Latin word? Coleoptera, which means ‘sheath wing’ and is the name given by Aristotle to describe beetles.

What is the strangest way that ‘Beetle Boy’ has changed your life? I discovered, after the publication of Beetle Boy, that entomology is an endangered science. There is currently no undergraduate course in the UK that will allow you to study insects. I have also encountered wonderful entomologists who work hard to get the message out about the importance of our relationship with insects, and consequentially I have become a passionate advocate for mini-beasts and the science of studying them.

I read that you’ve received three letters from THE Sir David Attenborough (you’ve officially won at everything in life). If you could sit down with him for an hour, what would you ask him? I would ask him if he’s ever been frightened by any of the creatures he’s encountered, and how I could best help his endeavours to persuade people to conserve the wildlife that is left.

If your beetles Motty, and Hector could speak, what would they tell you? “Give us MORE strawberry jelly!”

What book/s do you like to read to your children? My youngest son is 3 and loves anything by Julia Donaldson, but other personal favourites are Oliver Jeffers’s books and Rob Biddulph. My oldest son is 11, and we read Wonder by R. J. Palacio together, and I think it is incredible.

What are you currently reading? The final book in the Geek Girl series by Holly Smalle.