Is there a personal story behind this book?
We met in 1999 at the Ipswich Writers Festival and have been friends ever since. We have both written extensively on Autism Spectrum Disorders (Asperger Syndrome) and publish in other genres as well (Josie also writes as Josie Santomauro). We had thought about working together, but once Kathy moved back to Australia five minutes away from Josie, it felt like an omen! Over coffee, we came up with the concept of the Secret Science Society and had a blast creating a bunch of quirky, lovable rascals who get up to all sorts of mischief, whether they mean to or not. With our combined understanding of mental and developmental diagnoses that have a lot of letters (ASD, GAD, ADHD), we hope that the book will delight, entertain and educate our readers.
Many kids and YA books deal with mental health these days. Why do you think it's become a common theme to explore?
Awareness of mental health in our society has been raised significantly over the years. There are non-fiction books on various topics available, although mostly for an older audience. As children and youth especially suffer from mental health issues, it is vital they have access to literature that is aimed at them. A great example from our book is Kiki, who has anxiety. Readers may be able to see themselves on the page and relate, realising they are not alone and that others out there experience life like they do. That's a huge step for many. Often the greatest quandry for those with mental health issues is that they feel noone could possibly understand what they're going through and can see no way out of their dilemma. However, seeing that Kiki is capalable of stretching herself and contributing will show them she is valued for who she is.
Why did you choose to focus on a character with ADHD?
We didn't set out to write it that way originally. We threw a bunch of very diverse children together and stood back to see what happened (for any teachers out there gasping in horror at our lack of planning, rest assured we did have a plan; we just weren't rigid in how it played out). The best part of writing is allowing your characters to come alive and do what they want. Zane quickly took over and because he was such an endearing and interesting character, we let him dominate.
One of the main themes of this book is putting aside differences to work together. How can we do that in our everyday lives?
Listen to each other. It's that simple. Throw away preconceived ideas and take a moment to step into someone else's shoes. Once you know where a person is coming from and why, it's so much easier to accept them for who they are and enjoy what they have to offer. You never know what amazing friendships can emerge from that.
Do you think there is still a long way to go with educating kids about good mental health?
There are many great books/programs available already that can offer support. The issue at the moment is providing a conduit for that information to reach those who need it. Parents, teachers, health professionals and the government all have their part to play in accessing resources and promoting good mental health.