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Q&A: Elle McNicoll / A Kind of Spark

We’re thrilled to welcome to our blog Elle McNicoll. Elle is a bestselling author whose debut novel, A Kind of Spark, has been adapted into a CBBC series and is airing this month. Elle tells us more about the story of A Kind of Spark as well as discussing her involvement in the TV show and what she’d like to see more of from children’s publishing…
elle mcnicoll


elle mcnicoll


Here at BooksForTopics HQ, we’ve championed Elle McNicoll’s middle-grade debut A Kind of Spark since we first saw a proof copy back in 2020. This month, the story has launched as a new TV series by CBBC and we couldn’t be more excited to see the story hit the screen. All episodes of the TV series A Kind of Spark are available to watch on iPlayer and the show airs on CBBC from 17 April.

Elle is also a co-writer for the A Kind of Spark TV series. Neurodivergent herself, she is an advocate for better representation of neurodiversity and disability in publishing and the media, and founded The Adrien Prize, to recognise children’s fiction that explores the disability experience.

We are delighted to have the chance to hear from Elle about A Kind of Spark and find out more about the new TV series.

Author Interview

with Elle McNicoll, author of A Kind of Spark (available here)

elle mcnicoll

Can you tell us a bit about A Kind of Spark and what inspired it?

It’s a story about a girl called Addie who lives in a small and sometimes eccentric town. One day, she discovers that they were responsible for many witch hunts and trials back in the day, so she decides to campaign for a memorial in honour of those “witches”. She has to go up against a local parish council who are very set in their ways, as well as navigate trouble at school, her sisters at home and making new friends.

The main character, Addie, is such a fascinating narrator with a distinctive voice and a neurodivergent lens. How did the character develop when you were writing?

She was very fully-formed from the beginning. I always do a ton of character work before starting draft zero so there weren’t too many surprises. She’s very principled to the point of being unwavering, like a tree. So, that’s easy to write. She isn’t easily influenced or swayed. She knows herself very well.

There is a deep sense of authenticity in your writing. How much do the book’s characters and events represent your real-life experiences?

Many of Addie’s sensory experiences line up with my own. Her difficulties in school were definitely inspired by my own. I’m probably more like Keedie than Addie, though. I wasn’t socially conscious enough as a child to campaign for a memorial. I’m making up for it now. When something in my work relates to being neurodivergent, I use my own experience so that it can remain authentic and truthful. I’m very strict about keeping all aspects of neurodiversity in my work very accurate and grounded.

Our community of primary teachers has told us what a success the books have been in their classrooms, and about some of the brilliant discussions that the stories have provoked. What’s also fascinating is how many teachers tell us that they personally have been deeply moved by the narratives. How do you hope that the book may have a positive impact on educators working with neurodivergent young people?

The response from teachers and librarians has been wonderful. I hope people understand that, in my life, Miss Murphy was real. She existed. She does for many marginalised people. She is not in the story as a comment on teachers or education, not at all. But her mindset exists in society and ND people live with it every day.

I hope her character, and the book in general, can start a conversation about what neurotypical people can do for neurodivergent children. The latter are adapting day by day, in a million unseen ways. It would be nice for people to meet them half-way, and accommodate them. Things are improving, of course, but I still think ND people need more agency in society. That’s what I always try to do with my writing. Expose ableism and give ND people the agency to fight it. But they shouldn’t have to fight it alone.


Congratulations on the new TV show! It sounds as though you have been involved in all stages of creating the TV series. Tell us about the casting process and why it was important to you that it was authentic?

 a kind of sparkAll of the autistic characters from the book are being played by autistic actors, and many of the wider cast and crew are neurodivergent. A great actor can obviously play any role but people need to appreciate that being autistic is not having a slightly different personality to a non-autistic person. There are mountains of things for people to understand about being autistic, and it would take years to fully comprehend and portray without unconscious bias. Besides, there are so many talented disabled actors in the UK, it never occurred to me to cast someone who did not share the character’s diagnosis.

The neurodivergent cast and crew have their roles in the show because they are the best and they brought the most to the casting process. Lola, Georgia and Caitlin embody the three sisters, they are my book brought to life. No one else could do what they’ve done.

I’m so proud of this show for having authentic casting. It was the one condition I was always adamant about.


Why should people watch the show?

They should watch because there’s a runaway tortoise. Because it has adventure, mystery and young girls righting wrongs. Because the cast, but especially the young cast are SENSATIONAL and about to take over the world. Because there are witch-hunters who may not look like your typical witch-hunter. It’s diverse and representative. It’s fast-paced and packs an emotional punch. It explores neurodiversity in a way that I genuinely don’t believe we’ve seen on UK television before. And because it reminds young people that they have the power to make amazing change. Just the way they are.


Your publisher, Knights Of, has committed to championing diverse books. But there are so many young readers who still never see characters like themselves in the pages of their books. When you think about new children’s books, what would you love to see more of being published over the next few years?

More Own Voices authors! Writing fun, commercial books and not just trauma narratives. Big flashy deals for marginalised authors, please. They are changing the game, let’s support them the way they deserve. I’m staggered by some people’s bookshelves. I look and cannot see any of the exciting, thrilling and ground-breaking work that has broken through in the last few years. All of which is classed as diverse. People are missing out if their lists aren’t inclusive. I’d also love if publishers and literary prizes could stop pushing disability books that are about tragedy and treat neurodivergent people as burdens and side characters. They seem to love them a lot more than Own Voices work by actually neurodivergent people. It’s boring now. Time for change


Many thanks to Elle for visiting out blog!


A Kind of Spark is available to purchase here

You can find A Kind of Spark on our booklists, including Branching Out: Books for Fans of Jacqueline Wilson.

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