An Interview with S.L. Ager
S.L. Ager is the author of the best-selling series The Cadwaladr Quests
If you haven’t yet heard of Sheena Ager then you need this introduction! Sheena is the author of the best-selling book series The Cadwaladr Quests and has taken the exam preparation world by storm by, wait for it… making the learning of difficult vocabulary fun and engaging for children!
Her unique reading books have a contextualised, child-friendly, built-in dictionary on every page and are written with the purpose of vocabulary practice for the 11+. ISEB AND SATs. On each page, key words are in bold and have a correlating footnote with a concise definition, synonyms and antonyms.
Sheena and Education Boutique first connected via social media educational groups. EB’s director Lucy and Sheena then discovered they were more or less neighbours with a mutual love of dogs. When the two met up for a ‘doggie coffee’ an exciting collaboration started to brew – but more about this later.
Education Boutique was thrilled when Sheena agreed to an interview for our new look website:
What was your inspiration for writing The Cadwaladr Quests book series?
My son wasn’t a fiction reader and, sadly, still isn’t. He was sitting the 11 plus for a super-selective, (which means not many spaces) state grammar. When places are scarce, the pass mark isn’t enough; margins must be high. His school used CEM, which is heavily vocabulary focused. I’d been through this process successfully with my daughter, so I knew the requirements, but she was an avid reader which made things somewhat easier with her. With my son, for vocabulary, we started by writing sentences and defining the words with synonyms and antonyms, and the sentences became paragraphs, which in turn, gave me the idea for the book. I wanted a book with lots of vocabulary ‘all under one roof’. My children were my beta readers. They would go through the work and say yes or no.
You are about to release the second book. Have you started writing the third? And do you already know how the story will conclude?
I’ve not started writing the third book yet. I’m thinking about it. I’m plotting it and planning it. I do know how the story will ultimately conclude, but I’m not sure whether I can finish it in a trilogy or a quadrilogy. I think that’s the right word for a four-book series?
The books are set in Manchester and North Wales. Do you have a personal connection with these places?
Yes. I was born in Manchester, and we moved to Anglesey when I was six. But that was a long time ago and back then, the school that I attended taught the curriculum in Welsh, so it was a baptism of fire. Anglesey is a beautiful place and, and I go back there every year with my children. Snowdonia is also equally impressive and a fantastic setting for the books.
What was the biggest challenge you faced when writing your books?
The challenge for book one was entirely different from book two because when I started book one, it was an unknown. I wasn’t sure what I was doing. I’d not written before. I learned along the way. I had to learn how to write, which will never stop. It was very much a confidence thing. The kids gave me more confidence, encouraging me to finish it. When I released the first book, I wasn’t prepared for how terrifying that would feel because you open yourself to a world of criticism. And although you can’t please everybody all the time, what I didn’t want was people not liking or understanding the book’s premise and objective. It has been well received, so that’s been great. It will be interesting to see how Book Three pans out.
Who is your favourite character?
Oh, well, that’s a tricky one. Part of me says that I have to say it’s Claire, but I also love the animals. So, perhaps, Jack. And, in book two, the animals play a big part. Thomas, the cat, plays a significant role. There’s a new (human) character called Lily, whom I like, and so much so, that I think she will take quite a leading role in book three and book four if there is one. To answer your question, though, I’ll say Claire because she’s like a second daughter.
Were any characters inspired by people or animals, you know?
Oh, most definitely. I’ve got two border terriers. I’m an animal lover. I had a Jack Russell like Jack when I was young, and he was called Skip. I rescued hedgehogs, who then hibernated in my bedroom all winter (fleas!). My sister brought up an orphaned lamb (in her bedroom, my mother was tolerant). I was also very fortunate to have a pony when I was young, and that’s not because we were rich, we were poor. It was because keeping a pony forty-five years ago, in Anglesey, cost pretty much nothing and grazing land was peanuts. Also, health and safety weren’t really that prevalent then, so I didn’t have any proper kit. I used to ride around with no helmet and, often, bareback. I taught myself how to ride. I got my pony when she was a foal, and I trained her myself. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing but just did it, a bit like writing my book. I went for it because I loved it.
People inspiring me? Yes, definitely, but I won’t be disclosing who they are.
What is the most rewarding thing about being an author?
It is when children and parents contact me to say how much their child has enjoyed reading but moreover, how it helped them to pass not only the 11 Plus but SATs. I’ve even had messages from parents who say it’s helped their children in years seven and eight, even though the story might not be quite so engaging for a twelve or thirteen-year-old. I’m now starting to receive messages from people that are learning English as a second language. They say having the built-in dictionary on every page helps them enormously.
You were inspired to write this book after supporting your children through the 11 plus experience. What is your best piece of advice for parents of children preparing for exams?
Oh, that’s a broad one because I think preparation for every individual exam requires something unique. However, If I am restricted to only one piece of advice, it would be to look at the marking scheme for the particular exam and how the marks are apportioned. Otherwise, a lot of the work you might be doing could go to waste. Look at the requirements and work towards those.
So, if it’s the 11 plus CEM test, then vocabulary, if it’s the 11 plus GL test, vocabulary, but also verbal reasoning, as in code codes, and SPAG etc. And for children, sitting the 11 plus for a state grammar, in my experience, I would say this is probably one of the trickiest tests you’ll take, so bear up; it gets easier. Thus far, I’ve experienced 11 plus for state grammar, SATs, and now GCSEs. Indeed, as a parent, I found the 11 plus the most difficult because a child at that age doesn’t understand the ramifications of passing. When they’re at GCSE age, like my daughter, she now knows that if she doesn’t put in the work, she’s not going to get the results. So, children, hold on in there because, in my experience, the 11 plus for state grammar school might just be the most challenging exam you ever have to take.
Education Boutique have been lucky enough to collaborate with Sheena on a workbook and notebook to compliment her novel.
As with the novel, the workbook is suitable for all types of 11+, SATs and independent school entrance exams. The Cadwaladr Quests: Tangled Time Workbook aims to assist children in developing and consolidating a range of skills including writing, comprehension, spelling, punctuation, grammar, reasoning and vocabulary.
Also available is, The Cadwaladr Quests: Tangled Time Vocabulary Revision Notebook. This A4 notebook contains hundreds of tailor-made spaces for students to write their own personalised definitions along with synonyms and antonyms and a fun or memorable sentence to help the new word stick. Together, these three texts make for a unique integrated education series.
The second book of the series, The Cadwaladr Quests: Race for the Gold will be available in March 2020 and the supporting workbook and notebook soon after.
Brooke McClure – Lead Resource Teacher at Education Boutique, February 2020