Interview with Heather Butler about The Milkshake Detectives

tunnel digger in BerlinWhat inspired the story?

Three things happened.

I went to the Checkpoint Charlie Museum in Berlin and saw a photograph of eight octogenarians who had dug a tunnel underneath the Berlin Wall. It made me think about communities that were divided.

Very soon after, I ate lunch with a friend. There was a pond nearby and ducks introduced themselves by trying to eat our feet.  My friend said,

‘I bet those ducks’ll turn up in a story!’

A few weeks later I was in a coffee shop in Manchester. A boy screamed outside, demanding a drink. His mum gave in and five minutes later they were sitting opposite me. How awesome! My note book was out, my pen nearly exploded it was so busy and Ryan and Jeremy were born. So was Charlie. On my right was a mum and her daughter laughing and chatting and sharing a milkshake.

The Bear and the whodunit aspect of the story arrived when I drew a map of Peddle-Worth village and thought about what could happen in a village.

Who is your favourite character?

That is so difficult to answer! I love Charlie. She has two little boys to get to know and has to learn to share her mum with them and Max. She has a new best friend, the fun of the whodunit and the search for her dad. She also watches Ryan and Jeremy hurt and challenge her mum. Mum is so patient and selfless. She is determined to bring the family together – though she nearly gives up. She is a hero of epic proportions.

But I also love Ryan and Jeremy. They so need someone to make them feel safe. Their mum tries to buy their love. Max longs for them to be happy; but giving in to their every whim is not the answer. The new family needs to talk to each other, not fight. I love how Max learns to say ‘no’ to Kelly and the boys.

So my favourite character? It has to be Ryan. I feel protective towards him. He’s the youngest and most vulnerable and things happen and he doesn’t understand. He copies what the others do and the thought of him holding the blue mobile willing his real mum to phone him is heart-breaking.

What’s your favourite part of the book?

The trip to A and E after Ryan makes friends with the iron because that is the turning point; the family must choose whether to destroy itself or rebuild. I enjoy writing emotional scenes using as few words as possible. I imagine every detail then edit out everything except the most important things.

Close behind that is the when the four children have their sleepover in Dead End Lane. For the first time, they really look after each other. And Julia is there to help them. Remember, Charlie hasn’t had younger brothers or sisters before. Julia has.

I enjoyed creating all the different ways of writing as well – suspect lists, notes, television scripts, newspaper articles, dialogues with Penelope Pink, secret codes and Charlie’s exclamations.

How long did The Milkshake Detectives take to write?

About eighteen months though I didn’t work on it all the time. Us Minus Mum was published when I was half way through it and that needed my attention, so The Milkshake Detectives was put on hold for several months.