Gill Lewis has adored animals for as long as she can remember. From building a mini hospital for insects in her garden as a child, to working as a vet in the wilds of Africa, her life has been full of fascinating wildlife adventures. Here Gill introduces her brand new series of adorable animal stories for 7+ readers, illustrated throughout by Irina Avgustinovich's glorious artwork of the animals and landscape of Haven Islands. 

Q. Tell us a bit about your new series, The Island Vet 
A. I absolutely loved writing the books in The Island Vet series. These stories centre around a girl called Tia who moves to the Haven Islands with her mum who has taken on the job as the island vet. Tia’s mum needs help looking after all the island animals; the pets, the farm animals, and the wildlife. Of course, Tia is more than happy to lend a hand. Island life is wonderful with a close-knit community, a big friendly dog named Norman, sparkling seas and more than 30 flavours of ice-cream. But there is trouble too, with storms that roll in across the ocean, and visitors who drop litter and disturb the wildlife. And even though Tia and her mum live on the islands, they realise that they are connected to people and animals across the world. Irina Avgustinovich’s illustrations capture the story perfectly.

Q. You are a vet yourself and live surrounded by animals. Were you and your real-life family the inspiration behind the characters Tia and her mum, The Island Vet?
A. Animals have been a big part of our family life, and our own children have loved seeing some of the patients which have been brought into the vet hospital. When my daughter was little, she used to write ‘get well soon’ cards to the cows in the farm animal hospital. I loved working as a vet, but like many working mothers, finding the balance with a busy job and family can be hard. Tia’s mum worked in a busy vet hospital in a city and didn’t get much time to see Tia, and that is what encouraged her to take up the job in the Haven Islands where she can spend more time with Tia.

Q. The Island Vet is published by Barrington Stoke, the specialist when it comes to books for dyslexic and reluctant readers. Can you tell us how the writing process differs when writing books for children who may struggle with reading.
A. Child readers want compelling stories that they can engage with. Children who may struggle with reading do not want to be ‘stuck’ on books that have content for children younger than themselves. So, the Barrington Stoke books are always rich in the storytelling, but the editing process can simplify sentence structure, or use a simpler vocabulary. Some more difficult words are left in place, but not too many to slow the storytelling experience. This gives confidence to readers who can then progress at their own pace whilst enjoying story content that is suitable for them. The stories are often short and accessible, and the font and colour of the paper are chosen to help with dyslexic readers. The illustrations really engage children and can help with understanding the story too.   

Did your love of animals, or your love of reading, make you a writer?
I have always loved animals, and so, unsurprisingly, I write about them. However, at the start of my writing career, I didn’t realise how powerful words and stories can be. Stories can raise awareness of environmental problems and show how to help protect wildlife. The second book in the series Rescue at Seal Bay is a story inspired by the Pembrokeshire coast where I now live. There are seals and seabirds that live along the coast, and they are often disturbed by people. As a result, sometimes seal pups and chicks are abandoned by their parents. In Rescue at Seal Bay, Tia tries to find ways to ensure both the animals and people can stay safe and enjoy the islands.

Q. Are there any animals you haven't yet written about that you would like to star in one of your stories?
A. There are SO many animals that I would love to write about. I’m fascinated by birds that migrate. And I’ve written about one of these in the third book in The Island Vet series – the title is Devil Bird Island – and that will give you a clue as to the bird – sometimes known as devil birds because of their strange eerie nighttime calls. Manx Shearwaters nest on islands around the UK and migrate all the way to coast of South America in our wintertime. Then in the spring they return to the very same burrows they nested in the year before. Tia meets these wonderful birds.

Q. You provided the illustrations for A Street Dog Named Pup - any plans to illustrate more of your books? 
A. I hope so. I need to find more time to draw and paint. I’m a visual thinker and most of my stories are like films running through my head. I would love to create wordless graphic novels. I have many ideas but need time to sink into the story ideas. 

Q. Children love reading about animals - other than your own wonderful nature stories are there any books or authors that you would like to recommend to our young readers? 
A. Oh, so many – where do I start? My favourite author/ illustrator is Shaun Tan – I love Tales from the Inner City – probably for older child readers. Another favourite book is The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate Di Camillo. Other authors of fabulous animal stories include; Nicola Davies, Jackie Morris, Lauren St John, Yuval Zommer, Phil Earle, Anna Fargher. Piers Torday, Sita Brahmachari, Julia Green, Nizrana Farook – to name a few.

Q. Who is your favourite fictional hero from children's literature?
A. Fritha from the Snow Goose by Paul Gallico – this is a very old book, but it was the book that made me a reader. I struggled with reading as a child, but I found a very old cloth bound copy of this book with beautiful illustrations by Sir Peter Scott. The illustration of Fritha holding an injured wild goose made me want to be Fritha. I wanted to hold the goose and know her story. Even though the vocabulary was hard, I read the book and was immersed in such a powerful story of hope and friendship set against the horrors of war.  

Q. What does LoveReading4Kids mean to you?
A. LoveReading4Kids means access for all. When so many children do not own a book, and when the selection of children’s books on the supermarket shelves is limited to celebrity-written books, often of a similar format, then LoveReading4Kids provides a huge selection of books that have been read and recommended. This allows children, parents, carers and teachers to discover new authors and books, and not only that, but schools benefit through the donation and membership scheme too. This enables all children to access new and exciting books. Reading changes lives, and access to an exciting range of great quality books should be available for every child.

Take to the coast with award-winning author Gill Lewis as she introduces The Island Vet: Pirates and Sea Monsters.

You can find the three books in The Island Vet series below, plus a selection of Gill's novels that connect readers with the natural world.