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Q&A with Meg Shaffer - The Wishing Game

The Wishing Game

By Sophie Bridges

We are honoured to welcome Meg Shaffer to The Reading Corner to talk about her new release The Wishing Game out on the 30th of May 2023.

Make a wish. . . . Lucy Hart knows better than anyone what it’s like to grow up without parents who loved her. In a childhood marked by neglect and loneliness, Lucy found her solace in books, namely the Clock Island series by Jack Masterson. Now a twenty-six-year-old teacher’s aide, she is able to share her love of reading with bright, young students, especially seven-year-old Christopher Lamb, who was left orphaned after the tragic death of his parents. Lucy would give anything to adopt Christopher, but even the idea of becoming a family seems like an impossible dream without proper funds and stability. But be careful what you wish for. . . . Just when Lucy is about to give up, Jack Masterson announces he’s finally written a new book. Even better, he’s holding a contest at his home on the real Clock Island, and Lucy is one of the four lucky contestants chosen to compete to win the one and only copy. For Lucy, the chance of winning the most sought-after book in the world means everything to her and Christopher. But first she must contend with ruthless book collectors, wily opponents, and the distractingly handsome (and grumpy) Hugo Reese, the illustrator of the Clock Island books. Meanwhile, Jack “the Mastermind” Masterson is plotting the ultimate twist ending that could change all their lives forever. . . . You might just get it.

The Wishing Game

I'd like to begin by saying how much I enjoyed reading your upcoming book

The Wishing Game. I loved how you managed to capture the excitement of reading a really good book! I really related to Lucy who has held onto the feelings and emotions she felt after discovering The Clock Island series as a child and even how it changed her life even into adulthood. I think many readers will be able to relate to the magic of finding a good book and even better when it’s a series!

Almost all readers can pinpoint the exact book they read as a child that hooked them on books for life. Nancy Drew or Harry Potter or, in my case, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I’ve been chasing that A Wrinkle in Time high for decades.

The impact of literature was a key theme throughout the book with most of the characters

having a strong tie to the Clock Island series. The Clock Island series was a comfort to Lucy

and many other children, especially Christopher who is introduced to the series when going

through a difficult time. How important do you think having access to literature is for children

especially ones that are going through a difficult time? What steps do you think should be taken to make children fall back in love with reading?

Books are art, first and foremost, so I would never advise anyone with a struggling child to try to treat their child’s unhappiness with books. But for kids who just feel alone or, in my case, love being alone, books are an incredible source of companionship and comfort. The first time you see yourself in a book is the first time you felt seen in the world. It’s not your parents or your teachers telling you that. All kids need books for and about them, and books that show them completely different kinds of people living different lives in different worlds. Books have been shown to build empathy in readers. Every kid needs books.

I loved the use of relationships throughout the book and thought it was amazing how you

depicted difficult family dynamics. The relationship between Lucy and Jack mimics the

relationship between Lucy and Christopher as they both become what the other desperately

wants. Where did you find inspirations for these relationships? Is there anyone in your life that you drew inspiration from when creating these characters?

The Wishing Game was very loosely inspired by two sources. The first was the Gene Wilder film Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. I wanted to create my own sort of mastermind character who wants to change the life of a child in need. And second, there was a famous This American Life story about a teenage boy who was struggling and found comfort only in his favorite fantasy novels (the Xanth series by Piers Anthony). He ran away from his home, found Anthony’s house, and showed up on his doorstep, hoping to live with him. It’s a great story. So yes, the book owes a lot to Gene Wilder and to that young man who told his story. But otherwise, The Wishing Game is a work of, as Willy Wonka would call it, “pure imagination.”

The topic of adoption and the nuances of the adoption process are discussed throughout the

book when Lucy is struggling to meet the demands expected to adopt Christopher. It also

shows us that there is more to parenthood than just blood, what advice would you given to

hopeful parents that are going through the adoption process?

I have no advice to give any parents as I’m not a parent.

Following on from that. After Lucy’s meeting with Mrs. Costa, one of Lucys friends Theresa

comments ‘They tell us taking care of children is the most important job you can do, and they

pay us like it’s the least important’ The role teachers have in the upbringing of children is

undervalued and often the teaching profession is looked down upon. Are there any teachers

that inspired you to write? If so what would you say to them if you had the chance?

Oh yes, I’ve had wonderful teachers. When a teacher believes in you and tells you, “Hey, this is actually good writing,” you never forget it. I remember my fifth-grade teacher being furious when I didn’t win a writing award she was sure I would win. She confided that she thought the winning essay was terrible compared to mine. A high school English teacher gave one of my stories to the other English teachers to read, she was so impressed by it. After turning in an essay during my freshman year in college, my English professor shook my hand because he loved it so much. I have never forgotten a single word of encouragement a teacher gave me. And I probably never will. That’s how important teachers are to young people.

The Clock Island that was depicted vividly in your book was so whimsical, I definitely wanted to visit after reading The Wishing Game! It transported me back to being a child. During the game, the contestants Andre, Melanie and Lucy complete various competitions and play games. Andre apologises to Jack for saying he wasn’t having any fun. As children who ran away to Clock Island due to their suffering, it was a heartfelt moment seeing them as adults having fun and healing their inner children. Is there anything you do that helps you connect with your inner child as an adult?

I have never really grown out of my childhood loves and obsessions. When I was in the 4th grade, I wanted to be an astronaut. I still read science fiction and watch space documentaries. I loved Star Trek as a kid. Still do as an adult. I loved middle-grade books as a kid. Still read them now! Yeah, I read adult fiction and watch supposedly serious films, but I’m always having fun. As long as I work hard enough to pay the bills, keep the house clean, and take care of the pets, the rest of the time, I don’t even try pretending to be an adult. No one who knows me would buy it anyway.

A few of the characters in the book suffered from medical conditions such as Davey and Angie. It is amazing to see characters with conditions such as Down syndrome are being included in literature as they haven’t always been included. As a reader do you feel that often people with illnesses and disabilities are left out? How important is it for you to make sure readers can identify with your characters?

Weirdly, disabled people seem to disappear as soon as you open a novel. Where are they? I’m not even talking about major characters, but even the minor characters or the “extras” in fiction never seem to have any disabilities at all. It’s strange. I was seeing an art therapist for a few months before I mentioned to my husband my therapist was blind. He was so surprised I hadn’t mentioned that before, but since one of my closest friends in the world is blind, it didn’t really register with me. One of my writer friends had a brother with Downs Syndrome, and she read the book to make sure I got everything right. I know several people with chronic illnesses. They exist. They’re important. They’re talented, lovely, wonderful people who deserve to be in stories!

The Wishing Game is your first book and as a reader I would definitely love to read more of

your work. Thank you so much for allowing me to read your book! Is there any projects you are working on or you would like to complete in the future? I would love if you would publish some of the Clock Island series!

Thank you! I doubt I’ll be writing any of the actual Clock Island books. There is nothing in the writing world more difficult than writing for middle graders. They are smart, savvy, and they know when they’re being talked down to, and I just don’t think I’ve got the talent for it. I admire middle-grade authors above all others. But yes, I’m working on a new book, and I probably always will be working on a new book!

Finally, where can readers find a copy of your amazing book The Wishing Game?

The Wishing Game isn’t being published in the UK at this time, so I’m not sure where UK readers can buy a copy. But American readers can find it at their local bookstore or wherever ebooks are sold online!

The Wishing Game

Meg Shaffer is a part-time creative writing instructor and a full-time MFA candidate in TV and Screenwriting at Stephens College, Columbia, Missouri. She lives in a state of uncertainty. Her debut novel The Wishing Game will be published in 2023 by Ballantine.

Meg's Instagram: @meg_shaffer


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