Kidnap on the California Comet (Adventures on Trains #2)
by M. G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman
Published by Feiwel & Friends
Releasing on February 23, 2021
MG FICTION-Adventure, Mystery
In this second book of the middle-grade Adventures on Trains series, amateur sleuth Hal Beck travels to the U.S. with his uncle to ride a famous train–the California Comet–and stumbles on a new mystery to solve, in M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman’s Kidnap on the California Comet…
After his adventure on the Highland Falcon, amateur sleuth Hal Beck is excited to embark on another journey with his journalist uncle. This time, they’re set to ride the historic California Comet from Chicago to San Francisco.
Hal mostly keeps to himself on the trip, feeling homesick and out of place in America. But he soon finds himself drawn into another mystery when the young daughter of a billionaire tech entrepreneur goes missing!
Along with new friends–spunky 13-year-old Mason and his younger sister, Hadley–Hal races against the clock to find the missing girl before the California Comet reaches its final destination.
M. G. Leonard is the award-winning, bestselling author of the Beetle Boy books. She works as a freelance digital media producer for clients such as the National Theatre and Harry Potter West End. She lives in Brighton with her husband and two sons, all of whom are crazy about trains. She is the co-author of the Adventures on Trains series.
Sam Sedgman is a novelist, playwright, and award-winning digital producer. He works as a digital project manager for the National Theatre, where he also hosts and co-produces their podcast. He grew up with a railway line at the bottom of his garden and has been fascinated by trains ever since. He is the co-author of the Adventures on Trains series.
Congratulations on publishing the second book! What was your inspiration for the Adventures on Trains series?
Sam: Maya and I have been friends and colleagues for a long time. She thought the idea of a series of books about trains would be a great idea after she couldn’t find books like that for her two sons, who were reluctant readers but really loved locomotives. I’ve always had a passion for trains, and I’ve drawn inspiration from the incredible holidays I went on with my family to steam railways around the world. Making the books mystery stories was also the perfect opportunity to make use of my lifelong love of detective novels, especially the works of Agatha Christie. Above all, the two of us wanted to write a series of books that would bring children joy.
M.G.: I was inspired by my son’s, my husband’s and my father-in-law’s enduring affection for all things ‘train’. It is a passion that spans generations and I wanted to create adventures on trains stories for Dads and Grandads to enjoy with children. One of the other things we wanted to do in these books, as well as give our readers a great adventure, is give them a slice of travel writing. Children aren’t able to pick a destination and buy a ticket. One of the ways they can travel is in their imaginations. It feels particularly important to give them stories that are set in real places right now, during a pandemic, when no one can travel.
What has been your favorite part of writing this series so far?
Sam: Maya and I travelled to Germany together by train as part of our research for the fourth book in the series, ‘Danger at Dead Man’s Pass’. We took the Eurostar to Paris for lunch, then hopped on the overnight sleeper to Berlin before making our way to the mysterious Harz mountains, where a steam train took us to the peak of the Brocken mountain. It was the greatest adventure we’ve ever done together, and had our brains fizzing with exciting ideas for the book.
M.G.: The research for these books is fascinating, and my favourite bit or writing a story. For Adventures on Trains, it encompasses, geography, history, food, culture, train timetables and if we’re lucky, a lot of extraordinary train journeys.
What are you hoping readers take away from Kidnap on the California Comet?
Sam: We want readers to experience the real life wonders of traveling by train across the United States. As well as a cracking adventure plot with strange clues, suspicious characters, burgeoning friendships and a race against time, we wanted to conjure the hustle and bustle of Amtrak, the sweeping scenery of the Rockies, and the thrill of curling up in your sleeper car as the train horn sounds over the open plains. We hope we haven’t just written a mystery story, but an engrossing piece of travel writing for children, showing them parts of the world which most people don’t get to see.
(following on from Sam’s answer…)
M.G.: And I hope they will attempt to learn the French Drop, and next time they’re on a train, impress another passenger with their magic trick!
What was your favorite part of writing Kidnap on the California Comet?
Sam: I was lucky enough to travel on the California Zephyr, the real life Amtrak service on which the California Comet is based. I went on my birthday, and it was the journey of a lifetime. I’ve done my best to capture the vibrant spirit of the journey and put it in the book – the eclectic mix of characters, the burgers and fries in the dining car, and of course the breathtaking views of America. I sat for hours in the observation car watching people and scribbling in my notebook. It was terrific fun.
M.G.: There are a lot of twists and turns in the plot of this book. It was incredibly satisfying to work out what needed to happen when to deliver the ending we planned. The plotting part of the books are always exciting, because you get a feel for the type of story you’re writing.
If you could spend one day with Hal and his friends, what would you do? Are there any places you would visit?
Sam: With heavy lockdown restrictions here in the UK, I have hardly left my house for six months! I’d settle for a trip on the London Underground at this point. But we have so many brilliant adventures we want to go on with Hal in the future, and I’m determined to travel and do the research properly. I dearly want to go to Japan, to experience the incredible bullet train system. I think Hal will really enjoy drawing the complex Tokyo cityscape, and the hills full of cherry blossom. And I can’t wait to try the ekiben – the special boxes of food served all over the railway network, with dishes unique to each station.
M.G.: I’d love to travel with Hal and Uncle Nat on the Orient Express and stop off in Venice. I’m certain an adventure would occur on such an evocative train.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Sam: Finish your draft. It doesn’t matter how bad it is, keep going. If you finish a draft of a book you can improve it. If you never stop trying to improve it as you go, you’ll never finish. Our books go through several terrible drafts before they get published. It’s completely normal. I know this is great advice because I always struggle to follow it. But it’s true! A friend of mine put it to me like this: “Don’t get it right, get it written.”
M.G.: Read. Read. Read. It’s the best way to learn what works and what doesn’t. Take note of everything: how long a story is, how many central characters, favourite moments, the structure of the plot, the ending, narrative voice. The more you learn about the types of books you enjoy, the better placed you’ll be to write one. I don’t know one author who doesn’t have a room stacked with other people’s books.
Is there anything else you would like to let the readers know about Kidnap on the California Comet?
Sam: There is a very impressive private rail carriage in the book, and one of my lifelong dreams is to have my own rail carriage one day. I will have a library in it, a cinema, a jacuzzi tub, a bedroom and an office. And I will travel around the world in it writing books and doing research. Trains are the finest way to travel.
M.G.: I learned all the magic tricks that Hadley performs in the book (from Penn and Teller) and tested them on my sons to make sure they worked.
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