The Uncommoners #1: The Crooked Sixpence by Jennifer Bell

Hello, Jennifer Bell! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read. I'm thrilled you dropped by to celebrate The Crooked Sixpence

I read you've been a children's bookseller for several years. Did you get the idea for writing The Crooked Sixpence while you were working? 

Jennifer Bell: Bookselling is a busy, nonstop kind of job, but there were moments when I was shelving or tidying where my mind drifted, and I was able to dream up the story in The Crooked Sixpence. When I started developing the ideas for the world of the uncommoners, I was the assistant head of the children’s department at Foyles Bookshop—a huge, famous bookstore in the heart of London’s theatre district. The shop was always full of interesting customers—actors, musicians, politicians, artists, and scientists—and some of them helped shape the characters in the story. One of my major breakthroughs came when I was tidying up after some under-fives (preschoolers) in the nursery section. They had converted an upturned hardback (hardcover) encyclopedia into a bridge and were driving their toy cars over it. I remember thinking how incredible it is that children can take any ordinary object and turn it into something different. That was where the idea for uncommon objects came from.  

How did your love of nursery rhymes inspire The Crooked Sixpence?

Jennifer Bell: I loved most nursery rhymes when I was little. I’d sing them at school with my friends, and my mum used to tell me their hidden meanings, which I always found fascinating. The title of The Crooked Sixpence comes from a nursery rhyme called “There was a Crooked Man,” which some people believe is about the animosity between Scotland and England under the rule of King Charles I. Another nursery rhyme called “Oranges and Lemons” describes the bells of London’s churches talking to each other. This rhyme was the inspiration for the talking bells in The Crooked Sixpence. 

Explore Jennifer's website. 

You’ve had a chance to visit schools to talk about The Crooked Sixpence. How have the students reacted to the novel?

Jennifer Bell: When I tell children that I was never a big reader at school, that I didn’t like books very much at all, they’re always shocked that I became a bookseller and author. I explain that it’s never too late to find a passion for reading; it’s all about trying out lots of stories and seeing which ones you enjoy the most. I think it’s important to empower children to choose the right book for them, not just something that they’ve been told to read. Lots of children get really excited about uncommon objects and ask me what various things might do. Whenever I’m at a signing, readers turn up dressed in Hobsmatch (the style of dress that the traders wear in Lundinor), and it’s incredible to think that something I made up is giving them so much joy and creativity. That’s the best bit about being an author.  

Why did you want to write fantasy?

Jennifer Bell: I love the escapism that fantasy allows—the idea that there is more to this world than we can possibly imagine; that there are secrets that break our rules and bend our understanding of reality. When I read a book, I want to disappear inside someone else’s imagination, and when you’re reading fantasy, you really stretch your imagination. Reading is like dreaming when you’re awake, and fantasy literature makes those dreams even more incredible.

What’s next for Ivy?

Jennifer Bell: The next installment in the Uncommoners series is called The Smoking Hourglass. Ivy, Seb, and their friends come up against the Dirge again. Of course, there will be more uncommon objects. They explore more of Lundinor and meet even more races of the dead. I’ve had so much fun writing it, and I can’t wait to see what everyone thinks. 

 Borrow The Crooked Sixpence from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 


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