Allison Rushby on Miss Penny Dreadful

Article | Issue: Nov 2023

Good Reading for Kids talks to acclaimed author Allison Rushby about the final exciting instalment in the ‘Miss Penny Dreadful’ series, Miss Penny Dreadful and the Mermaid’s Locks.



Miss Penny Dreadful and the Mermaid's Locks by Allison RushbySearching for a new story idea for her aunt’s famous penny dreadfuls, Penny and Aunt Harriet decide to follow up a newspaper article about a mysterious mermaid’s grotto. Hidden down a secret passageway on the banks of the River Thames, the only way to enter is through a tavern, aptly named The Mermaid’s Locks.

In the glittering grotto, Penny and her aunt find a comb with some strands of the mermaid’s red-gold hair. Penny sets out to investigate – can the mermaid truly be real? Also, why doesn’t Mr Crowley, Aunt Harriet’s publisher, want her to write about it? Meanwhile, another cryptic postcard arrives from Penny’s missing parents. Nothing is as it seems in Penny’s world. Will Penny be able to finally piece together all the clues?




 We’re reunited with Penny again – what’s new for her since the last book?

It’s an exciting time for Penny in book three of the Miss Penny Dreadful series! Penny is now quite sure there’s more to her parents’ disappearance than meets the eye. She’s also quickly figuring out that her aunt’s publisher – mean old Mr Crowley – has something to do with it. And, of course, there’s another fun adventure to be had with Aunt Harriet, Penny’s famous authoress aunt (and her squirrel monkey, Jones). This time her aunt is desperate to write about a mysterious mermaid’s grotto and Penny has to work out if the mermaid is real or not.


What was the inspiration behind the mermaid’s grotto?

When I first came up with the idea for the series, I did quite a bit of research into what the original penny dreadful novels had all been about (in case you haven’t heard of them, penny dreadfuls were short, serialised novels that were published in Victorian times. They were cheap and exciting and got lots of people reading). I ended up with a very long list of all sorts of fun things that had been written about – from highwaymen to pirates, vampires, ghosts and mermaids. All sorts! When I knew part of the story would need to be set near the Thames, I decided that I should definitely add a mermaid and her grotto into the mix. I had a fantastic time deciding exactly what a mermaid’s grotto might look like, full of glass and shells and bits of looking glass and even a special comb for the mermaid’s amazing hair.


What can you tell us about Penny’s investigation?

Miss Penny Dreadful and the Mermaid’s Locks sees Penny investigating a mystery that’s a bit closer to home this time. In book one, we saw Penny off to Hampshire to investigate some bewitched kittens. Book two took Penny to Surrey, where she needed to work out what was going on with a malicious maze that was said to be gobbling up servants. Now, in book three, Penny is searching for the truth about a mermaid that people say lives in the Thames. There’s a lot at stake, including the fate of Penny’s parents (where have they got to?), the health of many people working near the river and Penny’s aunt’s successful writing career too, considering her publisher is up to no good.


What do you love about mysteries?

Mysteries are just so much fun to write – it’s always a delight to find new and inventive ways to keep the reader in suspense and hide little titbits of information in plain sight! As an author, you want to get to the end of your story and pull that rabbit out of your hat with a huge, ‘Aha! I bet you never saw that coming!’ flourish. This series has been particularly fun to write because of the subject matter behind the mysteries – bewitched kittens and mazes that gobble people up and mermaids in the Thames – it barely felt like work!


Who are some of your favourite authors and books?

Whenever I’m asked this, I always have to start off by saying my mother’s books, because otherwise I’ll be in trouble, won’t I? My mother, Pamela Rushby, is also an author and our books are quite similar – we both love writing about history and foreign places and mysteries. My grandmother also had a big influence on the books I love. She was English and loved all the very classic English children’s books like Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, Joyce Lankester Brisley’s Milly-Molly-Mandy series, all of Rumer Godden’s books and Noel Streatfeild’s White Boots and Ballet Shoes. They’re very old fashioned books now, but still hold a special place in my heart.


How does it feel to be saying goodbye to this series?

I know I’ll definitely have a tear in my eye! It’s more difficult to say goodbye to a series than it is to say goodbye to the characters in a standalone novel, mainly because you’ve usually spent years with the characters in a series. While it’s been lots of fun to write about bewitched kittens and malicious mazes and mermaids and so on, what I’ll miss most is seeing Penny grow. The most enjoyable part of writing this series has been watching Penny learn that she’s more than people have been telling her she is her whole life. Throughout the series Penny comes to see that she’s clever and capable in her own way. She learns who she is as a person and she grows in confidence and by the end of Miss Penny Dreadful and the Mermaid’s Locks she’s ready to fly, which is just lovely. I’m very happy for her, but will also miss her very much!



Allison Rushby children's authorI write about all sorts of things. Today it’s tinsel jackets and therapy pom poms, sisters who can wish and wonderfully odd authoress aunts. Tomorrow you might find me writing about haunted houses, cursed lockets, doppelgängers and bewitched kittens. I do all of this fuelled by copious cups of tea.

Visit Allison Rushby’s website


Author: Allison Rushby


Book Format: Paperback / softback

Publisher: Walker Books

ISBN: 9781760655747

RRP: $15.99

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