How trip to Bettys tea room inspired debut children's book for Leeds author

Andy Sagar was struck by the whimsical nature of tea rooms during a visit to Bettys. Laura Reid speaks to him about his inspiration as his debut children’s book is released.

Andy Sagar was sat in Bettys with his parents when he was struck by the whimsy in a traditional British tearoom.

That outing in Harrogate sparked the idea for his debut children’s novel, published today after four years in the making.

Yesterday Crumb and the Storm in a Teacup is the story of a strangeling girl who runs away from the circus to join a Tea Witch, Miss Dumpling, in her magical walking tea shop, which travels on flamingo legs all around the county of Yorkshire and into Scotland.

Bettys tea room in Harrogate.

She believes her dreams of adventure have finally come true. But when a mysterious curse is placed upon her, she must race against time to break the spell, or the teashop and its wondrous magic will be snatched away forever.

“The inspiration for it was being in a tea shop, Bettys in Yorkshire, and looking around and seeing how there were so many things around that were an inch away from magic already,” Sagar says. “It was really just bringing out the wonder.

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“Things like seeing the teapots stacked up and wondering if they could pour themselves, seeing all the tea on the menu and thinking about witches potions, looking at the customers and thinking they could be different kinds of fairies like trolls and goblins. It was just adding a bit of whimsy to something already whimsical.”

Author Andy Sagar

Sagar grew up in Leeds, working as a teaching assistant in a primary school in Headlingley before studying law at the University of Cambridge.

A Master’s degree followed and he remains at the university working on a PhD exploring how laws around witch trials set the framework for modern laws on psychics and mediums.

Sagar, now 26, says he had his heart set on becoming an author for almost 20 years.

“When I was seven or eight, my school teacher read us The Hobbit and I realised that being an author was a job…There was a sense of relief that I didn’t have to think about anything else to do, I’d just be an author. I think my parents were a bit panicked by that but it ended okay.”

After his trip to Bettys, Sagar began jotting down ideas for a children’s book between lectures and exam revision.

“One of the goals of the book is to emphasise the magic of things that are ordinary…the wonder of quiet things,” he says.

“My stories are all about the magic that can be found in things we often overlook, like tea and books and flowers and the aspects of ourselves that make us feel different to everybody else.”

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Sagar was keen to include themes of self-acceptance and identity in his story.

“I think most children in one way or another think they are ‘different’ or unusual,” he says. “I was always quite a weird child, quite quiet and bookish.

“So for the book, I wanted the story arc to be about how the thing that makes someone different is eventually the thing that makes them special, powerful and unique.

“I didn’t want to just make it a story of acceptance about the thing that makes you different but rather embracing what makes you different and drawing power from it.”

“I wanted to make it a story that anybody could connect to,” he adds, “but I definitely think that a child who is growing up questioning where they might fall with regards to gender and so on might see something of themselves in the character of Yesterday and the journey she goes on.”

Sagar has two more books lined up in the Yesterday series and plans to release one each year.

Yesterday Crumb and the Storm in a Teacup, published under Hachette Children’s Group, is out now.

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