Guest Post: Sisterhood by Emily Ilett

The Girl Who Lost Her Shadow

The Girl Who Lost her Shadow is the stunning debut novel from Kelpies Prize winner Emily Ilett. It is a lyrical, immersive and luminous tale of sisterhood, which tells of bravery, the effect of mental health issues and being strong enough to ask for help when we really need it. In this guest post, Emily explains how central character Gail goes through the process of learning how to be there for her older sister.

Emily Ilett on Sisterhood and
The Girl Who Lost Her Shadow

Gail was eating cornflakes when her shadow disappeared. She wasn’t surprised. Everything was falling apart, including her. And it was all Kay’s fault.

Kay was Gail’s sister. She was three years, four months and seven days older than Gail. She’d been the best swimmer on the island ever since she first learned backstroke. But now she was sinking.

The Girl Who Lost Her Shadow is about a lot of things: slippery runaway shadows, conservation, grief and bravery. But at its heart, this story is about sisterhood. It’s about being there for each other when everything feels like it is falling apart.

Kay is Gail’s older sister and she has depression. She barely leaves her room, and hasn’t been back to school after the summer break. Gail doesn’t understand. They used to do everything together; Kay taught Gail to swim, and they both dreamed of being marine biologists one day. But after their dad leaves, Kay starts disappearing into herself, she becomes tired and distant and won’t swim with Gail anymore. Feeling helpless and abandoned, Gail becomes jealous of her mum’s constant worry and preoccupation, and furious with her sister.

But after Gail’s shadow disappears on her twelfth birthday, Gail kicks at her sister’s shadow in frustration and it’s then that she begins to understand how Kay really feels.

Her feet prickled as Kay’s shadow gathered around them, silken between her toes. She gasped at the force of it. She felt emptied of everything she cared about, hollow like a clam shell cast up on a beach. Was this how Kay felt?

Kay’s shadow ripples under the bedroom door and out of the house, leaving Gail alone with this new understanding. And so Gail becomes determined to get her sister’s shadow back. She’s sure that if she brings it back, everything will go back to the way it was before Kay became depressed. But the journey she ends up on turns out to be quite different.

Diving into a world of caverns, secret maps and underwater sea creatures, Gail discovers she’s not the only one on the island looking for Kay’s shadow… As Gail fights to reach Kay’s shadow in time, she slowly discovers her own sense of self, and finds courage she never knew she had. She begins to open up and trust the new friendships she makes, and through these, she learns how to be there for her sister, after all the times Kay has been there for her.

Gail thought of Kay’s hand beneath her stomach when she’d held Gail up in the town pool, and Kay’s arm wrapped tight around her as she helped Gail back up the beach when she sliced her ankle. Gail remembered swimming in the sea together for the first time, how they’d tread water laughing, their hands held tight together. Gail swallowed hard. She knew what her shadow was trying to help her understand. “It’s my turn now,” she whispered.

She realises that it’s her turn now to be there for Kay as her sister struggles with depression, and no matter how hard this is at times, Gail knows she is stronger and braver than she thought, and that she can always ask for help.

I hope that this book opens up conversations between young readers, friends, classmates and families, about what depression and other mental health conditions feel like, both on the inside and the outside. I hope it encourages discussion about how we can best be there for each other, and what reaching out looks like.

Because reaching out takes courage. It crosses over a distance. It is one hand reaching out for another. It is Gail, sitting by Kay’s bed in the morning waiting for her sister to wake up. Not knowing what to say, but staying to say it anyway.

Gail took her hand. “Because when you’re sinking,” she said, “you always need something to hold onto.”


A lyrical, heart-warming adventure.” — Joan Lennon

Blog Tour

To celebrate the launch of The Girl Who Lost her Shadow, Emily is visiting some other blogs as well as ours! Click the links below to keep up with the latest stops on the blog tour.


Kelpies Prize 2017 – Winner Announced!

After a record year of entries, it was more difficult than ever to choose the winner of the Kelpies Prize 2017. From dinosaurs to perhaps-witches to escaping shadows, our shorlist varied in subject matter but not in quality. After much deliberation, we’re pleased to announce that our winner is… (drumroll please) Emily Ilett!

Emily entranced the judges with her lyrical tale of sisterhood, The Girl Who Lost Her Shadow. Bookbug Picture Prize nominee Chae Strathie was on hand to present the prize. As well as a gigantic cheque for £2000, Emily has secured a coveted publishing deal with Floris Books.

We’d also like to congratulate shortlisters Debbie Canon (David and the Surprisingly Smart-o-saurus) and Kate Bolden (Lottie Larkin’s Magical Mishap). Both their entries had our audience chuckling at all the right places.

Catch up with all the Kelpies Prize 2017 fun with our Storify.

Our Kelpies Prize 2017 winner

Our shortlisters (L-R): Kate Bolden, Debbie Cannon and Emily Ilett

Originally from North Yorkshire, Emily currently works at Glasgow Women’s Library. Emily is no stranger to writing accolades – she was awarded the Mairi Hedderwick Writing for Children Bursary from Moniack Mhor in 2015 and was Children’s Writer in Residence at Wigtown Book Festival the same year.

When you’re sinking, you need something, or someone, to hold onto.

On the morning of Gail’s birthday, her shadow escapes under the kitchen door. Gail’s not surprised it’s decided to leave. Her dad has left for good and her sister Kay, who has always swum through life with her, is sinking into sadness. Gail is angry: angry that Kay doesn’t seem to care any more. Then Gail’s anger frightens her sister’s shadow away too. Determined to put things right, Gail chases after it. But where there are shadows, there’s darkness, and Gail discovers she’s not the only one looking for something lost…

Gail’s love for Kay will be tested to the extreme – can she retrieve her sister’s shadow, and her own?

A magical and lyrical tale, The Girl Who Lost Her Shadow is a story about bravery and the power of friendship, and being strong enough to ask for help when we really need it.

Want to enter next year’s prize?

Do you have a brilliant idea for a children’s novel set in Scotland? Entries are now open for the Kelpies Prize 2018! Visit the Floris Books website to read our full terms & conditions and find out how to submit your manuscript.