Category Archives: An Interview with…

An interview with… B B Taylor

For my Writing for Children slot in #223 May 2020, I interviewed Birmingham based author, BB Taylor, about her middle grade novel, The Vigilante Tooth Fairy, published by Tiny Tree Books.

The Vigilante Tooth Fairy is a story about a determined little fairy called Mouse who wants to save magic in a world that’s stopped believing. Children have stopped leaving their teeth out for the fairies! No more teeth means no more magic and no more magic means no more fairies.

BB told me she didn’t intentionally start writing about a tooth fairy, it kind of wrote itself. She was in hospital in isolation and needed a distraction so decided to enter a competition to write the first 1000 words of a story. She wanted to write a story about magic and self-belief, to dream beyond the four walls of the hospital room she was in, so she began to daydream.

The Vigilante Tooth Fairy by B.B. Taylor and illustrated by James Shaw

Her aim was to write a fairy tale that wasn’t traditional but could still give hope and inspiration to readers. BB revealed it didn’t get anywhere in the competition and sat in a draw for about 2 years before she came across it again by accident. It was then she had a zing of an idea and that buzz of excitement that inspired her to totally rewrite her original 1000 word story.

BB explained that once she had a new first draft this was when the real work began and the editing stage is always the longest part of her writing process. As part of the process she often makes scrap books mapping out her locations and characters, so she can get to know them better and ensure they are as real and tangible as possible. 

She told me that when it is the best it can be she will send it to a friend – a writing buddy – for critique and waits for them to rip it apart so she can start the editing process all over again.

“Sometimes you’ll be so close to a story and see it so clearly in your mind you’ll miss things right in front of you on the page. Reading out loud, editing in different fonts and colours are all great ways to trick your mind into seeing any errors and editing more efficiently.”

B.B. Taylor

BB loves doing school visits and enthusiastically declares it is one of her favourite elements of being an author. She structures her visits in small bites so she can make a session as long or short as it needs to be and can adapt it for a range of ages. Her advice for anyone doing school visits is to do what feels natural to you.

“I get to dress up, have fun and build inspiration and energy in the audiences I work with. I will often bring props whether it’s a giant snail or a giant yeti I like to make my sessions as interactive as possible.”

B.B. Taylor

BB also does lots of Zoom or Skype visits. She explained the advantage of this is that you can virtually visit people all over the world. When she does a Skype visit it usually involves reading from my book a little chat about her work and then a Q & A with the audience, to give them chance to interact and learn a bit more whether it be about her books, or being an author in general.

“It can be quite frightening to look at how you present yourself and your work in the current climate. but we are so lucky that technology has evolved so much in the last decade enabling us to still reach out and connect with audiences.”

BB Taylor

Her tip on writing for children is to be yourself, don’t try and force yourself to write in the style, format or patterns of anyone else. Do what feels comfortable and write what feels good. You want that buzz when writing that readers will hopefully get when reading your work. You want to feel that excitement when exploring a new world or creating a new character that you can pass on to your readers.

“Find what works for you and you are comfortable with and nurture it and be consistent with it. Create a digital footprint that your audience can follow and connect with and use it to reach out to the world and engage with them in whatever platform you decide to use.”

BB Taylor

To book BB for an online event you can go through her website www.bbtaylor-books.com, or through her publisher Tiny Tree Books.

You can also follow BB on Twitter @bb_taylor_, Instagram @b_b_taylor, Facebook  @B B Taylor and YouTube @B B Taylor.

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #223 May 2020 Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Writing 4 Children or Research Secrets interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

An interview with… Owen Dwyer

In this months issue of Writers’ Forum, May 2022 #243, I interviewed psychological thriller author, Owen Dwyer, about his research secrets. He told me all about how he weaved true events into his fictional novel, The Garfield Conspiracy, published by Liberties Press.

The book is about a writer suffering from a mid-life crisis who begins to be visited by the characters he is researching for a book he’s writing on the 1881 assassination of President James Garfield. Owen started his research with Roscoe Conkling, whose name he had come across whilst exploring on Wikipedia. The strangeness of the name intrigued him.

Roscoe Conkling, leading Senator of his day

Further investigation revealed Roscoe Conkling to be the most influential Republican senator of the Reconstruction Period (between the end of the Civil War and beginning of the twentieth century in America). Owen discovered he was a political enemy of President Garfield and a hero to the assassin Charles Guiteau.  

Owen turned to primary sources to do more in-depth research into Charles Guiteau, such as the New York Library of Congress, which has a great reservoir of material from Guiteau’s trial, including transcripts, newspaper reports and testimonies. He discovered that far from being a natural killer, Guiteau was a weak and vulnerable man who never fired a gun in his life before the assassination. He had a serious mental illness which went untreated and was dismissed at his trial. He was also heavily influenced by his religion, as many of his time were – it was hard to comprehend how literally people took ‘the word of God’.  

This realisation inspired Owen to research the Oneida County community, a group of people in the Oneida district of New York often called ‘bible communists’.

“I read an article from the New York Herald, written in the 1870s by a journalist called Norduff, in which he described the habits and behaviours of the Oneida County community including one incident where a young man called ‘Charles’ who was subject to their practice of ‘mutual criticism’, fainted from the pressure of having to stand and listen to his peers deriding him without being permitted to reply.”

Owen Dwyer

Owen wondered if this man could it have been Charles Guiteau. He was both intrigued and disturbed to discover how Charles Guiteau mind worked, how he inhabited an entirely different world to those around him.

Charles Guiteau, the ‘lunatic’ assassin

Charles Guiteau genuinely believed he deserved high office up to and including the presidency and that by killing Garfield he was advancing his cause. He was also convinced that he was acting on direct instructions from the ‘deity’ by committing the murder. this realisation helped him to shape his character within the novel.

Owen revealed that finding the historical characters’ ‘voices’ was difficult as there are no recordings of any of the nineteenth century characters in existence. He had to rely on their personal letters and political speeches, which by their nature were elaborate. My characters therefore ended up with florid vocabularies, with which they reproached my main protagonist for his irreverent, scandal worthy and preposterous behaviour.

The fact Guiteau shot Garfield is not in dispute. It was the reason why he shot him that led Owen into the conspiracy zone.

“I thought of several possible masterminds who might have been manipulating Guiteau for their personal political or financial gain and stress tested these against known historical data to see which was the most plausible. I wanted to make sure my theory would stand up to the scrutiny of a thorough historian.”

Owen Dwyer

Owen’s advice when approaching research is that you should start with your objective and work backwards. Don’t accept the first corroborating piece of evidence you find, but cross-check against other sources. That way, you’ll properly interrogate your subject, make it more plausible and possibly unearth other interesting information you might not otherwise have found.

The Garfield Conspiracy by Owen Dwyer

In The Garfield Conspiracy Owen accessed and studied the mind of a ‘lunatic’, which gave him new and valuable insight into mental illness – he felt more informed and sympathetic as a result – about both himself and others.  

If anyone wants to reach out to Owen Dwyer, he has said he would be delighted to hear from you on his website owendwyerauthor.com, twitter @owendwyerauthor, and / or Facebook @owendwyerauthor.

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #243 4 May 2022 Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Research Secrets or Writing 4 Children interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

An interview with… Angela Kecojevic

This month, #243 4 May 2022 for my Writing 4 Children slot in the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum, I interviewed Angela Kecojevic about using the dramatic effects of climate change as the backdrop of her YA novel.

Angela told me the inspiration for Angela’s latest YA novel, Train published under the Aelurus Imprint (Untold Publishing Group 2022), struck during a visit to the Didcot Railway Centre in Oxfordshire. She said the smell of train engines, the grind of pistons, and the vibe from the old passenger trains was enthralling. It was also a time when dystopian fiction was riding high in the book charts.  The spark began to develop. What if a teenager boarded a train and went to the centre of the earth? How would a group of modern-day young people cope with such a task?

She remembered a book from French poet Jules Verne. His adventure into earth exploration listed him as a pioneer in science fiction writing. His visions were revolutionary; his books (Twenty Thousand Leagues Beneath the Sea, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and Around the World in Eighty Days) awarded him critical success.  Angela’s aim was to bring this vision into the 21st century with a sci-fi spin.

In Train, seventeen-year-old Flint Wells (along with a group of international passengers) must board a futuristic train called Hero 67.  Their mission is complex: they must fix a tether at the centre of the earth, a journey that has already seen the disappearance of its predecessor, Hero 66. Yet just as Hero 67 slams into Earth, the passengers make a terrifying discovery about the Warehouses, giant bunkers littered around the globe.

Scientists, led by the mysterious ‘Conductor’, have taken a third of the population (the Vanished), and are testing them on their ability to survive worsening climate conditions. Flint’s family are also among the ‘Vanished’. It’s a race against time to save the planet and to stop the Conductor. 

“I wanted to highlight a world that had been destroyed because of its careless behaviour, and yet show a world that might care enough to fix. Young adults today are passionate about climate change. They care; they try to make a difference. I wanted this to reflect in Train.”

Angela Kecojevic

Angela is a member of the Climate Fiction Writer’s League, a group of international authors who use climate issues in their writing. Climate Fiction (Cli-Fi) is a piece of literature that brings climate science to the page. Issue of climate change are often at the forefront of her mind and this is reflected in Train. You can find out more about the Climate Fiction Writer’s League on their website: climatefictionwritersleague.substack.com

Train explores a frozen world that requires its characters to ice climb. Angela explained this was not an easy challenge.

“I stepped out of my comfort zone and booked in with a climbing lesson at Oxford Brookes Climbing Centre in Oxfordshire.  One of their expert climbers (Liz) showed me how to dry ice climb using indoor ice axes to loop and pull. This was physically demanding, and yet invaluable for my work.”

Angela told me how good plotting will highlight the pace of the story. She elaborated that she enjoys creating pace in her stories as it is one of her strengths.  She prefers to pick up the pace at the end of a chapter and thrust it over the finishing line into the next. She also enjoys creating tension in stories. She explained, YA, in particular, is a tough market to please as young people want powerful, adventurous characters. They want characters they can fall in love with. She took great care to make her characters sound fresh and interesting, and not to overthink their characteristics.

“I wanted Train to be something different. A sci-fi novel with a chilling twist.”

Angela Kecojevic

Angela revealed she finds writing for the YA market exciting as there is more freedom than writing middle grade, a genre she is also passionate about. She explained when the world was embracing romantic vampires and dystopian fiction, teens were picking up more books than ever before. This means something sparked their imagination. Exciting worlds, exciting characters, exciting plots.

Angela advocates if a story is well written, the readers will embrace the setting, however diverse. This is the beauty of the YA market. They are open to recommendations, they use social media to comment and promote, and they are open with their views.  Sure, it is a tough market to crack, yet their loyalty to a well written story is heart-warming.

You can follow Angela on Twitter @ajkecojevic and Instagram @angela_kecojevic

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #243 4 May 2022 Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Writing 4 Children or Research Secrets interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

An interview with… Finbar Hawkins

In an interview with Finbar Hawkins in April 2021, he told me all about the research he did into the notorious witch trials in the UK for his debut YA novel, Witch.

He said Witch, came about from an exercise in his first term of an Arvon foundation course where they were asked to write something with a historical setting.

“While out walking the dog (and a deadline looming!) I started thinking about the Pendle witch trials. And from there I thought about what it would have been like as a teenager experiencing the arrival of witch finders at her home, uprooting her family, how she would cope and strive for survival.”

Finbar Hawkins

Finbar explained that ever since childhood, he has been fascinated in myth and legend – one of his favourite books at home was the Reader’s Digest, Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain, reading about our country’s history of witchcraft. The early woodcuts of the trials also struck him– how they graphically portrayed these women as malevolent devils. He learnt that witchcraft, an ancient practice, was the victim of religious persecution. People, who for centuries had helped a community, were considered a threat to organised religion. And during the English Civil Wars the trials came back with vigour, witches largely being blamed for the suffering brought upon by the chaos of the fighting.

He said there are a lot of books about witches and witchcraft, and there’s a large body of academic work devoted to its study. So he simply dived in and found particularly useful books. An all-round primer, which he found fascinating is The Book of English Magic by Philipp Carr-Gomm and Richard Heygate, this gives a brilliant and in-depth appraisal of our magical history. Witch Hunt: The Persecution of Witches in England by David and Andrew Pickering was incredibly useful, gathering records from every county across the centuries. This book really helped Finbar to build a picture of the general hysteria around the trials. And for an in-depth study into witches, their portrayal and their importance as symbols, The British Witch by P.G.Maxwell-Stuart is exhaustive and thorough.

In Finbar’s book, the witchfinder, Jacobs, is based on the real-life and self-titled Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins. With his associate John Stearne, this determined young man cut a swathe across the East of England over the course of a bloody year in 1646. Witchfinders by Malcolm Gaskill was his go-to piece of research to understand the circumstances that led to Jacobs’ campaign.

He also visited an exhibition of Goya’s sketches of Witches at the Courtauld Institute (https://courtauld.ac.uk/gallery/what-on/exhibitions-displays/archive/goya-the-witches-and-old-women-album.

“These sketches definitely helped with the coven and crowd scenes in my book.”

Finbar Hawkins

Finbar revealed Spellbound was a wonderful exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford https://www.ashmolean.org/spellbound  He told me that they had a copy of Matthew Hopkins’ The Discovery of Witches (1647) which is chilling to see. Not only did this notorious man kill over a hundred women, he encapsulated and really celebrated his act for posterity.

An important part of Witch is Evey’s voice, and her way of seeing the world. Finbar wanted her to have this very specific, lyrical way of speaking, to make her sound very different to the norm. She’s also grown up in the West country so he wanted her to have that accent as part of her speech patterns. He used online accent archives to get the rhythms of her speech right. Dialectsarchive.com and also searched on YouTube for interviews with people from the West.

Witch is set in Wiltshire and in particular The Mendips area. He wanted the girls, Evey and her younger sister, Dill, to be travelling across the hills and valleys of this area. To achieve the dramatic sweep that this beautiful setting gives Finbar walked the area a lot, made notes on flora and fauna and took lots of photographs. He also found sketching in location really useful for details and sensations.

He photographed a tree in his local woods for a lot in backstory planning – Evey and her family refer to this as the ‘Wolf Tree’ and part of her initiation is ‘finding’ the stone, where it has been placed by her mother in the mouth of the wolf. These scenes never actually appeared in the final book, but the stone in the story is referred to as the ‘Wolf Tree Stone’.

“I took shots of my daugher’s hand holding a stone he found while walking on a beach in Cornwall. Having physical objects around you helps, feeling what they feel like, what details you can see in them, these will find their way into your writing.”

Finbar Hawkins

You can find out more about Finbar and his work @finbar_hawkins on Twitter and Instagram.

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #231 Apr 2021 Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Research Secrets or Writing 4 Children interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

You can buy copies of Witch by Finbar Hawkins from your local bookshop, or online at uk.bookshop.org, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.

An Interview with… Chrissie Sains

I interviewed Chrissie Sains last year for the #236 Sept 2021 issue of Writers’ Forum. She talked about the character, setting and pace of her middle-grade novel, An Alien in the Jam Factory, published by Walker Books.

An Alien in the Jam Factory is the first book in a comedy adventure series starring Scooter the jam inventor and his top-secret alien sidekick for ages 6+. Chrissie told me the seed of the story began with the idea of an alien flying around in a jam tart. Her children suggested it looked like a little flying saucer and together they imagined an alien crash landing on earth and flying around in it.

As the has story developed, Fizzbee (the alien) became particularly important to the central theme of the book. Fizzbee never underestimates Scooter, who has cerebral palsy. She sees him for the incredible boy that he is. She also teaches Scooter not to underestimate her.

An Alien in the Jam Factory by Chrissie Sains
Illustrated by Jenny Taylor

“The idea to write a character with cerebral palsy was inspired by my goddaughter, Abigail. She has an amazing sense of humour. She’s smart, inventive and I’ve never known anyone so determined – she doesn’t let anything stand in her way. I really wanted to include those qualities in the hero of my book, together with her cerebral palsy.”

Chrissie Sains

Chrissie explained it was important to that cerebral palsy wasn’t the central focus of the book, nor did she want it to be tokenism.

“I don’t think there are enough books featuring a character who has a disability and goes on an adventure – I’d really like to see that change.”

Chrissie Sains

A lot of the humour in the book comes from Daffy and Boris, the villains of the story. Chrissie revealed the aim was to create two lovable but highly inept robbers, who come up with an absolutely ridiculous plan to rob the (highly secure) jam factory. They have a great relationship too. Daffy absolutely adores her bad-tempered pet guinea pig Boris, even though he’s not so fond of her.

Chrissie divulged that she finds with humour your characters need to be completely unaware they’re funny. They’re simply using any means necessary to achieve what appears to be an impossible goal. Be it breaking into the world’s most secure factory by trying to post your cantankerous pet guinea pig through the letterbox, to persuading that same pet guinea pig to wear a pink sparkly friendship pendant.

She told me when she started planning An Alien in the Jam Factory – there was no jam factory. She had the characters and an idea for a plot but no setting. After a little brainstorming with her children, the answer came to us: The most inventive jam factory in the world.

She spent weeks chatting to her children about jam inventions. Throwing random ideas out and jotting them down in a notepad. They started by thinking about exciting flavours of jam, before moving onto what else jam could be used to make. She drew a map of the jam factory which was recreated by Jenny Taylor the illustrator for the inside cover.

Chrissie’s sketch of the jam factory and Jenny’s final version for the inside cover

Chrissie explained that one of the most important elements of writing children’s books for her is the pacing. She likes to ensure every chapter has a real purpose in driving the story forwards. To achieve this she includes an element of action and humour within each chapter and end them all on a cliff hanger. Her tip is to give yourself time to plan and ‘percolate‘.

“I find a story can start off full of promise, only to meander aimlessly and lose its way if I haven’t planned it properly. I start with the idea, then let things percolate a little. I draw, brainstorm, free write & walk until the plot evolves and I have a clear understanding of the character motivations. The thinking time is just as important as the writing time. Plus, it makes the writing process a LOT quicker and easier.”

Chrissie Sains

She revealed once she starts writing the first draft, she just keeps writing without reading back at all. If there’s a particular part of the story that’s proving tricky to write, she adds a holding title in capitals, (e.g. FALLS IN A VAT OF JAM) then moves on to the next part. She elaborated writing is all about editing and it’s totally ok for the first draft to be a bit rubbish. Once you’ve got the first draft, you’ve got something to work on. Whatever stage you’re at, don’t give up.

The second book in the series was launched this month on the 7th April 2022.  A treasure map is discovered , revealing there’s a hoard of treasure buried under the jam factory, but Scooter and Fizzbee are not the only ones after the treasure.

The Treasure Under the Jam Factory by Chrissie Sains
Illustrated by Jenny Taylor

You can find out more about Chrissie Sains and her Jam Factory series on her website: www.chrissiesains.com, Twitter: @crsains, Instagram: @Chrissie_sains and Facebook: @chrissiesainsauthor.

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #236 Sept 2021 Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Writing 4 Children or Research Secrets interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

You can buy copies of An Alien in the Jam Factory and The Treasure Under the Jam Factory by Chrissie Sains from your local bookshop, or online at uk.bookshop.org, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.

An interview with… Katya Balen

In the #232 May 2021 issue of Writers’ forum, I talk to Katya Balen about the way she uses emotion in her novel, October, October.

October, October is a story about a girl who grows up wild in the woods. She lives with her dad in a house he built, and her first friend is a baby owl she rescues. Her mother couldn’t handle the wildlife and left when October was four, but on her 11th birthday she returns. Tragedy strikes and October has to face life in a bright, loud city with a parent she barely knows.

Katya explained to me how children are brighter and braver than adults sometimes give them credit for – I love writing stories that appeal to that. She loves having the space to explore big feelings and deep meaning but also just have fun with stories and language. If you ask people which book has had the biggest impact on them, she has discovered most people say a book they read as a child. It’s wonderful to be a part of that.

Katya has very strong memories of being a child and she believes this ability to draw on her own memories makes it easier to create characters children can identify with – those small moments that feel so huge when you’re young – the things that mattered and the way those things made me feel. Those memories are so helpful in creating convincing characters.

Katya told me she thinks using a range of emotion in writing is important. She likes to use quiet moments to show the depth of complex feelings. She illustrated this for me with quotes from her novel, October, October.

‘The school term ends with an assembly where everybody sings songs without needing to read the words and I have to keep quiet until the same words start to catch in my brain and I whisper them into the swelling voices that reach up the roof.’

Extract from ‘October, October’ by Katya Balen

She also uses longer, uninterrupted sentences as my character races through a feeling – an almost stream of consciousness style.

 ‘I burn and scream and stamp and shout and I know why she told me when I was already in the car and I still try to claw the door open until my nails are ragged and raw just like my voice but I can’t unlock the handle and I throw myself at the window and scream and she stares ahead with bright eyes.’

Extract from ‘October, October’ by Katya Balen

Katya explained she prefers to focus on how the character feels bodily at that time – so many emotions give a physical reaction, especially in children.

‘I can feel a little spark of something start to fizz inside me for the first time since the crack and the suddenly empty sky and the whistle of Dad falling.’

Extract from ‘October, October’ by Katya Balen

She loves writing stories about quiet children. Children who are a bit different, interior, sensitive and perhaps even strange. I love exploring the way they see the world and telling their stories. Katya told me she doesn’t think there’s any ‘one size fits all’ approach to writing. What works for one person might not work for another.

Her tip for other aspiring children’s book writers is that it’s important not to try to chase a trend. If there seem to be lots of books being written about dragons or unicorns or pigs, don’t change tack and start writing one of those books too. By the time it gets near a publisher, the trend will be gone or the market will be saturated. Write what you want to write – books that mean something to the writer are always much better. Set yourself a word count every day, or three times a week, whatever fits. It’s really motivating to get a draft done.

You can follow Katya Balen on Twitter @katyabalen

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #232 May 2021 Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Writing 4 Children or Research Secrets interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

An interview with… Claire Culliford

In the April issue of Writers’ Forum I talk to Claire Culliford about her series of climate-conscience children’s book, The Little Helpers

The Little Helpers series combines the different threads involved in my work, over almost a decade of writing and taking the books out to their target audience worldwide. The first few books have been translated into twelve languages (including Spanish, Chinese, French, Arabic and Portuguese) by incredibly supportive translation colleagues around the world. Early in 2020 I assigned worldwide rights for the series to London publisher University of Buckingham Press, which is a part of Legend Press. The series was relaunched in Autumn 2020. There are 30 books in total.

The books are designed to raise awareness of global environmental and social issues through fun, fictional stories in which animal main characters come up with a creative solution to a real-world problem. Claire’s aim is to foster children’s creativity and problem-solving skills through the medium of story, which is extremely powerful. She told me fedback from teachers and parents has consistently demonstrated the books can be used not only to promote a love of fiction and reading, but as a holistic learning tool, for everything from language acquisition to the teaching of geography, science and maths.

The first few stories in the series came along whilst Claire was working for a period with teenagers and young adults on charity projects combining education in the creative industries and on environmental and social issues. It became apparent through dealings with large organisations and governments there was a lack of means to raise awareness among young children about the same topics.

Claire revealed that her animal main characters ensure inclusivity and have the added benefit of enabling me to introduce species from around the world which are endangered and in need of protection. Her intention was to create a series with global appeal. She envisioned an environmental and social brand with an extremely positive message that would unite children everywhere for all the right reasons. She explained that with this in mind, it seemed logical to use the series to support the United Nations and its Sustainable Development Goals, which are designed to address the three dimensions of sustainable development worldwide – economic, social and environmental.

“I love creating characters that are novel and intriguing, and innovative and engaging solutions to the problems that they are presented with. I also focus on including age-appropriate language and subject-specific vocabulary and introducing linguistic features that children will come across in books as they get older: tools such as alliteration, repetition and onomatopoeia. It’s never too early to fall in love with language and what it can do. Think about what keeps you engrossed in a story and aspire to introduce the same into your writing.”

Claire Culliford

There is a different character for each book of Claire’s Little Helper series, as the stories are designed to represent settings, species and issues from all over the globe. In terms of consistency, which is important for a series and a brand, she take into account things like all the main character names having just two syllables in them and beginning with the same letter as the animal species concerned. She choose names which are authentic to the part of the world in which the story is set. The names are also tested to ensure they are easy for children to pronounce in most countries.

Claire told me the physical attributes of the characters are based on their real life traits. Both the story content and the illustrations are based very much on an accurate depiction of facts relating to the species involved and the issue being addressed, as well as the natural landscape in the part of the world concerned.

Her tips for writer’s who aspire to be children’s book writers are:

“Firstly, remember that in storyland anything is possible. Get rid of the restrictions and limitations that we place on things in the adult world. Secondly, make every line count. Children’s books, particularly picture books, are short. There’s no room for non-essential words or sentences. Simplicity is everything. You need to be able to say in ten words what might take a hundred or a thousand in a story for an adult. And thirdly, use your life experience, existing skills and knowledge to identify your niche then get as much feedback on your writing as possible – especially from children – along the way. Becoming a proficient writer in any genre is a journey and we all start somewhere. The best way to improve is to get your target audience to help you.”

Claire Culliford

Claire told me anything you write for children needs to be filled with creativity, light-heartedness and fun to read because good stories that fuel their imagination will make children smile .

Readers can find more information about Claire Culliford and her writing at:

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #231 Apr 2021 Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Writing 4 Children or Research Secrets interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

An interview with… Christina Jones

I interviewed chick lit writer, Christina Jones about her ‘method writing’ approach to research in the #100 Feb 210 issue of Writers Forum.

Christina told me she always researches her character’s backgrounds to make sure they’re accurate. She revealed at first she used backgrounds that she knew well – horseracing (her granddad was a jockey), lorry driving (her husband was a trucker), fairgrounds (her dad was an ex-circus clown who then travelled with fairs).

However, once she’d run out of her own life experiences, she explained it was quite a challenge to start writing about things she didn’t know so well. To do this she turned to books for basic facts (the library was her second home), the internet for a quick-fix (God bless Google), but her favourite way of researching is to meet and talk to people who really know.

Christina explained experts are definitely the most helpful. She spent hours on the road with lots of lovely lorry drivers while writing Running The Risk learning all about transport law and how the haulage industry really works – and so that she’d know how Georgia, her lorry-driving heroine, carried out her job. Christina was even taught to drive a 42 ton lorry – but in the safety of a lorry park!

When researching Heaven Sent (about fireworks) Christina told me she had one of the best times of her life with the lovely pyrotechnicians from Fantastic Fireworks – they even taught her how to set-up and fire her own remote-controlled firework display.

With Moonshine Christina joined a local winemaking group to learn how to make homemade wine (such hardship!) and since adding a touch of practical magic to her novels, she had lots of help from various lovely white witches.

Before she meets her experts she puts herself into her heroine’s (or hero’s) shoes and make notes about everything they’re going to encounter or experience in the book and ask questions from their point of view. She write everything she think she’ll need to ask down.

During the interview she uses a dictaphone to make sure she gets all the facts correct, but she also take notes if something interesting crops up. When she gets home she transcribes both into a notebook like a long essay, then go through it and red-pen everything that isn’t needed and highlight everything that is. Christina told me:

“I think, without exception, I’ve become friends with everyone who has ever helped me with research, but I always write a thank you letter immediately afterwards, always acknowledge their help and expertise in the front of the books, and always send them a signed copy as soon as it’s published.”

Christina Jones

Christina’s explained it is vital to list your sources and acknowledge your experts. It’s only good manners if people have been kind enough to give up their time to help then this is the least you can do. And it’s good publicity for them, too – and they all love seeing their names in books.

When she was writing Walking On Air she spent weeks with the Utterly Butterly Barnstormers to learn all about wing-walking (and spent lots of time with the pilots of small planes and had several flying ‘experiences’. She even did a wing-walk so she knew exactly how Billie would feel in Walking On Air.

“…strapped to the wings of a tiny wood-and-fabric bi-plane, hundreds of feet up in the sky, travelling at a hundred miles an hour, feeling the almighty force of the wind, and the cold, and the insects that get EVERYWHERE and stay there, and how much your arms ache, oh, and your face flaps.”

Christina Jones

Christina revealed like Billie, her heroine, she wasn’t great with flying, and the thought of tiny planes with no escape routes terrified her. But once she’d met the pilots and wing-walking girls from the Utterly Butterlys and spent time with them both at their base and at air shows, and scrambled in and out of the Boeing Stearman bi-planes and teetered on the fabric wings ahw explained it was exciting, exhilarating and amazingly different. In fact, she LOVES flying now. She has even spent time watching them strip down a radial engine so she knew exactly how it worked and sounded.

Christina’s research tip for other writers is be prepared to listen to EVERYTHING you’re being told and then listen to a lot of other conversations going on around you as well. These little insider snippets – the things they don’t think are important – are sometimes the hidden gems that can spark off a whole new subplot.

“When I was researching Heaven Sent (fireworks) I had no idea until I listened to the pyrotechnicians chatting over a cuppa that no-one in the firework world has ever managed to create a dark green firework – and that this is the pyro world’s holy grail. This gave me a whole new area for Clemmie and Guy (my h&h) to explore and actually became one of the main plotlines in the book.”

Christina Jones

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #100 Feb 2010 Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Research Secrets or Writing 4 Children interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

An interview with… Nancy Campbell

In this months issue of Writers’ Forum I have interviewed Nancy Campbell about how her experiences as a writer in residence inspired three books.

Nancy wanted to write a universal compendium of snow: looking at words for snow in fifty very different world languages to show how different peoples around world celebrate, and use, snow. Fifty Words for Snow builds on that fascination, looking at cold climates around the world, through fifty different words. This book is the accumulation of a decade of research and travel in the polar regions, which began in 2010 with a winter residency at the most northern museum in the world, Upernavik Museum, Greenland.

Nancy has been appointed as Writer in Residence by many places: the English canal network (as Canal Laureate for the Canal and River Trust), a fishing museum in Iceland, an ecological research centre in Denmark, a state-of-the-art modern library in the Swiss Alps, and most recently, a year in an 18th-century water palace in Bavaria. These appointments, usually for a relatively short duration of time, are an intense and immersive way of growing to understand a community and culture, and producing new work.

The residency at Upernavik Museum was her first role of this kind, during the winter of 2010, and she said she learnt a lot from it. Her role there was to write about the museum collections and the wider life of this small arctic community.

“I got to know the hunters and fishermen on this tiny, rocky island, and began learning Greenlandic from them. Learning the language was an important step in understanding the culture (few of the islanders spoke English). I lived in a tiny wooden cabin down by the sea, which when I first arrived, was completely covered in snowdrifts, and my desk looked out over the icebergs of Baffin Bay.”

Nancy Campbell

Nancy drew largely on encounters and observations on the island. She found a few old books on archaeology in the museum and followed up with more reading at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge when she got home.

“It was a life-changing experience. I had expected to write just one book as a result of that winter, but in the end it started a fascination with the Arctic that took me through a decade, and several book projects, including The Library of Ice and How to Say I Love You in Greenlandic before culminating in Fifty Words for Snow.”

Nancy Campbell

Nancy told me that a sense of place drives her work, as well as her encounters with people in the landscape. It’s important for her, to gain a personal experience of place. She explained how early on in her writing career, when she was in a library in Switzerland, tweeting a dilemma: Should she go out for a walk in the mountains, or continue with her research? One writer responded: ‘But going for a walk is part of your research!’ Nancy proclaims she was absolutely right. Research is not only about reading. Being in a place allowed her to understand the atmosphere which she evokes so visually through her words.

Nancy revealed that as she travels she likes to take photographs and make sketches in her notebook. She prefers the speed and sensation of writing by hand and find it allows observations to transform more readily into thoughts than typing or using a dictaphone.

During the lockdowns, she has been using academic sites which offer online journal access such as JSTOR (https://www.jstor.org), especially for scientific research on climate change and glacial ice. But her writing is driven by her imagination, she these texts are used as a jumping-off point for her own ruminations, rather than quoting from them in her work. She also found https://publicdomainreview.org a great inspiration for researching images, as are libraries’ digital collections, such as the British Library https://www.bl.uk

“Even under lockdown in a pandemic, it was still possible to voyage around the world through books, and online. I read the environmental coverage in The Guardian and the New York Times. I am especially keen on amateur YouTube recordings as a substitute for my own direct experience.”

Nancy Campbell

As a writer who interweaves memoir and nature writing, Nancy said she relies on memory a lot, infusing her books with past experiences from her life. While the Arctic words for snow obviously relied on her travels in, and knowledge of, the region, she also returned to early childhood memories of the Netherlands. She believes personal experience to be the richest research of all.

“My father was an art historian who was researching 17thC Dutch painting in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and on visits to see him I grew fond of the chocolate hail which is commonly eaten by children at breakfast-time – Over 750,000 slices of bread topped with hagelslag are eaten every day in the Netherlands. Hagelslag became my Dutch entry for the book.”

Nancy Campbell

Nancy’s research tip is that it is valuable to share your research topics with your friends, always. They may come up with some surprising leads. Nancy hadn’t realised there was snow in Hawaii until a friend in Munich, who is originally from Hawaii, told her about Poli’ahu, the Hawaiian Goddess of Snow. This revelation inspired her story for the Hawaiian language.

To find out more information about Nancy Campbell and her writing see her website: www.nancycampbell.co.uk Twitter: @nancycampbelle and Instagram: @nancycampbelle

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #231 Apr 2021 Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Research Secrets or Writing 4 Children interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

An interview with… Anne Cassidy

In the #196 Feb 2018 issue of Writer’s Forum I interviewed YA author, Anne Cassidy, about why she believes it is important not to shy away from difficult subject matter such as rape, in young adult books.

Anne used two of her Young Adult books No Virgin and No Shame to illustrate how they sensitively deal with the issue of rape. No Virgin tells the story of Stacey Woods a seventeen-year-old girl from Stratford East London. She falls for a boy and finds herself used and exploited by an older man. In No Shame she goes to court to try and get justice for what has happened to her.

When writing about teenagers Anne explained it’s important to go back to your own teenage years and rediscover the teenager you were, the friends you had, the problems you had to overcame or otherwise. It’s key to remember how you felt about things. When I was a teenager I was very lonely. I was an only child and made friends easily but didn’t always keep them. The feeling of uncertainty, of needing to connect with people; those feelings can be used when writing about teenagers, whether they’re contemporary or from any other time in history.

The trappings may be different, the voices a bit louder, the technology mind boggling but the feelings are not different. Teenagers are struggling to become the kind of adult they want to be. That is the same in 2017 as it was in 1966. So, finding your ‘inner teenager’ is a must.

In No Shame Stacey, is very close to her best friend Patrice. She depends on her for lots of things. When it comes to the trial she has to stand on her own two feet. Stacey and Patrice have this thing about doing each other’s hair. When Stacey realises that she must act on her own she declines Patrice’s offer to style her hair and makes her own decisions about it. This is a statement about becoming more independent, something Anne explained that she went through as a teenager.

Teenagers deserve to read about serious and sometimes challenging subjects. I have always been interested in writing such stories. In No Virgin and No Shame I deal with the rape of young girl by an older man. Anne told me the first thing she had to do was to create my character and her family circumstances. She is a working class girl from Stratford doing her ‘A’ levels. She has a close friend and has had one boyfriend who she has had sex with. She is not a virgin and this is key to the situation she finds herself in.  Anne asked herself the question: “How would a young girl find herself in a situation where an older man felt he could override her feelings and have sex with her?”

The one explanation Anne had for this was that she is manipulated by someone else, someone she likes and trusts. So at the beginning of the novel she is swept off her feet by Harry, a boy from Kensington who she meets by chance. It is these elements which lead up to the situation where she is raped.

Anne did a lot of research on the internet for No Shame. She revealed there is a lot of information about rape procedures and trials, which will help to get the basic facts right. She also knew an expert in criminal law so she asked a few questions. Anne explained this was because the factual stuff was important but it was also important to get the emotional story right.

Occasionally ‘facts’ have to be sacrificed for narrative development. For example, Anne wanted her main character, Stacey, to meet up with the rapist at the trial – just the two of them accidentally bumping into each other. It was important for the readers to see them together. It’s unlikely this would happen in real life but she engineered the situation in the novel.

We all would want to keep our children young and safe. But they grow up and go out into the real world. Just as we tell them to be careful on the roads we must do the same about other things. We hope that parents will have these conversation, but we can’t be sure about that. It may come up in school but that’s not until much later (year 11 perhaps).

Young Adult literature is exactly the place where young people can read and grapple with these things. It has all sorts of things going for it. It’s accessible (in school libraries) It can be read alone – so no embarrassment factor. A story speaks to an individual in a way that nothing else can. They can make their own mind up.

Anne believes you can not just choose a subject and say you want to write about XYZ. You have to have strong feelings about it. Anne read a lot about rape cases in the newspaper as part of her research and was incensed at the coverage and the way the story was portrayed to make the victims look as if they were to blame. These feelings simmered for ages before she decided to write No Virgin the first book about Stacey Woods.

Her advice to writers who want to write about gritty subjects for theYA market is to think about subjects that you are interested in and genuinely have feeling about. It might be political or about refugees or climate change. Whatever makes you sit up and want to speak – that’s the subject you should write about for teenagers.

Before you write about a subject you have to find the teenager you want to write about. That teenage character will probably have some of YOU in them. It has to be a sincere attempt to write something real. Then the writing will be good, strongly felt, authentic. If it’s just about ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ the gatekeepers will know. They are sharp. If it’s good they have to support it.

Anne Cassidy is the author of over 50 novels for teenagers. You can find out more about her writing on her website: www.annecassidy.com or follow her on Twitter: @annecassidy6

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #196 Feb 2018 Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Research Secrets or Writing 4 Children interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.