Category Archives: An Interview with…

An interview with… Tim Bouquet

I interviewed investigative reporter, Tim Bouquet, about his research methods way back in 2008 for my Research Secrets slot in Writers’ Forum .

Tim specialises in investigative narrative story telling for a variety of magazines including The Times MagazineTelegraph MagazineEsquire, Reader’s DigestMelbourne Age and the Irish Times. He is the co-author, with Byron Ousey, of Cold Steel Britain’s Richest Man and his Billion Dollar Battle for Global Empire (Little Brown). Cold Steel is about Lakshmi Mittal and an epic, dirty and sometimes racist, takeover battle he fought to take over the world’s second biggest steel company. This creative non-fiction thriller, reads like fiction.

Cold Steel

Lakshmi Mittal, a Calcutta-born industrialist, raised himself up from humble beginnings to become the world’s fourth-richest man. He proposed a friendly merger with rival Arcelor, a pan-European company whose interested parties include the governments of Spain, Luxembourg and Belgium. Arcelor’s mercurial CEO, Frenchman Guy Dolle, firmly refused the merger. The scene is set for a massive hostile takeover involving billions of dollars of finance, government and shareholder manoeuvring, and accusations of jingoism and double-dealing. Cold Steel brings to life the cut and thrust of big business at war.

Lakshmi Mittal

As part of their research for Cold Steel, Tim and Byron interviewed 55 people face-to-face in six countries. Tim told me:

I organise all my research by chronology and character. From here I sketch out the basic building blocks and tipping points of the story. These may change but at least it’s a starting point.

He always tries to talk to people in places where events in his writing take place because he feels it helps to paint a picture of the setting and reminds the people he is interviewing where they were physically when certain key events happened. I feel this is excellent advice and if possible it is worth meeting the people you are interviewing at a set location for your book or novel. Tim explained to me how he visited all the places they wrote about in Cold Steel. He said:

If you want to set a scene in an operating theatre you need to visit one. I always visit the places I write about. If you haven’t been there or somewhere like it, how can you take your reader there?

In Cold Steel, they listed people who had helped them set up interviews in the acknowledgements and they listed all the people they had talked to and  played leading roles in the story in a section called The Players.

My advice to other writers is check and double check. Don’t believe everything people tell you!

To find more information about Tim Bouquet, his co-author Byron Ousey and their book Cold Steel, visit the website: www.coldsteelbook.com

An interview with… Sue Wallman

Papers Pens Poets is a blog where writers, book bloggers and illustrators can share their passion for all things stationery. It was the brain child of children’s author Jo Franklin. The blog contains reviews, articles, and weekly interviews with a wide range of authors, covering books of all age ranges and genres. Jo set up the blog and I did the majority of the author interviews.

The second interview I did for Papers Pens Poets was with YA author Sue Wallman. She has three YA books published by Scholastic.

In the interview, she revealed she is a real pen fanatic. Her love of pens was probably triggered by winning a Crackerjack pen. Yes! Sue was on the television reciting a poem dressed in a home-made costume and won herself an amazing Crackerjack pen. I am totally envious. I would have loved a Crackerjack pen. What’s a Crackerjack pen, you say? Well I’m afraid you just missed out! Here is a picture of it for you instead:

Crackerjack pen

But Sue’s favourite pen and she admits it may just be her favourite all-time possession, is an old Parker fountain pen which was her mum’s. It was a gift from her grandparents to her mum who used it for her O-level exams in the Fifties. Out of the blue, when Sue was a student, she gave it to her. The nib has never been changed – the way Sue and her Mum both hold it must be similar because the pen writes smoothly for both of them. Sue used this pen to sign her first book contract.

Parker pen

Sue also has a whole drawer full of Sharpies. Whatever colour you need, she has it. She loves the sound of the click when the lid snaps on. She also loves to share her passion for pens with her friends and family. At her book launches, she had pens printed with her book titles and web address as take-home presents.

 LALS pens

Sue told me:

When it comes to notebooks, I have a new one for each project and I don’t like going bigger than A5 because then it’s awkward to carry around. I’m a fan of the Asda notebooks that look like Moleskines and cost £3. I go expensive occasionally: I have a little notebook from Liberty that’s faded to a lovely purple and has beautiful striped elastic.

To find out more information about Sue Wallman and her books check out her website: www.suewallman.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @SueWallman

This article is adapted from an original interview on the Papers Pens Poets blog. You can find out more about Sue and her stationery there. It was also previously published on the SCBWI British Isles online magazine Words and Pictures.

If you are a published author of any age range (0 – Adult) or genre, or an illustrator, or a book blogger, or a librarian and would like to be featured on the Papers Pens Poets blog, please get in touch.

An interview with… Cath Howe

In the November 2018 edition of Writers Forum I have interviewed Cath Howe about her book Let’s Perform! She explained how her love of drama for children was developed into the ideal educational resource for schools.

CH4

Cath Howe has written books for children for many years, which include books of plays, educational readers and commercial fiction.

Let’s Perform! is an accumulation of 10 years experience of using monologues, duologues and poems for children to perform. Each script has suggestions for performance and creative suggestions for pupil’s own writing. Learning by heart is part of the UK National Curriculum and this book meets the target whilst encouraging children to develop a keen interest in performance.

Let's Perform good version

When she first wrote the plays and others scripts she was not trying to get them published . The audience was the school full of parents and children she was working at. All the scripts have been tried and tested at schools and festivals. Cath says:

It was important that the book uses scenarios, language and humour that children can really relate to and make their own, because this helps to get them excited about the prospect of performing. I wrote each script with the idea of showing a child or two characters in a dilemma or puzzling over a problem. I chose everyday things.

In the interview, Cath advises new writers for children to get feedback on their work in an environment where they will be encouraged and not to give up doing what you love. You can read the full interview in the Nov 2018 #205 issue of Writers Forum.

Since then Cath has told me:

Ella on the Outside2When I wrote Ella on the Outside, which was published in May 2018, I was very influenced by my interest in drama and my long connection with running drama clubs and workshops. There’s something about the way children relate to one another, especially the subtle power play of groups, which really fascinates me. I like to write duologues where one character is much more powerful than another and get children up on their feet acting these out.  Ella on the Outside is a lot to do with the power play of the playground, especially between girls.

You can find out more about Cath Howe and her books here: www.cathhowe.com

Or follow her on Twitter @cath_howe

An interview with… Alex Woolf

On the 25th April 2016 me and my friend Jo Franklin launched a unique blog where I interviewed authors about their love of stationery, called Paper Pens Poets. The site has been running for over two years and there has been a new author interview featured on the site almost every week.

The very first author interview was with children’s book writer Alex Woolf and went out on the 6th May 2016. Alex could not really say he had a favourite stationery item. He told me:

I hunted around my desk to see if anything there sparked a particular affection. I eyed my blue Paper Mate® ball points, which I certainly appreciate, as I do my Avery® Jam-Free Laser Address Labels – they fulfil their assigned functions perfectly, though they don’t exactly set my pulse racing or bring a lump to my throat.

Then he saw his trusty old stapler. This is an item I myself have always taken fore-granted but Alex proudly proclaims that this is his favourite stationery item. You can see the full interview here.

Alex Woolf

To find out more about Alex Woolf and his books take a look at his website: www.alexwoolf.co.uk or follow him on Twitter: @RealAlexWoolf

You can also follow Alex on the innovative Fiction Express website.

An interview with… Carole Matthews

My Research Secrets column was launched in the national writing magazine, Writers’ Forum, in October 2008. It has been running for just over ten years. To celebrate the tenth anniversary of my column I wanted to tell you about my very first interview that launched Research Secrets.

The very first interview was with Carole Matthews who writes romantic comedy.

 

Carole Matthews’ favourite research tools in 2008 were:

  • The Little Book of Baby Names – it’s where most of her character ‘s names come from.
  • IMDB –Internet Movie Database imdb.com – which is useful for all movie related questions.
  • Amazon – to keep up with what’s coming out.

Her research tip was to go and do what you’re writing about if you can.  She had set one of her books in a library, so she did some volunteer work in her local library for a few days. She also advises if you splash out to visit somewhere take masses of photos, notes, video.  Work on the premise that you’re never likely to go back.

I always visit the area I am writing about. I have a file drawer for every area we’ve ever visited – complete with local info, hundreds of photographs (or a CD these days) and probably a video too.

For writers who want to write chick-lit, she suggested you organise a girl’s night with your best mates once a month.  Drink lots of wine.  Tell lots of stories and try not to drink so much wine that you forget all the stories in the morning.

happiness for beginners

Carole Matthew’s new book, Happiness for Beginners, is released in February 2019. To find out more about Carole Matthews and her books take a look at: www.carolematthews.com

Or follow her on Twitter at: @carolematthews

An interview with… Becky Bagnell

My Writing 4 Children column was launched in the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum in May 2016. It has show-cased an interview every month with top authors, editors and agents for over two years. The very first feature was with  Becky Bagnell founder of the Lindsay Literary Agency.

Becky Bagnell magazine

She provided some valuable insights into the children’s book world and explained to me what she looks for in a manuscript, what makes a good children’s book agent and what makes a great children’s book.

Becky set up the Lindsay Literary Agency in 2008 having worked as a commissioning editor for Macmillan. The agency represents a wide range of authors including Pamela Butchart, who won 2015’s Blue Peter Award. She has a particular interest in discovering new talent from picture books to YA.

I heard Becky talk at this year’s SCBWI Agent’s Party. She said her favourite commercial debut book this year was Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney. This gives an indication of Becky’s taste and writing styles which will grab her attention.

Conversation with Friends

In her interview for Writers’ Forum Becky told me she likes to dive straight into the manuscript before reading the submission letter and the synopsis. This reiterates what she said in her interview with me.

I like to get that excited feeling about a manuscript at the very first paragraph, and if I’m still keen after the first three chapters it is a pretty good sign.

She suggests that you look at that agent’s list of authors and really consider if you like any of their work and if you do then tell the agent what it about a certain book or author that appeals to you. Even if their work is completely different to your own – it shows that you’re a reader and you’re thinking about how your writing might fit alongside the other authors that the agent is working with.

You can find out more about Becky Bagnell’s likes and dislikes for submissions in the May 2016 #175 issue of Writers Forum.

An interview with… Philip Kazan

In the November issue of Writers Forum I interviewed Philip Kazan about his research for his novel The Black Earth, based during the Greek Civil War in the run-up to WWII.

PK1

Philip explained to me how he used his family history as inspiration for the novel. He found as many eye-witness accounts as he could and pieced them together. He also found useful information in the UK and US newspaper archives.

black earth mock 1

One of his research tips for other historical writers is to find a tangible link to the period you are writing about, such as food and music. When talking about his writing process Philip said:

My practice is to write whatever I feel like writing as I build the characters and tell the story. What I’m usually left with is a huge book full of digressions that really fascinate me but are extraneous to the main thrust of the narrative. I prune reluctantly until I find the hard outline, then I become fairly ruthless. I love research and I love detail, but in the end it’s usually obvious what a reader will see as padding and what will actually advance the story.

You can read the full interview in the Nov 2018 #205 issue of Writers Forum. You can find out more about Philip Kazan and his books on his website or follow him on Twitter @pipazan