Category Archives: An Interview with…

An interview with… Jasmine Richards

In the September 2019 #215 issue of Writers’ Forum, I talk to author and editor, Jasmine Richards, about diverse books and why she set up STORYMIX a new children’s book packager for series fiction.

Jasmine Richards 2

She explained that although her first novel, The Book of Wonders, was written in 2010 she had the idea when she was nine years old. Her inspiration was 1001 Arabian Nights and other stories she had read as a child. Jasmine has also written under the pseudonyms, J D Sharpe, Adam Blade and Rosie Banks.

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Here is a video showing what Jasmine’s books are about.

As an author she noticed a recurring theme in her fan mail. the readers and their parents often expressed how much they enjoyed reading about the diverse character backgrounds in her stories.

This and the desire to see more contemporary characters that looked like herself having adventures,  were two important factors that motivated Jasmine to set up a children’s fiction production company that focuses on diverse characters and inclusive representation.

She explained:

“It is one of the key ambitions of of STORYMIX that our writers and illustrators will also go on to secure their own publishing deals and thus meaningfully change the make-up of the publishing landscape.”

Jasmine Richards

When asked what makes a diverse book Jasmine sent me this quote from Tananarive Due to explain:

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She told me:

“Many people perceive that books that are representative need to have a serious message or deal with serious issues. Of course, those issue books are important but they are only a part of the story. Young people from all backgrounds have the right to see themselves in all kind of stories – mystery stories, horror stories, sci-fi stories…”

Jasmine Richards

She explained that a recent study from CLPE (Centre of Literacy in Primary Education) has shown of the 9,115 children’s titles published in 2017 only 4% featured black, Asian and minority ethnic characters.

STORYMIX are always looking for writers and illustrators to work with. You can find out more about STORYMIX and the books they develop here: www.storymix.co.uk

You can find out more about Jasmine Richards and her books on her website: www.jasminerichards.com

Read the full interview in the #215 Sep 2019 issue of Writers Forum, which is available in shops now.

An interview with… Michael Rosen

I interviewed Michael Rosen about the research he does for his writing in 2009, when he was children’s laureate . 

Michael Rosen WBD 08 (84 of 147)

He explained when researching, he uses a mixture of the British Library, Internet, newspapers, Cecil Sharp Library and the state library of Melbourne (re Cuffay). He often starts with Google and goes from there. He revealed he often uses Carpenter’s Oxford Guide to Children’s Literature as a starting point.

Michel Rosen told me:

“In phase one of your research, you should allow yourself to be distracted by anything and everything that you discover. In Phase Two, you have to be ruthless and only stick with the subject in hand, or you’ll never finish the work.”

Michael Rosen

There is no pattern to the way he researches. He said he usually puts everything he discovers either physically into piles in his office, or log it into the computer. He likes to follow his nose – let one thing lead to another.

“Asking ‘what if’ and speculating are two important research techniques to discover a coherent narrative and ear-catching moments.”

Michael Rosen

In one of his ‘following his nose moments’ he discovered  museums in Britain kept the heads (or at least one head) of aboriginals who had been killed. Michael Rosen used this idea in You’re Thinking about Tomatoes when the protagonists hear the sound of bubbles and wheezing, and when they get to see what’s going on, it’s the head of an aboriginal man talking to them.

You’re Thinking about Tomatoes  and You’re Thinking about Doughnuts are two books that explore how things we see today, a museum and a stately home, owe their appearance and exhibits to aspects of the past.

You can find out more about Michael Rosen and his children’s books on his website: www.michaelrosen.co.uk

An Interview with… Lou Treleaven

In my Writing 4 Children column this month, I interviewed Lou Treleaven about the nitty-gritty aspects of being a children’s book writer. In the feature Lou talks about how she broke into writing for children, her own writing process and doing school visits.

A big part of being a children’s book author is doing school visits. Lou offers a ‘pick and mix’ package for schools, which includes a number of different activities that can be slotted together to make a whole day or even several days. She explained that for younger children she usually reads a couple of picture books a followed by a related craft activity.  she also loves creating collaborative poems with the children after a reading. For the older children, she reads from her Pluto series and encourages the children to write replies to letters from aliens she has made in advance and bought in with her. She even provides an alien postbox to post them in.

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Lou’s tip for other children’s book writers is to use simple but interesting language. She said:

Think poetry, even when you are writing prose.  A well chosen word replaces a dozen.  You have to leave room for the illustrations so your words can only take up a small part of the page, yet they need to tell the story, engage the reader and create tension.  Your words need to be the very best they can be.

Lou Treleaven

Lou has her own critique service where she focuses on all the different facets of what makes a story: characterisation, plot, language, tension and the message in the story, as well as how to lay out the text and craft a submission letter and synopsis.

For more about Lou Treleaven and her books and critique service you can check out her website: www.loutreleaven.com You can you can find her on Twitter at @loutreleaven and Facebook at www.facebook.com/loutreleaven

To read the complete feature take a look at Writers’ Forum Magazine #214 August 2019.

An interview with… Ally Sherrick

In my Research Secrets column in the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum this month #214 Aug 2019, I interview Ally Sherrick about the research she did to weave mythology into WWII historical events for her children’s adventure book, The Buried Crown.

BC Cover Final HR

Ally Sherrick set her story at the Sutton Hoo site,  where the famous early 7th century longship burial and grave of what is believed to be Redwald, King of the East Angles and High King of Britain was discovered in 1939 on the eve of the outbreak of war. The ship contained grave goods ranging from humble domestic items such as cups and buckets to some of the most stunning treasures ever discovered in northern Europe. Many of the most precious items, including the famous Sutton Hoo helmet, shield and sword belt, are decorated with dragons which the Anglo-Saxons believed liked nothing better than to sit beneath burial mounds jealously guarding treasure hoards.

Buckle replica

This was the inspiration for her idea of a story about a dragon-headed crown based during WWII. Ally told me:

A sense of place is very important to me in my writing, both as a source of inspiration, and also as a character. I had visited the burial mounds and museum at Sutton Hoo, run by the National Trust, a number of years ago, but of course, once I started writing my story, I knew I would have to go again. And I was keen to revisit Woodbridge, where George meets Kitty and where her granddad’s museum – loosely based on Woodbridge Museum – is located.

Her novel is full of realistic descriptions of what it was like for a child to be a refugee during WWII. She did extensive research into the Jewish child refugees who travelled to Britain on the Kindertransports. She was also inspired by the stories her dad use to tell her about what it was like to be parted from his family and sent to live in the countryside.

Ally Sherrick

As the story is set in rural Suffolk, Ally wanted to be sure to try and capture elements of the local accent for characters like Bill Jarvis, the cruel farmer George lodges with. Ally explained this involved listening to recordings of Suffolk voices on the internet and identifying little idiosyncrasies of pronunciation which would give a flavour of the difference in speech between Londoners George and Charlie and the Suffolk-based characters.  For example for words with ‘ing’ endings, Bill Jarvis will always say ‘en’ instead.

Though all the German characters in the Buried Crown speak English pretty fluently, Ally did have them use German phrases at certain moments for emphasis or added drama. She told me that even though she does not speak German herself, she was able to run things past a good friend who is German, and her publisher, Chicken House, also had this double-checked too.

Ally said:

I am extremely grateful to everyone who helped me with checking the various elements of my story. Some of them were acquaintances, but others I approached via museums or special interest societies, the contact details for which I sourced from the internet. All were more than happy to help, and I know the book is more authentic as a result. As I say in the acknowledgements, all errors are my own! 

Ally’s tip for other writers is to follow your curiosity wherever it may lead you. She found it added extra dimensions and layers to her novel.

You can read the full interview in the August 2019 #214 issue of Writers Forum.

You can find out more about Ally Sherrick and her books on her website: www.allysherrick.com and follow her on Twitter: @ally_sherrick

An Interview with… Cliff McNish

In July, 2016, Cliff McNish talked to Papers Pens Poets about his newly discovered stationery idiosyncrasies. He thought he didn’t care about what pens/paper I used… until he realised, after we made him think about it, that he really, really did. Or did he?

Cliff McNish

Cliff revealed he prefers ink-roller pens to standard biro, and they usually have to be blue ones unless he is in a perverse mood and decides to use green. When he is sketching ideas he tends to start a new note pad. But not any note pad,  it needs to be A5 format.

“Here’s the weird thing … even if I only make 3 or 4 pages of notes before I go to the PC I then like to discard it and start with a new notebook for the next book. All that space wasted.” Cliff McNish

When he is signing books he prefers a sharpie fine point, preferable in blood red.

You can read the full interview here and you might just get the slight impression he really wasn’t taking it seriously. I think maybe he did the interview more as a favour for me than a real love of stationery. so thank you Cliff for being such as good sport and taking part. 🙂

Find out more about Cliff on his website and follow him on Twitter @cliffmcnish

An interview with … Anita Loughrey

In the July 2019 issue of Writing Magazine, I was interviewed by Simon Whaley about my school holiday survival tips on how to push on with writing projects when the children are home all day. As mentioned in a tweet it is really very rare for me to be interviewed. I am usually the person doing the interviews. So I get very excited when I see myself in a magazine. The feature even gets a mention on the front cover:

Writing Magazine - Schools Out

Schools Out! How to juggle your freelance business with kids holidays.

When I reread my words compared to what John Adams, founder of Dad Blog UK, I realised how much things have changed over the years as my children have got older. When my children between the ages of 5-11, I too used to rely on holiday clubs which my children loved. There was so much for them to do to keep them active and interested. Once they started secondary school they would rather do their own thing and hang out with their own friends.

One thing is for certain though I have never, ever, ever got up to write voluntarily at 5am in the morning. I am definitely not a morning person. Although, I have been known to be still at my keyboard at 3am in the morning, having not gone to bed yet.

WM with Dexter2

In the feature, I advocate timetabling as a way to find time to write. This is beneficial not only to the children who get advanced warning of when you are working and when they need to amuse themselves, but it is also a way of motivating yourself to actually sit yourself in the chair and get on with the work. Timetabling works both ways and sets the expectations of the children that I am actually going to produce something at the end of the day. If you say you are going to work there has to be words on the page as evidence of this.

I have also been guilty of turning family excursions into writing projects and like Simon mentioned himself in the feature taken family for days out on assignments and when researching areas. This in a way makes it even more fun and helps me to hone in what I actually want to find out so I use my time productively.

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I think another thing though to ensure you get a well deserved break from your writing is to actually give yourself permission to stop writing and have a holiday. to do this I recommend telling your editor, project manager, publisher, agent and who ever else is involved waiting on you to send in copy what your holiday dates are. Let them know you will be away from your desk and will not be working at the set holiday dates. Everybody needs a holiday – even writers!

An interview with…Ana Johns

In my Research Secrets column in the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum this month #213 Jul 2019, I interview Ana Johns about the research she did for her novel, The Woman in the White Kimono. This novel can be described as Romeo and Juliet meets Madam Butterfly.

Kimono High Res Cover (002)

The main protagonist is a twenty-first century investigative reporter who embarks on the most personal story of her life. She is trying to discover the truth about a woman with whom her father had a forbidden relationship with more than a half century ago. As her father’s secret past unfolds, the truth will reveal as much about him as about the woman and baby he left behind. 

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Ana told me that she worked backward, borrowing heavily from her father’s life, his ship, his military records, his cancer, and forward using her imagination by asking, “what if?” What if they preceded with the wedding without her parent’s blessing?  What if she were pregnant? To answer those questions, she studied 1950s international marriage and birth registry laws for the United States, Japan, and the military. Ana told me all the information was attainable online.

She explained:

This is where search engines are a writer’s best friend, even if you don’t know where to look for specific records, a single query will provide several links that point you in the needed direction. These sources, along with countless articles on the bureaucratic red tape those laws created, provided the working story structure for my dual narratives—the bones if you will. Ana Johns

Ana told me that she found internet articles and blogs invaluable but it was the real-life connections she made through various Japanese Facebook groups and military forums that gave the novel real authenticity.

Through the forum, the adoptees invited me to join their private Facebook community (again, I can’t stress the importance of these groups) where I was then invited to attend the first US Elizabeth Saunders Home reunion in San Diego on Shelter Island where the US statue of The Girl with Red Shoes stands for informal face-to-face interviews. Ana Johns

Girl With Red Shoes CA

The adoptees also inspired several of the character’s backstories that Naoko meets in a maternity home.

“Jin is somewhat lucky. At least she only battled one demon.”

My heart drops. Tears follow. Their moisture floods my fingertips and seeps through. That is why she took Jin under her wing. Stood up for her. Mothered her. I didn’t know. I didn’t guess. I didn’t ask.

“So, you see?” Her lips pull high and her shaky words fight to work through them. “When my child asks his or her new parents, ‘Why was I given away? Where did I come from?’ They won’t have a wedding story of magical lights and forbidden love to share. They will have nothing to offer, because with a story as horrible as mine, I have nothing to leave.”

“You leave life, Hatsu.” I slide close, wrapping her in my arms and whisper through tears. “You leave life.”

Extract from The Woman in the White Kimono by Ana Johns

Ana revealed that even the fictional outcast village where Naoko and Hajime rent a home was based on a discovered headline “Google crosses line with controversial old Tokyo maps”

It’s not the run-down little house that causes my alarm, but the community. It’s in a region that houses Eta, outcasts. The Burakumin are at the bottom of the social order. They are poor, some of mixed blood, and work necessary trades of death: butchers, leather tanners, undertakers. Therefore, they’re deemed tainted, unclean and unlucky.

I am the unlucky one.

My family will forbid it. To live here would damage Father’s reputation and Taro’s prospects to earn one.

Extract from The Woman in the White Kimono by Ana Johns

The novel may have begun with Ana’s father’s story, but through her diligent research it evolved into a story that belongs to many.

You can read the full interview in the July 2019 #213 issue of Writers Forum.

You can find more information about Ana Johns and her writing at: www.anajohns.com