Category Archives: An Interview with…

An interview with… Steve Antony

My Writing 4 Children column was launched in Writers’ Forum in 2016. The first picture book writer I interviewed for this column was the extremely talented writer-illustrator Steve Antony.

me and my Queens Hat inspired Shaun the Sheep in London

He talked about his writing and illustrating process and explained why there is a fine art to writing and illustrating a picture book. Firstly, you’ve normally only got 12-spreads to tell your story. This, in itself, is very challenging. He told me that when he writes a picture book – sometimes an image comes first – sometimes a title or a phrase comes first. But his books almost always begin by forming a visual narrative in the form of a storyboard, which consists of 12 panels (one for each double-page spread).

“At this very early stage in the process I work out where the text will go and I also consider how the information in the text relates to the information in each image. I can spend days, if not weeks, perfecting each page turn. The storyboarding process can sometimes take as long as a month, even for the simplest of stories. In fact, it’s the simplest stories that often take the longest.” Steve Antony

Steve said a great picture book needs humour, heart and a brilliant ending. An educational element can be useful too, especially for teachers looking for new and creative ways to teach young pupils. He explained how he tries to find fun and interesting ways to marry the text with the imagery. The text alone can say one thing and the image alone can say something else, but together they tell the whole story. Once he has struck the perfect balance of words and pictures, he edits out all the unnecessary clutter.

Steve claimed the most difficult part of producing a picture book is perfecting the pace of the story. He revealed it took him around two months to perfect the pacing and rhythm to his first Please Mr Panda: book, about a panda intent on inciting the magic word with a tray of colourful doughnuts, because sometimes a tiny change to an image or a piece of text can knock everything off balance.

Please Mr Panda bookcover

Steve told me:

“I use words in my books that a very young child would struggle to understand and read independently. Words like truce, intrepid or Trafalgar Square. I sometimes include animals that some children won’t recognise. For example, there are several lesser-known animals in the London Zoo spread of The Queen’s Hat. It’s also worth knowing that, in most cases, picture books are read to children by an adult or older sibling.” Steve Antony

He advised aspiring illustrators to consider the market beyond English-speaking countries because some rhyming texts have the potential to sell very well in English-speaking territories but publishers have to also consider how well the book will translate into other languages.

To find out more about Steve take a look at his website: www.steveantony.com or follow him on Twitter @MrSteveAntony and on Instagram @mrsteveantony

You can read the full interview in the #180 Oct 2016 issue of the national writing magazine, Writers Forum.

An interview with… Lucy Courtenay

Lucy Courtenay has over a hundred books ranging from young fiction all the way through to young adult romance. In May 2017, I interviewed her for the Papers Pens Poets blog about her love of stationery .

She told me her favourite pen at school was a fat-nibbed black Sheaffer fountain pen, which she took particular delight in changing the colour of her ink cartridges and watching the colour gradually bleed. In one notable essay on the Treaty of Versailles, from blue to purple to pink to purple to pink again. She also loves smelly gel pens.

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Lucy revealed:

“With notebooks, it’s looks all the way. But looks come with a caveat. The prettier the notebook, the less likely I am to write in it. My favourite – a floppy green nubuck journal printed with brown birds and branches – is still pristine, because I can’t bring myself to make a single mark on its pages.” Lucy Courtenay

She explained she usually tries to make do with the ragbag stationery already in the house rather than buy new stuff. She admits that post-it notes litter her desk with odd words and phone numbers in a rainbow of colours and she likes folders too.

You can read the full interview on the Papers Pens Poets blog.

Find out more about Lucy and her writing  on her website www.lucycourtenay.com

Follow her on Twitter (@LucyCourtenay1), Facebook (@lucycourtenayauthor) and Instagram (@lucycourtenayauthor).

An interview with… John Condon

In my Writing 4 Children slot in Writers’ Forum this month, picture book writer, John Condon, tells me how he discovered his love for writing picture books whilst he was working on a screenplay for a play he planned to direct.

Since then he has had two pictures book accepted for publication: The Wondrous Dinosaurium released by Maverick Arts, 2018 and illustrated by Steve Brown and The Pirates are Coming due to be released by Nosy Crow in 2020, illustrated by Matt Hunt.

John explained that even though The Pirates are Coming was accepted first, due to the backlog of pirate based stories The Wondrous Dinosaurium was published first. This is the nature of the publishing world. He is currently working on a whole load more picture books with his agent Felicity Trew.

In the feature he talks through his writing process and how he keeps the pages turning for young readers. John said:

“I use several tools to ensure readers continue to turn the pages – Action, unpredictability, and an active character the reader will care about. If a reader wants to know what happens next, you will keep them turning the pages.” John Condon

Some of his writing tips for new writers include getting someone else to read your story aloud to you to build a strong support network around you of people with similar writing interests.

To find out more about John take a look at his website www.johncondon.co.uk or follow him on Twitter @John_Condon_OTT

You can read the full interview in the #216 Oct 2019 issue of the national writing magazine, Writers Forum.

An Interview with… Francesca Capaldi Burgess

I have been told about such a wide range of resources that writers have used over the years I have been doing my Research Secrets slots in the national writing magazine Writers Forum. Resources are a writer’s best friend when researching for your writing and everybody has their own unique resource bank.

Francesca Capaldi writes short stories for anthologies and national women’s magazines such as My Weekly and The People’s Friend. In the October issue of Writers’ Forum she told me how she has gathered together a large selection of social history books, many secondhand, for her historical based research.

Research books

She explained books are not the only resources she turns to again and again. When researching locations her research always involves a map and sticking it on her whiteboard.

Old map Littlehampton

Francesca revealed:

“Back in my youth I did a history degree and discovered that there’s nothing better than first hand research, and even better if you’re using primary sources. I used to love sitting in the records’ office, wading through a census or tithe map, gathering information not necessarily found in a book. I love social history, that of ordinary, everyday folk.” Francesca Capaldi Burgess

Some other resources she talks about in the feature are: Google Maps, town websites, Pinterest, libraries, museums, local archives, ancestry.co.uk, newspapers, teh met office and documentaries. She said:

“If I’m at a talk or watching a documentary, I always take copious notes as I find I remember the details better. I also jot down ideas as I go along.”  Francesca Capaldi Burgess

Danger For Daisy by F Capaldi coverHer pocket novel for My Weekly, Danger for Daisy, came out on January 2019. It is about the newly single Daisy Morgan who is excited about celebrating her first Christmas away from home with her extrovert flatmates. Then she meets intriguing university lecturer Seth, who offers a completely alternative Christmas – an archaeological dig on a secluded island. As she gets to know the diverse bunch of people working on Sealfarne, and romance blossoms with Seth, she begins to enjoy her adventure. But a series of bizarre occurrences convince her all is not as it seems, and there may even be murder involved…

To read the complete interview check out the #216 Oct 2019 issue of Writers Forum.

You can follow Francesca on Facebook @FrancescaCapaldiAuthor or on twitter @FCapaldiBurgess

An interview with… Ali Sparkes

For the Papers Pens Poets blog in 2017, I interviewed Ali Sparkes about her love of stationery.

AliS Stationery 2

She told me:

“When it comes to high-speed book signing for 200 hyped up Year 6s, nothing beats my trusty Pentel Energel. It’s very fast and smooth and doesn’t smudge UNLESS you try to use it on any kind of shiny paper. Then it’s flippin’ useless because it smears like 1960s mascara in a sauna.”

Ali Sparkes

Ali explained that she orders the refills in bulk and was ecstatic when she discovered they made coloured refills too. For her book Thunderstruck, she needed green or purple ink because there was no clear white space for her signature, so it was difficult to see her usual black ink against it.

Like me, Ali Sparkes has a shelf of notebooks that are too nice to use.

AliS I Am Not Worthy

She prefers narrow feint and avoids spiral bound. She has a weakness for Fabriano A4 pads in her favourite colours of lime green, orange and purple.  Ali revealed she love the simple coloured cardboard covers and stapled-in pages which don’t rip away and fall apart when you give them a hard stare. She told me that although they are quite pricey in shops there are some good deals online.

Another stationery favourite for Ali is sticky notes.

“I have to have those little stick-in tabs for when I’m line editing a paper manuscript. By the time I’m done my manuscript looks a little like a groovy 1970s handbag with a multi-coloured fringe.”

Ali Sparkes

AliS stationery1

You can read the full interview on the Papers Pens Poets blog.

Find out more about Ali Sparks and her books on her website: www.alisparkes.com  or follow her on Twitter: @SparkesAli. Or check out her You Tube page. 

An interview with… Nicola Morgan

One of the first interviews I did when my Writing 4 Children column launched in 2016 was with the esteemed Nicola Morgan. She is one of my writing idols.

At St Pauls Manchester

She had a strong, realistic  message to tell people who wanted to write for children as a full time career.  Nicola said:

You will have to do school events

They are exhausting, can be demoralising and will sometimes test your resilience beyond its max. They can also be soul-nourishing, highly rewarding and are almost always eye-opening, which is good. Try to take all their benefits and learn to love your audiences by focusing on the vast majority of the students who are listening avidly. And when something undermining happens, laugh (afterwards, not at the time).

You will be seriously underpaid for almost all your children’s/teenage writing

If you want to earn a lot, you need to write a certain sort of book, usually a trilogy/series (though many of those fail before they’ve started.) And you’ll still need luck. Make sure you are paid for events because they can be your only way to survive financially.

Bad things, small or big, will happen in your career

They will often be things you have to keep to yourself or a close circle of friends. This is true for all artists who put their heart and soul out into the world to be judged by others. So value those friends, as they will support you in those bad times. And realise that all the multi-garlanded, apparently uber-successful authors you’ve been following on Twitter etc also have moments (if they’re lucky or incredibly thick-skinned) and months (the rest of us) of darkness and gloom, that we all have angst and inadequacy written through our veins, and that there are more ways to get under the skin of a creative person than there are ways to write a novel. But the emotional rewards are huge. Being published and read is worth the pain.

wf179-september-2016

Nicola’s tips for children’s book writers were read a lot of modern children’s books and if your book has a message keep it hidden.

You can read the full interview in the #179 Sept 2016 issue of the national writing magazine, Writers Forum.

Find out more about Nicola Morgan and her writing at: www.nicolamorgan.com or on Twitter @nicolamorgan

An interview with… Simon Whaley

In my Research Secrets column in the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum this month #215 Sep 2019, I interview Simon Whaley about the research he does for his magazine articles.

Simon Whaley 2

Simon told me:

“What I love about research is the plethora of ideas for potential articles that it generates. You can be researching about one thing, and then come across one small fact that triggers an idea for an entirely different article, for an entirely different market.”

Simon Whaley

He said he uses a program called Evernote to store and organise all his research as it enables him to ‘tag’ notes. He often tags notes with useful contacts, the types of activity, such as event, attraction, tourist, walk and also with the locations such as county, country, towns and villages. This means when he searches something such as Walks and Shropshire it will bring up every note with those tags no matter which project he originally collected the information for.

Simon explained he always makes written notes when researching his articles, even if he has his Dictaphone switched on while interviewing someone. He explained he was once commissioned to undertake a walking route for Country Walking magazine when they discovered he wrote all his routes down in a notebook. The staff writer had dictated the route description into their smartphone, only to discover when they got back to the office four hours later that their smartphone had failed to record. You don’t have that problem writing in a notebook.

He labels all his notebooks and they in turn are an excellent resource.

(c) Simon Whaley

Simon’s notebooks

Simon told me how he had to endure a luxury overnight stay at Weston Park, home of the Earl of Bradford. Not only did he have to experience a 5-course meal sat at the same table used by the Heads of State when the G8 summit was held there, but he also had the opportunity to interview the Head Butler and the Head Gardener.

Photo of Graeme Currie, the Head Butler at Weston Park

Photo of Graeme Currie, the Head Butler at Weston Park (c) Simon Whaley

He said he finds his written notes invaluable when he comes to write his articles. He also takes lots of photographs, which he can refer to.

I take photos of everything: information panels, pages inside books, entry fee panels, accommodation rooms I stay in … everything! How many windows on the ground floor at the front of Weston Park? Eight. (I have a photo.) Which Heads of State were at the G8 summit at Weston Park? Clinton, Kohl, Chretien, Santer, Blair, Chirac, Hashimoto, Prodi and Yeltsin. (I have the photo.)

Simon Whaley

Commemmorating the G8 summit visit to Weston Park on 16th May 19

Photo of the Heads of State signatures at the G8 summit at Weston Park (c) Simon Whaley

Simon’s research tip was to take photographs of the information panels as it is the best way to capture all the details and you can read it at your leisure when you get home.

You can find out more about Simon Whaley and his writing on his website:

Website: www.simonwhaley.co.uk

Twitter: @simonwhaley

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SimonWhaleyAuthor