Category Archives: An Interview with…

An interview with… Sarah Stewart

In the February Issue of Writers’ Forum I have interviewed Sarah Stewart the director of the Lighthouse Children’s Literary Consultancy about her career and the services she offers to children’s and YA book writers.

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She started The Lighthouse with her good friend, Cat Clarke, when they were both working as editors. Sarah was the UK editor of The Hunger Games at Scholastic and has also worked for the excellent Edinburgh based publisher, Floris Books.

The feature contains valuable advice about opening lines and query letters. They also link up writers with agents  when they feel they’ve read a good, strong submission.

Some of Sarah’s advice includes:

If you’re writing for younger children, a sense of immediacy is a bonus in an opening; I like a bit of meandering description when I am read adult fiction, but not if I’m looking at something aimed at seven year olds.

You can read the full interview in the Feb 2019 #208 issue of Writers Forum. To find out more about the Lighthouse Children’s Literary Consultancy and their services you can view their website: www.lighthouseliterary.co.uk or follow them on Twitter at: @thelighthouseuk 

An interview with… Penny Joelson

My Research Secrets slot in Writers’ Forum features YA writer, Penny Joelson. She explained how she wove personal experience and research into her YA novel, Girl in the Window.

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The book is about a teenage girl called Kasia, who has ME so spends most of her time staring out the bedroom window. Nothing ever happens on Kasia’s street so when she sees what looks like a kidnapping, she’s not sure whether she can believe her own eyes. she notices a girl in the window opposite and hopes she saw something too but when Kasia goes to find her she is told there is no girl.

In the feature you can see a copy of the interview that Penny used as part of her research to gain a young teenage perspective of ME.

I prepared a survey with open questions and an option to add further information. I was overwhelmed with the response and the moving stories I read.

Penny explained that while some research needs to be done before writing, she prefers to write a first draft and then do more research, check facts and add details. This stops her from info dumping and the feeling she must include everything she discovered.

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You can read the full interview in the Feb 2019 #208 issue of Writers Forum. You can find out more about Penny Joelson and her books on her website: www.pennyjoelson.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @pennyjoelson

An interview with… Rebecca Colby

In the January 2019 #207 edition of Writers’ Forum, I interviewed high-concept picture book writer, Rebecca Colby about the importance of rhyme and rhythm in children’s books.

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Rebecca told me:

When I began writing children’s picture books, I naturally gravitated towards writing in verse. But the industry professionals at the writing events I attended warned against it. Phrases I heard many times included:

  • Rhyming books are too difficult to translate.
  • We can’t sell co-editions.
  • It’s hard to rhyme well.

While I knew these statements to be true, I also knew that children love rhyme, and these warnings didn’t stop publishing houses from buying books in rhyme.

In the feature she demonstrates how she uses onomatopoeia, repetition, juxtaposition and prediction to write fun and imaginative that children love. Here is an example from her picture book Motor Goose Rhymes that Go! published by Feiwel & Friends.

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Her message to other writers who want to write rhyming picture books, is to try and come up with fifty ideas and give these ideas plenty of time and space to grow.

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In a forthcoming book entitled How to Write Picture Books that Knock Editors (and Agents!) Socks Off, Rebecca Colby will share some games which makes the task of starting to write less daunting and provides loads of tips for writing high-concept picture books. More details will be available on her website later in the year.

Find out more here: www.rebeccacolbybooks.com and follow her on Twitter: @amscribbler

 

An interview with… Savita Kalhan

Savita Kalhan’s latest novel The Girl in the Broken Mirror published by Troika Books and nominated for the Carnegie Medal 2019 is the story of Jay, a 15-year-old British Asian girl who is raped. Savita told me all about the resources and techniques she used to research this YA novel for my Research Secrets column in the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum.

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Savita explained:

Sadly, as the #metoo and #timesup movements have illustrated in recent times, the incidence of sexual assault is much more prevalent than once thought, and stories of survivors have been publicly accessible. I drew on these experiences of survivors when I was writing this book. I also talked directly, and in confidence, to women who have been sexually assaulted about their experiences and how they dealt with them. I also spoke to friends and relatives of victims.

Savita does not have a set pattern for her research but her tip to other writers is even though you can get caught up in your research and you may feel you have wasted your time it is better to know far more about the themes and subject of your book than to know less. But the best tip she was ever given was:

The best writing tip I was ever given was to sit down and write, and then read, edit, fact-check, and rewrite, because that’s what writing is all about.

You can read Savita Kalhan’s Research Secrets feature in the January issue #207 of Writers Forum.

You can find out more about Savita and her books on her website www.savitakalhan.com

Or follow her on Twitter @savitakalhan

 

 

An Interview with… Simon Whaley

In June 2016, I interviewed Simon Whaley for Papers Pens Poets about his love of stationery. Simon revealed why paper and pen beats modern technology hands down.

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His favourite pen is the Pentel Superb BK77, in black ink.

I love it because it’s easy to hold and has a fine ballpoint nib.

He absolutely adores Moleskine notebooks and claims they are the perfect notebooks for writers. They are hardback, which makes them ideal for writing in wherever you may be: desk, chair in the garden, bed, or out on the hills.

I use two sizes of Moleskine notebook: the Classic Pocket and the Classic Large.

You can find out more about Simon Whaley’s stationery passions on the Papers Pens Poets blog: www.paperspenspoets.co.uk

Find out more about Simon Whaley and his writing here: www.simonwhaley.co.uk  and on Twitter: @simonwhaley

An interview with… Philip Ardagh

In August 2016, for my Writing 4 Children slot in Writers’ Forum I interviewed one of mine and my children’s favourite authors, Philip Ardagh.

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He has been writing for over twenty five years and has over a hundred children’s books published, including The Moomins: The World of Moonminvalley, a series of books for the National Trust and the Stick and Fetch Investigate adventures.

He told me:

I suspect that I was born wanting — needing — to write. I filled old diaries and exercise books with my scribbles from a very early age, and English was my favourite subject at school. I knew that I wanted a career as a writer but had no real concept of the idea that one could earn a living as an author.

Philip’s  seven quick fire tips for writing for children are:

  1. Do a job you love
  2. Explore all aspects of the job
  3. Never dumb down
  4. Write the manuscript
  5. Never write yourself out
  6. Keep everything
  7. Make time to write.

Some advice I feel we all need to remember was:

Whoever you’re writing for — whether it be adults or children — the most important part is the actual writing. Not blogging about it, not telling people you’re a writer, not Tweeting or Facebooking about it, but ACTUALLY writing. Once you’ve written and rewritten and rewritten however many times, THEN is the time to start worrying about your social media presence.

To read Philip Ardagh’s essential tips in more detail take a look at #178 August 2016 issue of Writers’ Forum.

You can follow Philip Ardagh on Twitter @PhilipArdagh

An interview with… Jon Mayhew

Featured in my Research Secrets column this December is YA writer Jon Mayhew. He told me about the research that went into writing his supernatural adventure, Mortlock.

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His initial idea came from a school production of Oliver.

I was watching the scene in which Oliver is ‘sold’ to Mr Sowerberry the undertaker and the phrase ‘undertaker’s mute’ was used. The idea of a child trudging behind funeral carriages all day intrigued me and I began to wonder what would happen if that child found that he could wake the dead. Alfie Wiggins was born and so the story began.

He spent time researching the streets of the Seven Dials in London to observe the Victorian architecture and recreate the atmosphere in his novel. A trip to Bamburgh Castle where he had the opportunity to view a funeral carriage, the Dee estuary and childhood memories of Liverpool all helped to create a realistic and evocative Victorian London backdrop.

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His publisher, Bloomsbury needed Jon to check all the extracts from traditional ballads that preface each chapter were out of copyright. Even though Jon is well-versed in traditional music he was able to check the songs were in the public domain with a trip to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library in London.

Jon’s advice to other writers is to enjoy your research but enjoy your writing more and don’t let any of those fiddly details get in the way of a good story. He said:

The research is important because it does give the book a sense of realism and it is easier to visualise characters and settings. I like to think of the research used in a book as the tip of an iceberg. Only a little of the research is actually relayed in the book but it’s there, lurking beneath the surface.

This particular interview was first published in Writers Forum in May 2010. You can read the full interview in the Dec 2018 #206 issue of Writers Forum.

You can find out more about Jon Mayhew and his books on his website: www.jonmayhew.co.uk of follow him on Twitter @MayhewJ