Being an ambassador for an animal rescue home can be a risky business. Ask top-selling children’s author Dame Jacqueline Wilson. Up until seven years ago she had lived a pet-free life. Then in quick succession she found herself the owner of two kittens and a puppy, all from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home. Jacob, a grey and white cat, arrived first, seven years ago, followed by Lily, also grey and white, and then Jackson, a black terrier.
Dame Jacqueline, who is 71 today, admits that her pets chose her as much as she did them. “It was love at first sight each time. You go to Battersea and there are all these dogs and cats and then suddenly there’s the one for you, it’s like meeting someone’s eyes across a room,” she said. “With Lily, I was at the home in my role as an ambassador and I was looking at all the kittens. I was wearing a grey coat and I picked up Lily to give her a cuddle. She started kneading my coat as if to say, look, we’re wearing matching colours so that means you’re my mum, please take me home with you.”
Jeff Kinney, interviewed by Scroll
Tell us about the process of putting together each book. Do the illustrations come first or the diary entries? Do you bounce joke ideas off anyone to make sure they are working?
I spend about five months writing the jokes, because humour is the priority in the books. I keep the jokes to myself more and more while writing because I need people to be surprised by them. I write about 350 jokes per book. I throw away about a third of them. Then I write the manuscript for about a month and then the illustrations for about a month and a half.
Do your books require a disciplined writing routine? How do you juggle other work, like your bookstore and the gaming business, with writing?
When I’m writing, I work very hard, but I’m easily distracted. I have ADD (attention deficit disorder), so it’s hard for me to stay focussed. But when I’m illustrating, I can sit there for 13 to 17 hours at a time and just draw. I’m not very structured otherwise (with other projects), I just go where the work is.
Comic writing is tough –making it seem effortless for maximum impact, book after book. What’s your formula?
I hope that I make it look effortless, because there’s a lot of strain behind the writing. It’s very difficult for me to write and come up with good jokes. The way I keep it fresh is to remind myself that there is a lot to childhood, and as long as I am honest about things and kids can see themselves in the characters and situations, then I’m doing my job.
The writer of this Guardian Review feature interview with Alex Wheatle, winner of the Guardian children’s fiction prize, gives (undue?) emphasis to Wheatle’s sense (as a male black author) of being overlooked in the past.
Hugely recommended feature on Charles Keeping from The Gentle Author blog:
The illustrations of Charles Keeping (1924–1988) burned themselves into my consciousness as a child and I have loved his work ever since. A major figure in British publishing in the last century, Keeping illustrated over one hundred books (including the entire novels of Dickens) and won the Kate Greenaway and Carnegie Medals for his superlative talent.
In 1975, Keeping published ‘Cockney Ding Dong,’ in which he collected songs he remembered sung at home as a child. Illustrated with tender portraits of his extended family, the book is an unusual form of autobiography, recreating an entire cultural world through drawing and popular song.
Recently, I visited the Keeping Gallery at Shortlands in Kent to meet Vicky and Sean Keeping who talked to me about their father’s work, as we sat in the family home where they grew up and where much of his work is now preserved and displayed for visitors. You can read my interview at the end of this selection of illustrations from ‘Cockney Ding Dong.’
A blog interview (by Holly Hughes) with Sarah Davis of the Greenhouse Literary Agency
Q: Have you fallen in love with any stories but passed because you knew they were difficult sells?
SD: I don’t think I have. I believe that an amazing story, really well written, will always find an audience – and even defy notions of what is “hot” at any particular time. But then, it is also not every day that I fall in love!
One is a powerful and sometimes wrenching read; how does Crossan feel younger readers process such strong subject matter? “I think the issues in the book are dealt with in a way that’s delicate enough that a child can self-censor. There are some moments in it that younger readers haven’t picked up on. I think that’s really important because I’m not in the business of writing brutal stories; I’m in the business of writing stories for children that are palatable for children. I think if you want to write an adult story, write an adult story. I have no interest in disturbing young children or exposing them to things that they are not ready to be exposed to.”
What does Crossan think of the explosion in YA crossover fiction, with many books being marketed at adults as well as younger readers? “I think it’s great for adults to be reading YA, especially as a way for parents or teachers to connect to younger people. Every child is different so when it comes to a child reading YA, it might be that one 11-year-old is ready for it and one 14-year-old is not ready for it. I think it just depends on the individual.
“I’m not advocating censorship — I’m saying a teen novel is a teen novel and an adult novel is an adult novel and if I wanted to write an adult novel, I would do that. The quality of YA is so high, there is so much literary fiction now; you’ve got John Boyne, David Almond, and Deirdre Sullivan, whose book Needlework is a phenomenal example of a crossover novel that deals with a very difficult subject delicately.”
Excellent feature interview with Quentin Blake…
For someone so synonymous with children’s books, Blake is unexpectedly reticent about his own childhood, claiming to remember very little. When I ask if it was happy, he shrugs. “It was all right,” he says. Interestingly, his own volume of memoirs about his life as an artist, writer and illustrator, Words and Pictures, begins when he was 16 and successfully submitted a cartoon to Punch.
Blake’s father was a civil servant — he was a clerk for the Imperial War Graves Commission in France before Quentin was born — and his mother, Blake says, was “a housewife”. She was 40 when he was born, and his brother was 11 years older, so he felt “like an only child”. He hardly recalls his brother living with them, though they got on as adults. He went to the local primary school, then Sidcup Grammar and on to Cambridge, to read English under FR Leavis. He drew from a young age, and attended life classes after he graduated (where he would look at the models and then try to draw from memory), but his art education was “cobbled together”. His parents were supportive of his art, but “had no terms of reference really”. Their ambition for him was “that I should get a job”.
His mentors were Alf Jackson, the husband of a Latin teacher at his school and a cartoonist and Modigliani-influenced fine artist who “would talk about Punch cartoons and Michelangelo”; and Brian Robb at Chelsea School of Art, who would comment on his drawings, though Blake did not attend his classes. He says he learnt to draw by looking at draughtsmen from Daumier to George Cruikshank, and contemporary cartoonists such as André François. Blake went on to teach for 23 years at the Royal College of Art, where he was head of the illustration department for eight years.
Blake draws daily — or very nearly; it doesn’t occur to him not to. Even he does not quite know how he produces his magic. “It never gets into words. You get emotion into the picture, and the people reading it can get it out of the picture.” Blake compares the business of illustration to acting. He doesn’t like to be interrupted when drawing, but on the odd occasion when he has been, observers have said he makes the faces of the characters he is drawing. As in acting, he inhabits an idea, signals it concisely and creates a response. He loves theatre, and compares the blank page to a stage.
Good profile of Frances Hardinge:
I meet Frances in Dublin, a city she is visiting for the first time, as part of the International Literature Festival. She is wearing her trademark, broad-brimmed hat.
There is something of the foppish hippy about her, but her beautiful manners, upright posture, and her accent seem Victorian. She is softly spoken, but impeccably articulate. She is a person of conviction.
“I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be an author,” she says. “I know I was producing some full-length work, short, full-length work, when I was thirteen, hand-written, never showed it to anybody. Just as well, because it’s not very good.”
Thankfully, neither was her critical eye and she remained doggedly determined to write, either “until published or until [she] dropped dead”. At sixteen, she began sending stories to publishers. Mostly, she would hear nothing back, but, “on occasion, there would be some feedback”.
“I remember one, in particular, which went along the lines of ‘we loved your story, we just didn’t know what it was about’,” says Frances.
A splendidly long interview with Laurence Anholt by Writers & Artists, including a question about his first forthcoming YA novel The Hypnotist:
8) Laurence, you have recently ventured into writing YA fiction, with your debut The Hypnotist published by Penguin Random House. How has the transition from writing picture books to fiction been for you? Were there particular challenges you had to overcome when working on the manuscript?
Although I have loved writing and illustrating picture books, I always thought I was capable of something more daring and panoramic. I’m an avid reader of fiction, so I decided to risk everything and take a couple of years out to write two full-length novels. I can’t tell you how magical it feels to create an imaginary world, populated with your own characters. In order to make it work, you have to smell, taste and touch every detail; almost like lucid dreaming.
I sent two manuscripts to the legendary publisher, Annie Eaton at Random House. This was at the time when they were merging with Penguin, so there was some delay. By the time Annie got back to me, I had convinced myself that this wasn’t going to work, but to my amazement and delight, she loved both books and we went to contract immediately.
It took a further 18 months to hammer the first book into shape, but I’m really happy with the result. My debut novel, The Hypnotist is set in the Deep South of America in 1963. It’s the tale of a young Black orphan making his way against the background of segregation and the dreaded Ku Klux Klan. The book has a strong historical element but there’s also plenty of love and humour and a twist of magic realism too. My publishers are very much behind the book, so I’m excited to see how it will do in October 2016.
full interview via Interview with Laurence Anholt.
Newbery and National Book Award–winning author Beverly Cleary, named a Living Legend in 2000 by the Library of Congress and the voice behind such beloved children’s books as Henry and Ribsy, Beezus and Ramona, Ralph S. Mouse, and Dear Mr. Henshaw, will turn 100 on April 12. PW recently chatted with Cleary by telephone from her retirement community in California.