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Theresa
Breslin

1. What has been the main influence of your Scottish upbringing on your writing?  

  OrderA definite sense of place, I think, in some of the books. Sometimes in order to talk about the general you have to begin with the specific. Where I live is very close to the Antonine Wall, and I always had a feeling for history rooted firmly in Scotland but relating to the wider world. Also, within the family the books and the language were definitely sourced from the Celts.

2. You worked for a time as the mobile librarian for Gartcosh, a town near Glasgow affected by the collapse of the steel industry. To what extent did this experience, as opposed to being confined in a main branch library, affect your early writing?

 


  OrderWorking in a library is such a wonderful thing to do if you are a book groupie like me, and being on the mobile was even better. It is a very personal service, you get to know the readers and their reading tastes very well indeed. We had some brilliant discussions, (and arguments!) about books.

3. Winning the Kathleen Fidler prize with SIMON'S CHALLENGE launched your career as an author. Do you ever wonder how your writing might have developed if you had had to wait longer for success?  

  OrderYes I do. I am not a very confident person and worry that I might have been discouraged.

4. You won the Carnegie Medal with WHISPERS IN THE GRAVEYARD (1994), a hard-hitting story about dyslexia. Your last hard-hitting novel for an older readership was DEATH OR GLORY BOYS (1996) - a riveting exploration of the ethics behind the armed resistance to terrorism. What lies behind your recent concentration on lighter material for younger readers?  

  OrderAfter these two books were published I was constantly asked by teachers, librarians and young people for a story for younger children that dealt with real life situations. I think that you can use humour to make a point. The DREAM MASTER deals with bullying and a boy who not very academic and easily distracted. The BLAIR books were great fun to write. I have four children and almost all of the incidents in these books happened in our family. NAME GAMES on the surface is light hearted, but is about identity which I think is very important to young people.

5. The Dream Master series is being very well packaged and promoted by Transworld. I very much like the wider-than-average hardback format, and the illustrations by David Wyatt. How important do you consider the design element in a children's book to be?  

  OrderI am utterly besotted by the production of this book. The wonderful cover and text illustrations, the wide margins, the larger type face... drool, drool. As a librarian choosing books I know that physical format can be critical to enjoyment. Writing WHISPERS brought home to me the terrible trials we give children. I closely examined book print and presentation and talked to dozens of children, and think that sometimes in the interests of economy we do not serve them very well.

6. I very much enjoyed the first Dream Master, in which Cy escapes from his topic work on Ancient Egypt into a dream adventure in the land of the pharaohs. When I reviewed that book I couldn't resist commenting that children should encourage their teachers to read it, so that they could be reminded of the stimulation and excitement that were had in the days of integrated cross-curricular topic work. Were you aware when you wrote it that that style of teaching has been all but squeezed out of existence by the literacy and numeracy hours?  

 

Actually I wasn't, because the situation is slightly different in Scotland. Working in the junior library meant that I often dealt with subject enquiries, requests for non-fiction books to cover the current school topic. I loved to point them in the direction of a good story that would give them some insight into the facts. There were a few around like Rosemary Sutcliffe for The Romans, but not that many.


7. In the new Dream Master title, set on a school study visit to York, both the Dream Master himself and Mrs Chalmers have much to say about the structure of narrative. Was this a means of communicating your own thoughts on this subject?

 

  Ah, you spotted that, did you? I am asked to do ten times more school and library visits than I can possible cope with, and lots of times the questions asked are about stories. So I was trying to show a little of the magic and the power. Also, (and this is absolutely crucial and essential) it did tie in, and is integral with the story in the book.

8. Of your books for younger children, the one that stands out for me is NAME GAMES, because it is about the talismanic power of words. Are you always called 'Theresa' or do you have different names that are used for you at home and with close friends?  

  OrderI am, and was always, called 'Theresa' and when I was small I did hate, loathe, and detest itI used to pretend that I had a different name, and was in fact the lost princess of the Chalet School, who had been left in this rather dull family, but soon my real parents, the King and Queen (who were also fabulously rich) would come for me and I would claim my rightful inheritance.

9. You were featured in the first series of Telling Tales, in a book compiled by Lindsey Fraser. Is it flattering or embarrassing to have a single title devoted to you?  

  OrderTo begin with it was quite an 'uncomfortable' feeling, and there is always the fear that everyone will find out about your dreadful secret. But Lindsey was wonderful, and interested, and she never found out about ... :-)

10. Only a very few children's authors receive attention in the main adult media--Jacqueline Wilson, David Almond, J K Rowling (of course). Does it matter to you that, despite now being one of the UK's leading children's authors, you are not more widely known outside the field of children's books?  

  As long as I am thoroughly known within the world of children's books, then I can live with that. However I do think that adults miss so much by not taking an interest in what is happening in children's books. This is the area where the best, wittiest, dramatic writing is being done, and being done NOW.

11. Can you give any examples of how reader reaction--whether from editors or children--has affected the way your writing has developed?  

  I am more thoughtful about the consequences of the actions of my characters, because they have an effect outside the book. But I still think that you have to be faithful to the story.

12. You have said, "I value a good, gentle editor because, like most writers, I've got a fragile ego." Have there ever been times when, in hindsight, you've wished that editors might have been less gentle, and urged you to make further revisions?  

  OrderWell yes, I guess there are little niggly bits that could have been bettered but, ultimately, I think the writer has to take responsibilty for their work.

13. In what ways has using the internet and e-mail impinged on your writing?  

  Aarrghh! More questions like these to answer! I did e-mail a whole MS for a shorter book recently, and it arrived safely. I was immensely proud of myself. The only drawback is that new technology reduces the opportunity to lie about how far on you are with your work . I can no longer pretend that it takes five days for the mail stagecoach to reach London, and that is why the book is late. And another thing these computers record to the last nanosecond when you type your every word.

14. Over the next ten years, as a professional author, you will clearly need to respond to the market and publisher list direction, as well as your own preferences. But if ONLY the latter applied--if you could write for writing's sake--what type of work could we expect from you?  

  Exactly as before. I write what I want to, and what I am interested in, and my editors and agent have always supported me in this, bless them.

15. Do you ever work on more than one book at a time? Can you tell us what you're writing at the moment and/or what you've just finished?  

  I have tons of ideas, but I usually only write one book at a time, as I find it quite exhausting. I was recently involved in making a CD to promote fiction, and at the moment I am "gathering strength"

16. You described in Telling Tales your method of working straight onto the computer screen, and of printing out several drafts, in order to maintain evidence of deletions and amendments. Does this mean that you don't use WORD or don't find its facility to track and show editing changes useful? I ask this because I thought it was a very significant improvement in Word97, now Word2000, and one that authors and editors would find extremely handy.  

  I didn't know about this improvement - it took me ages before I worked out "cut" and "paste". I still tend to begin with pencil notes on bits of paper. Also I do believe that you should view what the reader views which is why I print off all my drafts. I like to see how the words sit on the page.

17. Finally, are you a cat person, a dog person, both, or neither?  
  Probably more towards cat, but then again dogs are so friendly aren't they?
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