I am a children’s author. I’m based in the UK but I’m published internationally.
I write non-fiction and some fiction for children aged up to 12. My backlist includes picture books and board books for the under-5s and many highly-commended non-fiction books for ages 4+. I’m the author of Home, Sweet Home (Kane Miller) and Welcome To Our World (Nosy Crow).
What inspires your books?
Books are powerful things. A good children’s book can live long in the memory because it sparks the imagination. When I write non-fiction for children I’m aiming to do that. It’s so important for children to get interested in the real world as well as reading about all the wonderful imaginary worlds that authors create. I know that quite a few children prefer non-fiction books, in fact. Children are endlessly curious and should have books to satisfy that – books which are enjoyable reading experiences with great illustrations. It’s also vital that kids are given the skills to process facts – to sort out what’s likely to be right and what’s likely to be wrong. Children’s non-fiction books are generally very tightly-researched so they’re a good fact source.
Thank goodness that kids who love non-fiction are being catered for. I’m proud to stand up for it.
How do you come up with a new book project?
I start by thinking very hard about the idea I have. What will this book do for the reader? Will it chime with their lives? I’ll think long and hard about the needs and interests of the age-group I want to write for and I like to talk to parents and teachers, too, to find out if they think my approach would work.
I think a lot about how a book will be used. Will it be shared between an adult and a child? If so I want to make that interaction as easy and as entertaining as I can. Will it be pored over by a child on their own? Then I want to make sure that they want to read on. They won’t want a boring approach.
I will write a pitch, a plan and a few sections. Then it’s time to get a publisher interested, to fund the rest of my time. Once a publisher has decided that they want to take the idea there is more to talk about. What will the book look like? What size will it be? The publisher will suggest some illustrators. It really helps to know who the illustrator will be when I’m writing. I can begin to picture the book then.
What is the inspiration behind your recent work?
My recent work has concentrated on introducing the cultures of the world to children. I try to do it with a light touch, referring to a child’s own experience. So, for example, Welcome to Our World has details that kids will recognize, such as what children call their grans and granddads around the world, what they say when they sneeze, what they do with their baby teeth and what they might have for breakfast. In Home, Sweet Home I encourage children to think about their own homes and others around the world. For example, does everyone have the same kind of front door or bed?
When I wrote Welcome To Our World and Home, Sweet Home I wanted to show how children around the world live different lives but they also have much in common – family, friends, food and fun.
I’ve had a lot of fun talking to contacts around the world to get the facts right on both these books. People have been incredibly helpful and don’t mind me bothering them with strange questions!
When Welcome To Our World came out I had a wonderful message from a parent. Her family is Mongolian, and her little girl had never seen any Mongolian language or mention of Mongolia in a children’s book. The book was shown at school, and when her daughter saw the Mongolian way to say ‘hello’, and told the class just how to say it, she felt 10-feet tall! That made me feel pretty good.
Where do you write?
I work every day in an office that I rent, though it’s not like a regular office. It’s pretty full of toys and books! I even have a ‘pinboard of positivity’ where I pin pictures that inspire me. The office is shared by a freelance book pop-up designer and a designer of novel covers, so we’re a pretty good mix for bouncing ideas (and gripes) off each other.
We have a local school nearby and kids walk past the office window every day, so we’ve filled the windows with fun stuff to please them. I have a couple of dinosaurs, a robot, lots of tiny model cars and some fluffy chicks in my window! Oh, and there’s a flying pig stuck to the window pane.
How do you deal with creative block?
If I have writing burnout I take a day off and go for a trip outdoors or to an art exhibition, or a museum or a cycle ride – anything that clears the thinking tubes! It only takes a day but it really works.
Also, when I’m thinking about new ideas I find it helps to change location – away from the computer, the desk etc. I might go to a local museum café or perhaps the library, where I can sit and make notes and really focus.
Are there particular skills in writing children’s non-fiction?
I did some graphic design study way back when, as well as a Literature Degree. The graphic design background helps me a lot because the books I work on are very visually-led. I must tailor my writing to fit the way the pages will be designed. All that is dealt with by the in-house publishing team, but I work very closely with them to get it right. Children’s non-fiction is a team sport!
What are you working on next?
It takes a year or two to write, illustrate and publish a kids’ book. I have new books coming out over the next 4 years – already written – on science and the natural world. I’m about to write about space. I’d love to go there but I know I never will because I get carsick! I don’t think that’d be a good thing for an astronaut.
How would you sum up how you feel about your work?
I heard a teacher discussing her profession on the radio one morning. She said: “It’s a privilege to be in a position to make a difference”. That’s how I feel about my work.