Children’s Author Interview: Andy Stanton

Andy Stanton, author of the brilliant Mr Gum stories, answered some of my questions in 2007.

What was your favourite book when you were a child?

The Eighteenth Emergency by Betsy Bryars. I also loved Enid Blyton, especially The Faraway Tree books, the Famous Five and her Mystery of the… series. Oh, and Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl. And many more!

Which of your books was the most difficult to write? Why?

Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear. It was the most difficult because I didn’t feel like writing it. I was incredibly tired from all the touring I did at the time. So it was hard to write while ‘running on empty’ – but I just battled through, and I think it turned out really well. Writing is a lot about confidence, and I had to write that book with my confidence at a really low ebb. The other one that was particularly difficult was the second book – Mr Gum and the Biscuit Billionaire. That was tough as I was very conscious that it was the ‘difficult 2nd book’ – it was hard to hold on to all the fun aspects of the first book but to go somewhere new with the characters.

Which of your characters is most like you?

Probably Friday O’Leary – half philosophical, half stupid. But I like to think Polly exemplifies some of my better qualities too.

How do you write your books? Do you plot and plan in detail, or do you develop an idea as you are writing?

Definitely the latter. I start out with a few basic images and themes, but as I go along something peculiar happens. The story will inevitably take a turn I wasn’t expecting, and I will end up writing something different than I planned. It’s like the real theme and interest of the story will only suggest itself as I go along. I hear that some authors have everything planned out in advance. I just can’t seem to do that, there has to be surprise in there that even I couldn’t have dreamt of beforehand. It’s a thrilling feeling when I have been writing a story for a while and then suddenly – WHOOSH! – it takes off in its own direction, with a life of its own.

Why do you enjoy writing for children?

Because, um…hard question to answer. I suppose just because I really like kids, and I think they are smarter than a lot of people give ’em credit for, so it’s like I’m saying in my books “Hey, I know you’re going to understand this, kids, so let’s have fun and go on this silly adventure together!” – and I think kids do get almost all of the stuff I’m talking about, although there’s usually a couple of jokes in there that they’ll only get when they’re a bit older, as well. Those are my ‘timebomb’ jokes, waiting to happen. Plus there’s usually a couple of jokes in each book that I’m not sure I understand myself, but they get left in just in case someone out there enjoys ’em.

What advice would you give to young writers to help them improve their stories?

Edit! Go back and edit your stories to improve them. But not immediately – put your story away for a couple of weeks or a month. Don’t think about your story. After that time, take out your story and have another look, and because you haven’t been worrying about it for all that time, you’ll be able to see with much clearer eye what needs to be done to improve it.

Other advice: if a scene isn’t working, try approaching it in a different way. Perhaps tell it from another character’s perspective or something. Just keep writing – and never throw anything away, even the most rubish bit of writing may contain something you can use at another time.

Where do you write your books?

In my bedroom at my computer. Very dangerous, as my bedroom also contains my bed, so I’m constantly tempted to go for a quick lie down. Sometimes I go to write in cafes just for a change of scene.

Children’s Author Interview: Philip Caveney

In 2008 the author of the Sebastian Darke books, Philip Caveney, answered some of our questions about his stories and writing methods.

What was your favourite book when you were a child?

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury.

Which of your books was the most difficult to write? Why?

The first Alec Devlin book, Eye of the Serpent. It’s set in Egypt in 1923 and every fact had to be triple-checked.

Which of your characters is most like you?

Max, the grumpy buffalope from the Sebastian Darke series. Like me he always expects the worst.

How do you write your books? Do you plot and plan in detail, or do you develp an idea as you are writing?

I create the character and the setting – the story just evolves.

Why do you enjoy writing for children?

Because there are no rules – the only limit is your imagination!

What advice would you give to young writers to help them improve their stories?

Keep asking yourself “what if” – and make sure we see the events through the eyes of your characters.

Where do you write your books?

In my study at home – it’s a mess!

Check out Philip Caveney’s website.

Children’s Author Interview: Heather Vogel Frederick

Heather Vogel Frederick, author of the Spy Mice series and The Mother-Daughter Book Club series, answered some questions asked by The Book Base.

What was your favourite book when you were a child?

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. Also anything by Edward Eager.

Which of your books was the most difficult to write? Why?

The very first one, because I’d never written a book before and had no idea what I was doing!

Which of your characters is most like you?

I’m a cross between Oz Levinson in the Spy Mice books and Emma Hawthorne in The Mother-Daughter Book Club. I wish I was as brave as Glory but I’m not!

How do you write your books? Do you plot and plan in detail, or do you develop an idea as you are writing?

I am mostly what they call a “seat of your pantster” – I like to tell myself the story as I go along. I’d be bored if I knew exactly what was going to happen. I like to be surprised along the way.

Why do you enjoy writing for children?

Because they are the best audience – enthusiastic and blazingly honest! Books mattered desperatley to me when I was a child – and it’s gratifying to write for that kind of reader. Plus, you can cut loose and have fun when writing for a younger audience.

What advice would you give to young writers to help them improve their stories?

Number one most important thing: READ. Read as much as and as widely as you can. Soak up the language, the tempo of the best stories. Like a musician listening to the best music, reading wonderful books will influence the way you play your instrument – or in a writer’s case, the way you write.

Where do you write your books?

Mostly at home, in my favourite armchair, on my laptop. Occassionally I’ll venture out to a coffee shop to be around other people!

Check out Heather Vogel Frederick’s blog.