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.