Q & A
Author of the funny and uplifting 'We Won an Island' and 'We Made a Movie' kindly answers questions about her books, storytelling tips and the value of community.
My review of 'We Won an Island' is here.
My review of 'We Made a Movie' is here.
1) Both 'We Won an Island' and 'We Made a Movie' are hugely funny, warm and escapist - something necessary right now and wonderful as a summer read. How important is the right kind of humour in children's books at the moment?
Thank you! I think children can have a lot of worries now, especially since Covid. Humorous books provide somewhere safe that children can escape to, away from the news or social media. Books are somewhere children can just laugh and forget about things for a little while. But I do think it’s important that the humour is thoughtful. In my books a lot of the comedy comes from people and their quirks, but in a way that celebrates those differences rather than pokes fun of them. I don’t believe humour should be at a person’s expense. One thing I’ve learnt since having my own children is that they’re constantly absorbing things, so I think it’s important to show how humour can be kind and warm.
2) What was your inspiration for writing this series and how did the pandemic affect your writing of 'We Made a Movie'?
Soup, mostly. The idea for winning an island came from a real competition that a well known soup company ran several years ago, in which purchasers could win a farm house. That got me thinking about winning life changing prizes, and from that came the idea of winning an island. The idea for the movie in this book came from the scale of development in my town recently, and in particular a huge housing estate that’s set to swallow-up a nearby village. I wish I could make people see the value of what’s already there, and I think I tend to write about things I feel powerless over, so hence the book! The pandemic had the curious effect of stopping me writing. I found it too odd trying to write about a world without lockdowns, social distancing or masks. When I did start to edit the book again, I think the community element got stronger, and the idea of a town failing economically hit home more, especially when thinking about impact that had on its residents.
3) There is something really charming and wholesome about both books, how important is celebrating family and community to your writing?
I think a huge amount of belonging is attached to family and community, and I enjoy writing about it. I find the whole concept of communities kind of fascinating – the way they’re made up of completely different individuals, who are glued together by a common thread. To me it makes them really fun to write about. In my own life family is very important. They’re the people that love me for all my oddities, and vise versa.
4) As an author, how have you found balancing writing with other commitments, such as your family? How much does your own family inspire your stories?
Well my house usually looks like a Pompeian exhibit, so I’m not sure “balancing” is quite the right word. I have a day job, so I usually write at night when my children are asleep. I’m a night owl so it works reasonably well, but a lot of caffeine is consumed. My family actually inspire quite a lot of my stories. Mrs Butterworth’s yoga obsession is inspired by my own mother’s interest in sport (which did not pass onto me), and certain scenes like the escaped cow escapade in book one, and the broken ice-cream van, come from my travelling days. The setting is also largely inspired by my dad’s side of the family who moved from Orkney to Hertfordshire, so the other way around to the books!
5) What other children's books or authors have influenced you? Which one author should everyone be reading right now?
In terms of influence, I learnt a lot from the way Julia Green captures life from a child’s eyes, the quirkiness of David Almond’s stories, and the humour of Frank Cotterell Boyce. Naming one author who everyone should be reading might be impossible, there are so many. If I absolutely need to pick, I would say follow Bath Spa grads and Nosy Crowers, Nizrana Farook, and Kirsty Applebaum.
6) As a graduate of the Writing for Young People course at Bath Spa University, what tips would you give aspiring authors, such as myself?
Make sure you’re always looking at the events in your story from the POV of a child. It can be easy to slip into seeing things from an adult’s perspective, so ask yourself if this is how a child would experience the situation. If you’re writing humour, keep in mind that it works slightly differently for different ages, slapstick works best for the younger end. Write outside your comfort zone and try different genres, ages, styles - be playful with your writing. If something’s not working flip it, and try it in a different way. Throw as much conflict at your main character as you can, and constantly put road blocks between them and their “want”. Get to the inciting incident of your story as quickly as you can, and don’t spend ages on exposition. Pacing is an important balancing act – too slow and your reader’s will get bored and stop reading, but too fast and the scene will feel rushed and loose impact. Editing is a good place to fix pacing if it goes for a meander! Always, always, always be on the side of the children in your story, and never make them the expense of a joke. And lastly, try to find other writers to workshop with. Fresh eyes help you see things from a different perspective, so you know what’s confusing or not working, or what is working well and you could do more of.
7) What has been your biggest reward being a children's author?
It sounds horribly cheesy, but when a child tells me they enjoyed one of my books. I particularly love when I get to do workshops with small groups of children, and get to spend time talking to each of them about writing. I can see how excited they are, and how much fun they have coming up with their own ideas, and that’s my favourite part I think.
8) Will there be a third book with Luna and her family on the island? (Please say there will be)
I have no idea! Sorry, least informative answer ever.
Thank you so much Charlotte for your answers!