Children's Literature Interest Group: Interview with Celia Rees

Rees.jpgCelia Rees is one of Britain’s foremost writers for teenagers with an international readership and reputation. Her novel Witch Child has been published in 28 languages and is required reading in secondary schools in the UK. Although her recent novels have been historical, she has written about everything from vampires to Shakespeare. She began by writing edgy, gritty thrillers for teenagers. Her recent book, This Is Not Forgiveness, takes her back to her roots.

Where does your inspiration come from?
Inspiration can come from anywhere and everywhere: something you see, something someone tells you, a picture, a film, a play, a place you visit, an object, you name it. The idea for The Fool’s Girl came to me while I was watching a performance of Twelfth Night. Witch Child came from a woodcut of Matthew Hopkins, the self styled Witch Finder General. The inspiration for my latest book, This Is Not Forgiveness came from Francois Truffaut’s film Jules et Jim.

What comes first – plot, character or situation?

Often they come almost all at once. The idea will contain something of the setting, situation and character(s) and the beginnings, or part of the plot.

Do you ever get writer’s block? What do you do about it?

Writer’s block is a bit of a myth, in my view, or rather it breaks down into different things. If you have no ideas at all, you have to go out and find some! Keep your mind open, go look at things and think. Take whatever ideas you might have and doodle with them. Take them for a walk. If you are already writing something and you get stuck, then it helps to take yourself away from it. Take a walk – literally – and free your mind. If you really can’t think your way through, if the idea is seriously flawed, or isn’t going to work, then sometimes you have to abandon it. Never throw work away, though. You often find two or three half ideas will fit together into something workable.

Do you have favourite authors or books yourself? Who are they?
I do have favourite books and authors. Margaret Atwood, Sarah Waters, Annie Proulx, Cormac McCarthy, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Carson McCullars are some of the writers I admire.

What was your favourite book(s) when you were a child?
One of my favourite books was Louisa M. Alcott’s Little Women.

How much does your editor change what you write? What relationship do you have with your editor?
I have had several different editors over the years. Ideally, an editor should bring out the best in your writing, push you to achieve more. It is a delicate relationship and there has to be trust between you. It is important to listen to editors, to take their opinions seriously and to be flexible. I’ve been a published writer for nearly twenty years now, so I think I know when a suggestion will improve things and when it will not.

Do you feel a tension between writing what you know will sell and writing what you would like to write?
I think you have to always have that balance in mind. You have to write what people want to read. That’s the most important thing.

At what stage in your writing process do you use a computer?
I write straight onto the computer.

What control do you have over your book cover (and your illustrations)?
I don’t have illustrations because I write for older children and teens. I don’t design or commission the cover – that is the publisher’s area of responsibility. I do have some say, in that I am normally consulted once a cover rough (design) has been produced. I can say whether I like it or not and the publisher can take notice (or not). Generally, they are quite willing to listen, as long as I present good reasons for my objections.

Do you write with a particular age group in mind? How does the target age group affect your writing?

I write for older teens, young adults. I obviously have to have that market in mind when I’m writing, what is acceptable/unacceptable to that readership – and I mean the readers here, not the ‘gatekeepers’. So I consider it important to have a strong narrative drive, for example, but I’m not that fussed about sex and swearing, etc. they are older teenagers, after all.

What do you think you would be if you weren’t an author?
A retired teacher.

At what stage did you know you wanted to become an author?
When I was a teacher. I taught English in a comprehensive school and was interested in my students reading, especially the older ones. They wanted to read thrillers, exciting stories, almost adult in structure and content, but with people like them at the centre of the book. Someone told me a true story about a group of Coventry school students (much like mine) who got mixed up in a murder hunt and it seemed too good an opportunity to pass up.

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Read. A lot. And write. Don’t worry about getting published, just write because you want to, because you enjoy it. That’s how you learn.

Share this page: