Children's Literature Interest Group: Interview with Ian Whybrow

Ian WhybrowA former teacher, Ian Whybrow has been publishing children's books since 1989.

When you start to write a book, do you know how it will end?
Seldom – though sometimes I start from the end.

Do you base your characters on real people?

Not always, though it’s useful to be able to hook certain characteristics on familiar personalities.

Do you follow the same process each time you write?

No, except insofar as I need to get excited about an idea – to sense that there’s something in it for a reader to enjoy – before I get going seriously. A bit of mulling over is always good. Some people call it “dream-time”.

At what stage in your writing process do you use a computer?

I often jot ideas for characters, events, plotlines on to pages within an “Ideas” section for a project on my pc. Scribbling in a notebook is good for limbering up and noting things that you fear you might lose if you don’t get them down quickly – but I don’t handwrite text as a general rule,

How much do you edit your work?

Obsessively, over-pedantically and too much.

How much does your editor change what you write?

Depends on the editor. I usually write more than is required and can’t bear to kill my darlings. That’s when you need someone you trust to do right by the spirit of what you’re after.

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

Constantly. Then the trick is to wait until you get excited. Or  revisit an abandoned text that might flourish with the right sort of tweaking.

What is the hardest thing about being a writer?

Justifying to your wife the time you spend sitting on the sofa staring at a screen.

What is the best thing about being a writer?

Traveling to places you’ve never heard of to meet readers you never knew you had.

At which point did you become a writer?

I’ve always written. The hard part was getting other people to take any notice, and to part with their money to butter my bread.

Do you have input into the cover of your books?

Up to a point. Leaving it to blurb-writers often leads to disappointment. One can’t always choose one’s illustrator, though.

What do you think you would be if you weren’t an author?

You can’t stop yourself once you get going. Of course that doesn’t mean that I shall always be able to attract readers – but I shall keep at it, one way or another, for as long as there’s a spring in my index-fingers.

What is your attitude to ebooks?

They’re a fact of life. I only hope that it’ll always be possible for writers to get a fair return on them and that benefits of the traditional publishing/editorial process (the enriching, tenderising slow-cooking, as it were) are not detrimental to literature in general.

What was your favourite book(s) when you were a child?

Now what springs to mind? At different stages: Winnie the Pooh. Alice in Wonderland. A Coral Island. The Just-So Stories. The Famous Five. The Wind in the Willows … all that stuff.

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

Keep your ears and eyes open. Think about who you’d like to read what you’ve written. Get an agent. Prepare for disappointment. Keep going.

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