Children's Literature Interest Group: Interview with Alan Durant

Photograph of Alan DurantAlan Durant writes stories for children of all ages - from toddlers to teenagers. He also writes poetry for children and adults. He is a National Reading Campaign Reading Champion and a frequent visitor to schools, libraries and festivals around the UK and abroad where he gives talks and readings and runs writing workshops. Alan is a member of NAWE and The Society of Authors and is currently Bickerton Primary's first ever School Laureate!

When you start to write a book, do you know how it will end?

I always think about the end of my story before I start to write. I find it helps me to focus and it makes writing easier. If you know where you're going to end up[ on a journey, you get there more quickly in general and maybe with less stress. With picture book stories in particular I think knowing the ending is important. I've got a drawer full of picture book texts that didn't work because I couldn't get a satisfying ending.

Do you base your characters on real people?

Not consciously no. I used a couple of my teachers in my first book Hamlet, Bananas and All That Jazz and I quickly realised the pitfalls when my English teacher (whom I'd called by his actual nickname "Fungus Face") turned up an event one evening. Fortunately he was fine and didn't want to sue me! I'm sure I use characteristics of people I've  met but I don't do it deliberately.

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

I think knowing the end of your story helps avoid writer's block because you have something to work towards even when things seem most difficult and obscure. I've only ever had writer's block once and I cured it by going on holiday and using that in the story I was stuck on! Writing isn't easy and sometimes you have to work at it really hard. If you're really stuck then maybe you're just not that engaged by the story you are trying to tell. In which case, ditch it.

What is the hardest thing about being a writer?

Rejection. I guess it's the same with anything creative. You create something very significant to you, something in which you invest considerable emotion. If someone else doesn't like it or rejects it, it can be very devastating. How you deal with rejection is vital to how successful (or otherwise) you writing career will be. It's a tough business and you have to maintain a strong core of self-belief even in the most trying of times.

What is the best thing about being a writer?

Being paid for what is essentially your hobby is a real privilege. When a story (or a poem) is going well, there's no greater pleasure. I also really enjoy visiting schools to share my writing with children and hear about their interests and creativity.

What inspired you to write?

Books really. I loved reading at primary school but I wasn't that keen on writing. I just wanted to be a footballer like George Best. A couple of things got me into writing at secondary school: one, I was shy and found that writing was the best way for me to express myself (and I was good at it) and two my older brother was into writing and I wanted to be like him.

Do you follow the same process each time you write?

No. This has something to do with the fact that I write for so many different age-ranges - from picture books to young adult thrillers. And poetry too. Most of what I write begins with something scribbled in one of my notepads (when I've finally managed to decipher what I wrote!).

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

I hate handwriting and always have - it's one of the things that put me off writing at primary school. I'll usually write the first draft of a poem or picture book by hand before transferring to a computer; for anything longer I'll be on the computer from the start.

How much does your editor change what you write?

It depends. If an editor requires too many changes then they probably shouldn't have taken the story on in the first place, but I'm always suspicious of an editor who doesn't want to change anything. I want someone - an expert, perceptive eye - to help me improve what I've written. Nothing's perfect.

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

Some sort of writer or unemployed. I was a copywriter in marketing and publishing for many years so I guess I'd still be doing that.

What is your attitude to ebooks?

They're a fact of life so get on with it. They have their place. But so do real books. I find reading a very tactile experience. I love the feel, the smell, the physicality of a book and no ereader can replace that - and picture books especially.

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

I loved the Narnia stories, the Famous Five adventures and the Ladybird history books. Other favourites were The Little Grey Men by BB, The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy Boston and Roger Lancelyn Green's retelling of Robin Hood and King Arthur. But my absolute favourite was and is The King of the Castle by Meriol Trevor. I first encountered its magic when I was ten and I still have my own copy at home today and reread it from time to time, always with a tingle of pleasure down my spine.

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

Read and read and read - and as widely as possible. Then write and write and write. Listen to those whose opinions you trust but don't forget that you are the writer and your opinion counts most highly of all.  Believe in yourself and see things through to the end.

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