Children's Literature Interest Group Interview with Dan Freedman

Dan FreedmanOnce you have an idea for a book, how do you start?

It can be difficult for example, with the new Jamie Johnson book, Skills From Brazil, I knew I wanted to write a story about Brazil (perfect for this summer) but that is actually quite a difficult place to start from a dramatic point of view. I had the visions of Jamie playing and honing his football skills on the beaches of Brazil, learning to play how the Brazilians do, and learning not just the football but also the football history and the culture of the country... but I wasn’t sure, story-wise, how he was going to get there.

Then the character of Rafael – a young Brazilian boy – entered my mind and he solved everything. In many ways, SKILLS FROM BRAZIL is the story of the friendship and bond that grows between Rafael and Jamie.

Generally, in terms of writing the actual story, I’ll begin with whichever scene or part of the story I can see most clearly. That can be anywhere in the plot. I just need to start with something I feel good and confident about.  I can always change it later.

What comes first – plot, character or situation?

They are blurred lines and I think they can change but I would say I go for character, situation and then plot in terms of the order in which my mind thinks about them,

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

Ideally as near the end as possible (having written loads down in free-hand). However, time is not always so kind.

Describe your writing routine – do you work at set times and write the same number of words each day?

No and no. If I feel I can do it, I have to do it, irrespective of anything else.
Do you have a special place where you write? Do you have special equipment?
I love being near the sea. It calms me, gives me perspective and therefore helps me to write. Having said that, if I can reach that mental state at home, then that’s just as good. It’s not where my body is that’s important...

What do you do on a day when your writing just isn’t going well?

Go for a walk or read a book

How much does your editor change what you write?

I’ve had 4 different editors for 8 books. Each has their own way. I’m very collaborative. For me, the more input and strong opinions from my editor the better...

Do you feel a tension between writing what you know will sell and writing what you would like to write?

Not really. I like to write books that sell.

What control do you have over your book cover (and your illustrations)?

Influence but not control over the cover. Illustrations are a partnership between the illustrator and me.

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

Actually no. Even though I write for kids, my only aim is to write the kind of books that I would want to read.

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

Before becoming an author I was a football journalist and worked for 7 years as the in-house journalist for the England players, travelling to two World Cups (02 & 06) as an official member of the delegation. I even had my own squad number! (62)

I could go back to that again but, for me, the Jamie Johnson books are a great way to use my experiences in football positively. Now, my books and whole philosophy are about learning and achieving through a love of football.
Alternatively, working in radio and acting both appeal...

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

As above, walk, read or swim.

Or ask myself what I would want to happen next if I was the reader.

Or ask myself what my character would do next.

Or fall asleep.

Please tell us two secrets about yourself.

My middle name is Cyril.
When I was a kid, I didn’t eat chips or anything sweet and I didn’t like fizzy drinks. I was a major problem at birthday parties.

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

The Very Hungry Caterpillar – I love it on every level. And The Tiger That Came To Tea.
Both all about eating. Now look at me.

Which are your favourite children’s books now?

All Roald Dahl’s books and Holes. That’s a special book.

What advice would you give to a child who wanted to be an author?

Stick at it. We’ve all been rejected. If you can see that as an opportunity and a chance to improve rather than the end, it’s a good track to be on.

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