Children's Literature Interest Group: Interview with Joan Lingard

Joan LingardJoan Lingard has written novels for both adults and children. She is probably most famous for the teenage-aimed Kevin and Sadie series, which have sold over one million copies and have been reprinted many times since.

Her first novel Liam's Daughter was an adult-orientated novel published in 1963. Her first children's novel was The Twelfth Day of July (the first of the five Kevin and Sadie books) in 1970.

Joan Lingard received the prestigious West German award the "Buxtehuder Bulle" in 1986 for Across the Barricades. Tug of War has also received great success: shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal 1989, The Federation of Children's Book Group Award 1989, runner up in the Lancashire Children's Book Club of the year 1990 and shortlisted for the Sheffield Book Award. In 1998, her book Tom and the Tree House won the Scottish Arts Council Children's Book Award.

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

Yes, always, though sometimes there might be a little twist before I get there. I don't plan everything out beforehand, though. I begin, having a rough idea where I am going and then let the story and the characters lead me on.

Do you base your characters on real people?

Sometimes, yes, such as my grandparents in my Eleventh Orphan trilogy set in a pub in Stoke Newington in London in 1900, but I change details about them. Some characters might end up being a blend of people I have known, or observed. Perhaps there are even bits of myself in there! Or of my children, and now my grandchildren. If there is, it is not deliberate.

Do you follow the same process each time you write?

I suppose I do, have never really thought about it. I start by naming my characters. I set them down in a notebook, note their ages, physical attributes, temperament, their siblings and parents and friends and, importantly, where they live. In that way they graduallycome alive in my head.

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

After I have done the bulk of my research and made notes.

How much do you edit your work?

A fair amount, depending on the book. Less for younger readers as those stories are less complex than a novel like Natasha's Will, set in different times and different places.

How much does your editor change what you write?

Nothing! I have been lucky in having intelligent sensitive editors. I have never had one who has actually tried to change anything I have written. Any changes I make come after discussion. I am always open to discussion. I would never think that every single line I have written is perfect.

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

No.

What is the hardest thing about being a writer?

Surrendering a ms, ready to go to the printers knowing that I can't change anything now.

What is the best thing about being a writer?

The pleasure of writing, of being immersed in other people's lives in other places in other times.

At which point did you become a writer?

I wrote my first book when I was eleven years old. It was about smugglers in Cornwall, where I had never been - I was living in Belfast - and I was undoubtedly influenced by Enid Blyton. I made a jacket, illustrated it, wrote a blurb, and on the back cover printed at the top Books by Joan Lingard. From then on I was determined to be a writer, a novelist. I published my first book, a novel for adults, called Liam's Daughter, 18 years later. I published six adult novels before writing my first book for young people, The Twelfth Day of July, featuring my most famous characters, Protestant Sadie and Catholic Kevin, caught up in The Troubles in Belfast, to be followed by Across the Barricades and two other titles.

Do you have input regarding the cover of your books?

I am always shown roughs which I can then approve or disapprove of and we can talk. I prefer an artist to read the ms, and let their imagination start to work from that.

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

I cannot imagine! Books were in the centre of my life from a very young age due to my mother, who was a very keen reader. We didn't have money to buy many new books but we went regularly to the library.

What is your attitude to ebooks?

I don't like them very much but accept that they are here to stay. I so much prefer holding a real book in my hands and reading print on page.

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

It varied at each age. The Wind in the Willows. Just William. Alice in Wonderland. Anne of Green Gables. Grimms Fairy Tales. Enid Blyton. Jo at the Chalet School. Biggles. I was a ravenous reader. I read everything I could get my hands on in our local library, which was a rather poor affair in those days. The books were ancient and often spattered with stains and being a bit fussy I kept a brown paper wrapper to cover the greasy spines and I used a stiff white postcard to turn over the pages. Nowadays I love a new, clean book.

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

Write and keep writing. Persevere, be critical of what you write and always try to improve on it.

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