Children's Literature Interest Group: Interview with Linda Newbery

Linda NewberyLinda Newbery began writing as a young adult author but has now broadened her range to encompass all ages. Now a full-time writer, she published her first novel Run with the Hare in 1988, while still working as an English teacher in a comprehensive school. Linda won the Costa Children's Book Award in 2006.

Where does your inspiration come from?

Many of my stories start with a particular place: Nevermore, The Sandfather, The Shell House, Set in Stone. It might be a real place, or a made-up one, as in Set in Stone. Together with the place comes a strong sense of period, season and atmosphere. From there I start thinking about characters, and the plot grows from this beginning.

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

Yes. I call it laziness.
Sometimes I just tell myself to get on with it. But sometimes it's because I'm tired, and you can't write when you're tired. I'll do something else, and wait till my energy and ideas come back. I work best at particular times of day - first thing in the morning, and early evening are my best times.

Quite often, if I'm stuck, it helps to change to a different scene, move forward in time, or have someone start talking.  Dialogue nearly always gets things going again.

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

Write. Think of yourself as a writer. Try to write something every day, even if it's only for ten minutes. Know that your writing is for yourself.

Do you have favourite authors or books yourself? Who are they?

A favourite I first read when I was twelve, and have enjoyed many times since, is My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. It's funny, informative about animals, and wonderfully descriptive of the Greek island Corfu where he lived as a boy.

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

One favourite was Bambi, by Felix Saltern.

At what stage did you want to become an author?

From the age of eight.

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

I generally work straight on to my laptop, unless I'm writing in bed or on a train.

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

Not really, but I think some of my publishers do.

How much does your editor change what you write? What relationship do you have with your editor?

I work for different publishers, so not always with the same editors. It's very important to have a good and trusting relationship. My best editor never changes anything, but makes suggestions - I then work on the changes myself, if I agree. Very few editors - only the least experienced - go in with a red pen. That's not the way to get the best work from authors.

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

Usually I'm asked what I think at an early stage. It doesn't always work, though
- one of my books has a cover I'm not happy with, and another was so ruined by its illustrations that I can hardly bear to look at it. On the whole, though, I've been lucky to work with some wonderfully talented illustrators: Pam Smy, Ian Benfold Haywood, Catherine Rayner, John Francis and Stephen Lambert. It's one of the pleasures of writing for younger readers.

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

I write for various age-groups. The younger the story I'm writing, the more aware I am of sentence-length and structure.  For older readers, I hardly think about age group at all. The writing is focused on the characters - the age and experience of the characters.

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

A yoga teacher.

The English Association is running a competition about Dickens for primary age children throughout 2011. If you had any memories of Dickens from your childhood or if Dickens is special to you in any way, feel free to add any comments about him.

I think my first experiences of Dickens were A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist.  Dickens created characters that leap out of the pages and into our minds. I especially like Joe Gargery, in Great Expectations; that's probably my favourite Dickens novel, with its wonderful atmospheric opening on the north Kent marshes, and Pip meeting the convict.  I also loved the TV dramatisation of Bleak House, and could watch it again and again.

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