Children's Literature Interest Group Interview with Liz Kessler

Liz KesslerLiz Kessler studied English at Loughborough University, then took a teaching qualification at Keele University, and more recently a Masters in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. She worked as a teacher, teaching English and Media Studies, and has also run Creative Writing courses. As a journalist she worked on local and regional newspapers in both York and Manchester. Her first book, The Tail of Emily Windsnap, was the first in a series about a half-mermaid. She has also written a trilogy about Philippa Fisher and a new stand-alone book, A Year Without Autumn.

Where does your inspiration come from?

Quite often, the starting point and inspiration for my books will be a place. Sometimes it’s a snippet of conversation. It has also been an event that happened in my life over thirty years ago! Overall, I’d say my answer is that inspiration could be lurking anywhere!

What comes first – plot, character or situation?

I think it’s been all of these! With Emily Windsnap it was the character; with A Year Without Autumn it was the plot; with the book I’m currently working on, North of Nowhere, it’s the situation!

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

I don’t really believe in the idea of writer’s block. I just think that writing is hard sometimes – but so is any other job! I wrote a blog about this, which might answer the question a bit better. You can read it here:

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

I have loads of favourites. It’s hard to pick one – and I feel bad about all the others if I do, as lots of them are my friends! So for now can I cheat and just say that I have about a hundred favourite authors!

What was your favourite book(s) when you were a child?
The Adventures of the Wishing Chair by Enid Blyton, and The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

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

I LOVE my editor. I don’t see her as changing what I write. I see her as helping me to develop the story and bring out its full potential. She doesn’t change things at all – she makes suggestions for me to think about. And her suggestions are nearly always right! I trust her and love working with her. I’m very lucky to have her – it’s a very creative and fun relationship. I also have a US editor who I work with on another edit for the states, and she’s lovely to work with too!

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

That’s a very interesting question. I suppose there are a few things in the back of my head which I would like to write or get published one day, but which I know aren’t commercial or aren’t right for me at this stage – so they are staying on the back burner! But I love all the stories I write, and I would never write something just because I thought it would sell. Equally, if I’m burning with an idea, I would try to convince my publisher to go for it and take the risk – commercial or not.

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

I feel like I’m ALWAYS at my computer! Having said that, the early stages when I’m planning and plotting are mostly done in a notebook – and the later stages when I’m editing are done half on the manuscript with a red pen and half at my computer. The bit where I’m pretty much full on at my screen is when I’m writing the first draft.

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

Quite a bit. I always have suggestions, and luckily, my publisher always takes them into account.

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

I guess I’ve come to think about my readers a bit as I write – although I hope that it doesn’t affect the story. The story is what it is, but I do think about the type of language I use and some of the concepts. The majority of my readers are girls aged between about eight and twelve. Recently, I had a thought for something I wanted to do in a book and realised that actually it was much too complex for my readership (and probably for me, too, actually!) so I didn’t do it. I hope that, for the most part, what I naturally want to write runs along the same tracks as what my readers want to read!

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

Journalist, explorer, travel writer, time traveller…

At what stage did you know you wanted to become an author?

I’ve always written in some way or another. At about eight, I wanted to be a poet when I grew up. But being an actual author of novels – probably when I was about thirty years old.

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Write what’s in your heart. Be bold. Work hard. Listen to criticism from people you trust. Ignore criticism from those who aren’t trying to help. Don’t give up.

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