Children's Literature Interest Group: Interview with Marie-Louise Jensen

Jensen.jpgMarie-Louise Jensen is an author of historical fiction for young people.

Where does your inspiration come from?

History! I get all my ideas for stories from historical events or eras that have captured my imagination.

What comes first – plot, character or situation?

Usually a situation. For example in my second novel, the Lady in the Tower, I heard the story about how Lady Elizabeth Hungerford was locked in a tower for four years, and no one quite knew how she escaped. That set me off thinking about how she could have got out, and I started to research and the story came together from there. The characters come next, the plot details last – some of them even during the writing process.

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

Never. I can occasionally get stuck on how to resolve a situation I’ve created, or how to write a scene, but I never experience an inability to write. I’m more likely to suffer from a shortage of time.

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

Keep reading. And keep writing. Know your market. And try to be realistic about your opportunities. There are very few writers who become wealthy or who get their books made into films; you have to do it because you love it.

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

Lots! Of the children’s books I’ve read recently, I loved Sally Gardner’s I, Coriander, Ann Turnbull’s No Shame No Fear and Jennifer Donnelly’s A Gathering Light. Very recently, I loved Mary Hooper’s Fallen Grace and Y.S. Lee’s The Agency books. And Harry Potter and His Dark Materials for a touch of fantasy!

My favourite adult books are mainly old; authors such as Jane Austen, Charlotte and Anne Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell and Charles Dickens (especially Our Mutual Friend) are among my favourites.

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

Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi books, C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books, Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, and sundry brumby/pony books. I also read Dickens from around the age of eleven. There weren’t any teen books then, so I read Oliver Twist, Hard Times and Great Expectations.

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

My editor is wonderful and very, very clever. She always knows just how a book needs to be tweaked to improve it. She doesn’t do any detailed line-editing, but looks at the overall story development. Sometimes the changes are fairly small, other times they involve taking out several chapters, but she’s always right.

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

Sometimes. Generally up to recently, I’ve chosen what I write and I’ve loved it. But there are definitely historical eras that appeal more to the market place than others, and that’s a shame, because few authors can write without consideration of sales and public appeal.

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

It varies. My first two books I wrote long-hand and then I used the typing up as a massive editing process. Now however, I tend to work directly onto the computer unless I’m working out of the house and my battery runs out.

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

Almost none. That’s the publisher’s decision. I do get asked if I like the cover.

Do you write with a particular age group in mind? How does the target age group affect your writing?
Yes, I do. I write for 11-15 year olds. I write imagining I’m a fifteen-year-old girl like my narrator. I don’t find that difficult at all – I suspect a part of me never grew up.

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

I’ve worked as a lecturer, teacher, tutor, translator and various other things over the years. I guess I might have to go back to one of those if I couldn’t write. I do still do some tutoring to make ends meet.

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

When I first read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at about the age of seven. I wanted to be able to sweep readers into another world like that. I didn’t try seriously to write a novel until I was forty though.

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.

Dickens is one of the most accessible adult authors to child readers, I found as a child. The social concerns he has, the characters he picks and the frequent comic and memorable caricatures are all readily comprehendible and entertaining to a young audience. I loved Oliver Twist, Hard Times and Great Expectations. After all, they are about young people.

More Dickens webpage

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