Children's Literature Interest Group: Interview with Sally Grindley

Sally GrindleySally Grindley began writing in 1984 while she was working for a children's book club. Since 1995 she has been writing full time and has recently won the Smarties Prize. She now has some fifty titles in print. Shhh won the Children's Book Award in 1992 and was shortlisted for the Smarties Prize. Wake Up Dad won the 1989 Best Books for Babies Award and There's a Monster In Our House Who Eats Books was Highly Commended in the 1997 Right Start/Petit Filous award, shortlisted in the 1998 Sheffield Children's Book Award and selected by the Young Book Trust in 1998 as one of the '100 best books'.

Where does your inspiration come from?

From everywhere and nowhere. You can write a story about anything. It’s a question of freeing your mind and going on a voyage of discovery. It’s about seizing a subject and looking at it from every direction, until you find what appeals to you most about it and can express what you feel in your own unique voice. It’s about looking for the humour, the sadness, the pain, the opportunity, the hope and the joy in situations big and small and describing how as human beings we might deal with them – even when we’ve transmogrified ourselves into mice or bears to present our findings!

What comes first – plot, character or situation?
I’ve never plotted a book in my life, so it’s certainly not that! It’s usual a tiny snippet of an idea that I mull around in my head until I find a way in to start expanding upon it. Characters then begin to suggest themselves and become fleshed out as their journey progresses. The plot unfurls en route, and I can be three-quarters of the way through a story before I know how it’s going to end.

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

Sometimes the ideas don’t come quite as fast as I’d like, but I’ve never suffered from writer’s block.

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

I don’t get much chance to read books by other children’s authors – and it can be rather humbling to do so - but I admire Michael Morpurgo.

What was your favourite book(s) when you were a child?
My all time favourite is THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS, with WINNIE THE POOH a close second.

How much does your editor change what you write?
It all depends on how well I’ve written! I’ve rarely had to change much in terms of plot. An editor provides an objective view and will suggest where things can be tightened up, point out inconsistencies, suggest ways in which characterisation might be improved – all areas in which as an author you can be too close to see that there’s room for improvement.

Do you feel a tension between writing what you know will sell and writing what you would like to write?
No, because I don’t think too much about whether what I want to write will sell, though my editors haven’t always gone along with ideas I’ve suggested, in which case I’ve had to go back to the drawing board.

At what stage in your writing process do you use a computer?
I use a computer right from the beginning, unless I’m writing a picture book, in which case the early stages are drafted out by hand on a folded paper dummy.

What control do you have over your book cover (and your illustrations)?
On occasion I’ve had no control at all over the cover, which is unacceptable but it happens. Mostly, I have the opportunity to comment. I always have sight of and am able to comment on illustrations for a picture book.

Do you write with a particular age group in mind? How does the target age group affect your writing?
I write across the board for toddlers to pre-teens, so I always have to be aware of my target age group, and it will affect my writing to a large degree in terms of concept, content and language level. But I believe children should be challenged and stretched, so I’m not afraid to present difficult themes and words that might require a dictionary.

What do you think you would be if you weren’t an author?
I think I’d be working in theatre, perhaps as a director.

At what stage did you know you wanted to become an author?
I didn’t know at all, though I always enjoyed dabbling in words. It was only when I was working for a children’s book club that I fell into being a children’s author.

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Read everything you can get your hands on and practise, practise, practise.

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