Children's Literature Interest Group: Interview with Terence Blacker

Photograph of Terence Blacker

Terence Blacker is one of a small number of authors who write for both adults and children. His many popular children's novels include the best-selling Ms Wiz series.

Where does your inspiration come from?

I don’t think there’s anything mysterious about this. It comes from all around – things that happen to me, that I hear and see. A writer is a spy.

 What comes first – plot, character or situation?

It varies. I usually start with a glimmer of an idea, or maybe a voice, or maybe even a title. Then the main character starts to develops. In the end, it’s always different from what I had originally had in mind.

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

I wouldn’t give it a grand name but, yes, occasionally, it’s tough to write. I have no easy solution except to hold on to your seat and sweat your way through it. Writing for a living, with the financial panic that is never far away, can help ease the block, too.

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

Read. Try to write every day. Don’t be afraid to imitate writers you like, Try different styles. Develop a thick skin. Get an understanding bank manager. Have faith in yourself. Listen to the experts, then do it your own way.

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

Of authors for children, I like Philip Pullman, SE Hinton, Gillian Cross, Virginea Euwer Wolff, Geraldine McCaughrean. The list changes all the time.

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

Dodie Smith 101 Dalmations  and Jack London’s Wild Fang.

At what stage did you want to become an author?

In my twenties.

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

After hand-writing it. I always write by hand.

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

Not really. I’ve given up trying to work out what people want. These days, I just write what interests me, makes me laugh or worries me.

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

It varies with the editor. Being a writer involves a tricky balance between self-belief and arrogance. A good editor can often help an author from going bonkers.

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

I’m involved and say what I like (or don’t). It’s co-operative.

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

It’s instinctive. I have found that I write for different age-groups at different stages of my life. I’m not in control.

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

I’d try to survive as a musician.

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.
My childhood memories of Dickens are not good. I was made to read Little Dorrit at too young an age. It took me a while later in life to discover what a great writer he is.

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