Children's Literature Interest Group: Interview with Tom Palmer

Photograph of Tom PalmerAs well as being a huge football fan, Tom Palmer has an international reputation in reader development. He is a coordinator of the Reading Partners consortium, works with The Reading Agency, Booktrust and the National Literacy Trust, and has been the official writer for the Premier League Reading Stars scheme for five years.

He also teaches annually for the Arvon Foundation, and has travelled around the world to train librarians and teachers in techniques to encourage boys to read.

Where does your inspiration come from?

I usually get my first ideas from newspapers and magazines. Something real that I can build a story round. Then I read around the subject and often travel to the places the story is set. All this helps me build an idea of what I am going to write.

What comes first – plot, character or situation?

Plot, I think. Whatever idea has captured my attention then forms as a story in my head. Only then do I think about characters that will do a good job in the book. And the situations to do it in.

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

Not yet. If I did I would be in trouble paying the mortgage. Sometimes I wonder if writers’ block is a myth. Or just a lack of something you feel passionate enough to write about. But one day I might find I am wrong…

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

Read broadly. Write about a subject that you are passionate about. Never give up.

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

Mal Peet’s Keeper. Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider books. Dostoevsky. Emily Bronte.

What was your favourite book when you were a child?

I didn’t have any. I didn’t read for pleasure until I was 17. My mum got me into reading using football, first through newspapers and magazines, then books.

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

We have a very good relationship and I really enjoy being edited by them. They usually change small plot and dodgy sentence issues. Before I submit a book, I have several people read my books. I am in a writing group. I have teachers and children who read it for me. And, most importantly, my wife is a great first draft editor. So I like to think my editor gets a pretty clean text.

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

Not at the moment. I am doing what I want to now. But in the past I have felt that.

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

From the first word to the last. The only handwriting bit is when I edit. I edit on the page, marking up the document.

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

Puffin always show me the covers and – to date – I have always loved them. I did have a book published before with another publisher and they did a cover I hated because it misrepresented the book. I objected strongly, but they went ahead.

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

I write for age 7 13. I avoid swearing, sex and most violence That’s after I learned what Puffin’s parameters are. But I don’t feel restricted. I understand why they do it: I have a seven year old daughter.

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

I would still be working for libraries nationally. Trying to get partners to support them in the spectacular work they do.

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

Age 17, when I became a reader.

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 didn’t read Dickens as a child. But… I have always loved the Christmas Carol story on TV, cartoon and film.

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