Our coffee-break interview this month is with children’s author Anna Wilson.
We find out a little more about Anna; including how she develops her stories from idea to book. Plus she gives some fabulous advice for budding authors.
We also find out about her latest picture book, ‘Grandpa and the Kingfisher’ – and the meaning behind it.
Interview with Author Anna Wilson
For those who are yet to discover your books, what three words best describe Anna Wilson?
Sea-swimmer, reader, pet-lover.
You have lived all over the world — from France to the USA — but are now in Cornwall. Is this your last stop or is there more globe-trotting on the cards for you?
I have never lived in the USA! Maybe you are thinking of the song-writer Anna Wilson? 🙂
I have travelled in the States, but never lived there. The problem with my name is that there are so many of us…
I have lived in Kent, Sydney, Cambridge, Clermont-Ferrand, London, Orléans, Northamptonshire, Wiltshire and now Cornwall. I have no intention of moving again, but I have said that before!
Life has a habit of throwing in curve-balls, so I will have to see…
I love to travel and was recently visiting my son in Melbourne. I would be seriously tempted to move out to Australia if he or his sister ever decide to live there.
Did you always aspire to be an author? Or was it a happy accident?
I did – but I kept it a secret and never showed anyone my writing.
I scribbled away in notebooks, mainly keeping a journal and dreaming of one day becoming a ‘real writer’.
At the same time, I also loved playing the piano and saxophone and spent many hours practicing those instruments and playing in orchestras and bands. I think that this discipline has helped me as a writer.
There is a bit of luck involved in getting published, but the act of writing is a job like any other; you have to show up at the desk every day and do it, even when you don’t feel like it.
You have written over 50 books for children; including novels, non-fiction books, poems, short stories, early readers and picture books.
What is your favourite kind of book to create for children and why?
It changes, depending on what I am writing that day! I enjoy all aspects of writing.
I think at any one time I enjoy trying my best to create the right book for the audience I am writing for. At the moment it’s picture books and non-fiction for 7-11s.
But next year it could be a middle grade novel.
You’ve recently published your first work of non-fiction for adults. Is this a one-off or are there more adult titles in the pipeline?
I don’t have plans to write another non-fiction book for adults, but I am writing a novel for adults.
Tell us about your latest children’s book ‘Grandpa and the Kingfisher’
Grandpa and the Kingfisher was written 8 years ago. (Yes, it can take that long to get a picture book published!)
This was in the aftermath of losing my dear dad, Martin, to an especially vicious form of cancer. Not only was he battling this (and battle he really did), he was also trying to care for my poor mum who was suffering from severe mental illness and who died not long after dad did.
I was heavy with grief during this time, and, as always, the thing that saved me from going under in the end was writing – writing about grief and loss and the memories of the people I had lost.
This little picture book, beautifully illustrated by Sarah Massini, is therefore about my dad who loved the river and was determined, right up to the end, to get back into his boat.
He also loved the kingfishers that lived by the river Medway near our home in Kent.
I have written this in memory of him in the hope that it will help others to talk to their children about the circle of life in a positive and non-threatening way.
How do you develop your stories from a wisp of an idea to the fully fledged story?
This question and the next (‘Notebook or laptop?’) go hand-in-hand.
I start with an idea which dances into my brain and starts nagging at me to pay attention to it.
So, for example, with Grandpa and the Kingfisher, I knew I wanted to write a picture book about life and death and I knew it had to feature a kingfisher. The nagging gets louder and louder until I can’t ignore it any more, and then I reach for a notebook and start scribbling. It might be lists or the odd word. It wouldn’t make sense to anyone else reading it!
Then, once the scribbles start to form fully-fledged sentences in my head, I open the laptop and start writing them to see if a narrative arc is forming.
At this point, if it’s a picture book, I start dividing the text up into scenes to see where the text might fall on each page of the book.
I will keep going until I have a text I am (mostly) pleased with and then I’ll show it to my agent. She might have some suggestions, or she might be happy to send it out to publishers at this stage.
If the book is bought, I will then start working on it with an editor, a designer and an illustrator to make sure that the illustrations will work with the text. I usually end up cutting a lot of words at this stage.
When I go back and compare the final text with the first completed draft, it is often vastly different. This is true for any kind of book I write, even the adult memoir. I do lots and lots of drafts.
Keep going, celebrate the small stuff and learn from everything.
What advice would you give to a budding author?
Be prepared to work hard. Write something every day, even if it is only in your journal.
Get used to writing ‘freely’ without judging yourself. Only start to judge it (i.e. edit it) once you think you would like someone else to read it.
Always read your work aloud before you send it off.
Above all, be persistent and don’t give up, even when you get rejected (and you will get rejected).
‘Writing,’ as Snoopy once said, ‘is hard work!’ It’s also a lot of fun.
Of everything you’ve ever written — both published and non-published work — what are you most proud of, and why?
I don’t have one piece I am most proud of. All my books hold a special place in my heart because they all came out of something personal. Even Vlad the World’s Worst Vampire!
What would your superpower be? Or do you have a human quality that you consider to be a superpower?
I think kindness is the most important human quality – true, selfless kindness is a wonderful thing.
I experienced a lot of that when my parents were sick, often from unexpected quarters.
However, if we’re talking fantasy superpowers, I would like to be able to fly like a bird!
Are you currently working on any more books? If so, what do your readers have to look forward to in the coming months/year?
I am always working on another book!
I’ve been writing books for over 25 years and aim to publish two a year. It doesn’t always work out like that, as I don’t have complete control over what happens to my work, of course. But that’s how it’s averaged out so far.
I have a picture book and a non-fiction book coming out next year and I am working on a novel for adults.
I am also working on a short story to be performed as part of a larger theatre project here in Cornwall. And I have an idea for a new picture book and a middle grade novel tucked away at the back of my mind.
I hope I will still be writing books in another 25 years’ time.
Thanks so much, Anna. We’ve really loved finding out more about you!
‘Grandpa and the Kingfisher’ is published by Nosy Crow and available to buy now.
Next time, we interview children’s author Becky Goddard-Hill.