Our coffee-break interview this month is with anthologist, food writer and children’s author Ella Risbridger.
We find out a little more about Ella, including what she feels are the key ingredients for a good children’s book plus everything about her latest anthology: ‘And Everything Will be Glad To See You’.
Interview with Author Ella Risbridger
When you were growing up, did you have a favourite author? Which books did you love to read most?
I don’t know about a favourite but loved lots of classics, like The Secret Garden. And I was (and am!!) also a huge Jacqueline Wilson fan.
I really loved collections and anthologies and had a treasury of best children’s writing I still dip into from time to time. And lots of ‘My First poetry Book’ type books; which I loved for introducing me to so many new things.
You’re best known for your food writing, combined with adult life stories, but what do you think are the key ingredients for a good children’s book?
I think, actually, it’s about taking kids completely seriously.
I think you have to be fully prepared to engage with your readers with the exact same respect that you would have if you were writing for adults.
Ultimately, I don’t think I write very differently for people who are ten or people who are forty or people who are eighty.
I write basically like I speak. Which means I am always tripping over myself slightly to tell the story I want to tell, but that my register doesn’t really change.
Also, I think kids are very capable of understanding big complicated things in life: they aren’t stupid. They see the world around them, they see in some ways more clearly than adults.
When I write for kids, I always want to give them the words and structure to make sense of the concepts and ideas they have already noticed. That’s the only difference.
We loved your kids’ novel ‘The Secret Detectives’ do you have any plans to write more stories in this series?
Watch this space!
How did you develop a story — from the scrap of an idea — to a fully fledged novel?
With enormous difficulty and a lot of faffing around.
Actually, I spend months of every year just sort of flitting about like a bee, gathering a bit of nectar from here and a bit of nectar from there, a bit of story here, an idea there, and then– with luck– it sort of…turns into honey.
What a horrible metaphor, I’m sorry!
Anyway, I develop it by making myself sit down in a chair and forcing myself to write down all my beautiful impossible ideas into scrappy words.
And then I edit.
For ages and ages and ages.
You’ve curated a few anthologies; do you enjoy the process of gathering together a collection of stories and poems, just as much as you enjoy writing your own?
I love it even more. Writing is hard; writing a real book is very hard!
But being able to surround myself with other people’s beautiful work is a dream. I feel so lucky.
Tell us about your latest children’s poetry anthology ‘And Everything Will Be Glad to See You’
It’s a beautiful collection of poems by women and girls, illustrated by clever Anna Shepeta.
I think it’s a perfect “just had a baby” present, and I really hope it’s the kind of book you’re given at your christening or whatever and then you’re still dipping into in your teens and beyond.
The illustrations are so beautiful, and the poems I hope are the kind that will see you through life: stick in your head, and see you through.
How difficult was it to select this particular collection of poems? Are there any others that you wished you had included?
There is one poem, by Elizabeth Bishop, called The Art Of Losing and, ironically, losing that poem was really hard to bear.
But Elizabeth Bishop, maybe rightly, refused to let her work ever be reprinted in single-sex collections; and we had to respect her wishes.
But that poem! It’s so beautiful!
I hope my readers come across it elsewhere, because I love it so much.
Our favourite poem from this collection is Christina Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’; do you have a favourite?
I think it’s actually on a page quite close to Goblin Market! It’s ‘The Orange’, by Wendy Cope, for pure joy.
I also love May Swenson’s ‘The Centaur’, the most grown up poem in the book, because I feel you can read it on one level when you’re eight and another level when you’re sixteen and another level when you’re thirty two.
Probably another level again when you’re sixty four!
Of everything you’ve ever written — both published and non-published work — what are you most proud of, and why?
Oh, what a question!
You always have to believe the thing you’re working on right now is the best thing you’ve ever done, so let’s hope!
What do your fans have to look forward to in the future?
Again, watch this space! I’m having a bit of a break from announcing anything.
My latest cookbook came out just in May, and now this one is out today, and so I’m having a little bit of time off to figure out what to bring out next.
Hopefully, we’ll have lots of fun with this poetry book in the run up to Christmas, and after that…well, I’m still writing every day.
So let’s see what happens!
Thanks so much Ella. It was lovely getting to know a little more about you.
‘And Everything Will Be Glad To See You’ is available to buy now from Nosy Crow.
Watch this space to see who we interview next!