Wednesday, 7 May 2014

3D review –Looking at the Stars- Jo Cotterill – author interview

What was your favourite book as a child?
I had so many! But there were two that made a big impression on me: 'The Ordinary Princess' by M M Kaye, and 'The Dark Is Rising' by Susan Cooper. The first one is a story of a girl born a princess but who is desperately bored by her duties and so runs away to become a kitchen maid in another castle. She also builds her own cabin in the woods. It combined my love of all things fairytale with my innate sense that girls wanted adventure and challenge, not just to sit around looking pretty. The Susan Cooper book has remained a firm favourite through my adult life too. It mixes Arthurian legend and dark magic in a modern setting and is simply one of the best children's books ever written.

What is your favourite children’s book as an adult?
That's an excellent question, and one I haven't been asked before! 'Holes' by Louis Sachar is a book I regard as absolute perfection in storytelling. The structure and characterisation are as polished and gleaming and perfect as a diamond.

Why did you start writing for children? 
I've always loved writing, and I've always loved children's books. I would prefer to read a children's book (particularly a teen or Young Adult book) than one written for adults. I'd like to think it's because children's books encapsulate great storytelling in its purest form, but possibly it's because I haven't quite grown up yet.

What is your favourite aspect of writing for children?
Meeting them. Kids are directly enthusiastic and emotional about books in a way that adults aren't. School visits are always so exciting and rewarding. I have to say though that I also love the quiet creative magic that happens when I'm writing a book.

What do you think makes children’s books so inspirational?

Children aren't fully formed. Their opinions and knowledge wavers and changes, and they are so open to new ideas. It is a real privilege and challenge to write for children because your book can have a powerful impact on a young mind. All adults will recall stories they read in childhood. The stories we read then can quite literally change our path through life, and that's very exciting.

You are best known for your ‘Sweethearts’ series of books. ‘Looking at the Stars’ is quite different. What made you want to write this book?

I wrote 'Looking at the Stars' before I'd even had the idea for 'Sweet Hearts'. At the time the news was full of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it made me wonder what qualities a child needs to come through such horrors. I started writing it without any real idea of where it was going, and discovered over the years (as it went through various re-writes) that it was becoming my vehicle for saying so many things about my belief in the importance of imagination. 'Looking at the Stars' is, if you like, the closest I have yet come to expressing what is most personal to me in a wider context. Family, loyalty, compassion, generosity, independence of spirit and being able to see beyond yourself: these are all things that matter greatly to me and that's why 'Looking at the Stars' is a book of which I am very proud.

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