Wendy Meddour was brought up in Aberystwyth and spent many years teaching English at Oxford University. Her debut children’s book, A Hen in the Wardrobe, won the John C Laurence award for improving relations between the races and was shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award for an outstanding first novel. She went onto publish the bestselling & internationally acclaimed Wendy Quill series – and loves nothing better than writing rhyming picture books.
What was your favourite children’s book as a child?I’ve got lots. Something amazing happened when I read The Great Smile Robbery by Roger McGough, and Hunter Davies’ Flossie Teacake Strikes Back and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry The Little Prince were pure magic. And my dad used to read me fairy tales and poetry every night, so I can blame him for quite a lot.
What is your favourite children’s book as an adult?I’m always amazed by the wisdom of Winnie the Pooh. And Alice in Wonderland is a joy. Oh, and Chris Riddell’s Ottoline books are things of great beauty.
What do you think makes children’s books so inspirational?Children’s books are like extra-virgin olive oil: the finely squeezed bits that remain when all the rubbish has been thrown away. Children are the most exciting of all readers; they delight in honesty, imagination, and excitement - the refined stuff. So every word has to be there for a reason. This is what makes children’s books magic.
|Wendy (centre) at the launch party of 'How the Library (not the prince) Saved Rapunzel' with her editor - Janetta Otter-Barry and illustrator Rebecca Ashdown.|
Why did you start writing for children?When I was 33.
What made you want to write this book?I’d like to say I wrote it because I wanted to help save our libraries – which I absolutely do!!! But that’s not exactly the reason I wrote it. No. The honest answer is this: I wanted to write it because I had heat stroke and my brain wouldn’t let me think about anything else. You see, I was burning up in the top floor of a city flat in the Algeria. It was 52 degrees outside and the flat was surrounded by forest fires. It was probably some sort of coping mechanism – but my mind began to imagine that I was Rapunzel – stuck in the tower – with no means of escape. I could barely breathe. ‘How the Library (not the Prince) saved Rapunzel’ started to flow – I couldn’t stop it. Books and writing had always helped me in a crisis. Books would save Rapunzel too!!!! (And whilst I was writing like a loon, a Prince didn’t show up. But an old Berber lady called ‘Zarfa’ did. She put some bags of frozen chick-peas on my head and down my top, put my feet in a bucket of ice-cold water, and gave me lemon juice with honey to drink.) Slowly, my temperature came down and I survived to tell the tale. Quite literally. I came home in one piece. Just. And Frances Lincoln decided to publish the book.
What is your favourite aspect of writing for children?That there are no frontiers.
What is the biggest challenge in crafting a story with such a small word count?Getting it right, I suppose. Making sure it’s refined enough. And in my case, funny. I do like a little bit of humour.
Why did you choose Rapunzel as character to work with?I didn’t choose her. She chose me.
What are the challenges of using a well-established fairytale character?I don’t know. I didn’t think there were any.
What is your favourite fairytale and why?Not sure about this one. Fairy tales are wonderful, necessary, seductive things that do curious things with our imagination. They need to exist and most of them can send me into a trance. But they’re nearly always tinged with sadness. Or they end with a wedding and a prince! (Oh! Same thing. Hehehe). That’s why they need to be rewritten. With jolly, inspiring, heroine-centred endings. You know, like Rapunzel getting a job at the library and learning to play the bassoon!
‘So don’t just wait for your Prince to showHe might turn up but you never know.Pop down to your library and borrow a book –There’s SO MUCH to find out if only you look.But don’t just sit and wait and stare …When there’s more to life than growing your hair!’