What was your favourite children’s book as a child?That’s a hard question! There are so many to choose from. As a child, I used to get told off for reading in the shower and ruining my books. I was very dedicated.
There are two that really stand out in my memory: the first is Five Children and It by E Nesbit. I loved the Psammead (sand fairy) with his lumpy body and grumpy attitude and his eyes on stalks. He grants wishes to the children who dig him up, and they always backfire in some outlandish way.
My other childhood standout is My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. I was green with envy at Durrell’s unconventional life on the island of Corfu, enchanted by his descriptions of nature, and his family’s high jinks made me laugh my grubby knee-high socks off.
What is your favourite children’s book as an adult?Another tricky question. There is so much brilliant kids’ lit out there. I’ve read Phillip Pullman’s Northern Lights countless times and my family never tire of trying to work out what form someone’s daemon would take. Beware though – it may cause offence. Another favourite is Ross Wellford’s wacky, funny, touching Time Travelling with a Hamster, which incidentally also gets my vote for Best Book Title of All Time.
What do you think makes children’s books so inspirational?One of the great tragedies of growing up is that we’re encouraged to downplay the importance of imagination in favour of other, more ‘practical’ qualities. Kids’ books embrace imagination and celebrate its power to transport us beyond the confines of the everyday.
As life becomes more and more pressurised and kids are pushed to conform to society’s expectations regarding everything from passing endless assessments and exams to the way they look, children’s books are a portal to countless other worlds where they can live a million different lives. They have no limits.
Why did you start writing for children?When I finally got the courage to write fiction instead of essays, it never occurred to me to write anything else. I love the freedom and spontaneity of kids’ lit. It allows me to pour my overactive imagination and daft sense of humour into my writing. I still can’t imagine writing for adults and doubt that I ever will.
What made you want to write this book?My son had just gone off to university and I was moping around, biting my lip every time I passed his bedroom door, and I needed to concentrate on something else. I decided to stuff all my fears of failure into a little box, lock it away in a dusty corner of my mind and have a go at fulfilling my childhood ambition of being a writer. I’ve worked with kids for a long time and writers are encouraged to write about what they know, so a school was an easy choice.
When my son was smaller, he used to disconcert people who asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up by saying ‘an evil genius’. That got me thinking – what would a school for young felons actually be like? And what would happen if you got sent there, but you weren’t actually a criminal at all?
What is your favourite aspect of writing for children?Being able to give free reign to my imagination. I especially love concocting a rich history for Blaggard’s School for Tomorrow’s Tyrants. To me, the characters of Sir Thomas Blaggard, the school’s founder, who was born in a mud hut on the banks of the Thames and survived by eating stinging nettles and wrestling bears until he found his criminal feet, and Sally Masters, the eighteenth century Highwaywoman (nickname Blunderbuss Sally) and Foggarty and Spinks, the body snatchers, make the school what it is today. I also love thinking up situations that make me giggle.
Kate Wiseman is a wife, mother and cat minion who lives in Saffron Walden, Essex. Her many years experience of working in schools prompted her to begin writing about Blaggard’s School for Tomorrow’s Tyrants, the world’s best educational establishment for trainee villains.
Gangster School was shortlisted for several prizes and was published first in Germany, by Piper Verlag in October 2017. Piper has just released Gangster School 2: The Brotherhood of Brimstone and there are more to follow. Gangster School is also being published in summer 2018, by Uitgeverij, Holland.
Kate has a degree in English and Creative Writing and a Masters in English Literature. Gangster School is her first novel.