Following on from yesterday's reviews of Is it a mermaid, today we have an interview with the wordsmith who brought us Benji, Bel and the dreaming Dugong, Candy Gourlay.
What was your favourite children’s book as a child?
This is always a difficult question because I read and loved SO MANY books as a child. Many of the books were school issue readers – I went to a convent school so we were given hardback, colour illustrated books called Cathedral Readers. They were anthologies of stories that ranged across many genres. My dad also liked to buy books from the door to door encyclopaedia salesmen (did you have those in England?) ... and he once bought a collection called the Collier's Junior Classics, which excerpted the best children's book of the time. One story I loved was The Twenty One Balloons by William Pene Dubois – about a secret, high tech society living on Krakatoa before it erupted. I loved the illustrations and all the tech invented by the characters, like pneumatic beds that could be pumped up high (through ceilings that slid out of the way) so that children could go to sleep with a view of the night sky. There were many problematic things about the story – such as the absence of Indonesians on an Indonesian island. But as a child, I simply loved the adventure of it!
What is your favourite children’s book as an adult?Another tough question! But I have to say I love Frank Cottrell's books, especially Millions, about a boy who finds a holdall stuffed with millions of pounds and then he has to spend it all before the UK joins the Euro (sadly, now the stuff of fantasy as Brexit looms). The characters were so lovable and the writing was clever and engaging.
What do you think makes children’s books so inspirational?There is always a warm heart beating inside a story written for children, a hopefulness that you might not discover in a book written for adults.
Why did you start writing for children?I wanted to become a writer on the day that I fell in love with reading. I actually remember the moment and the feeling when I realised that the characters on a page were telling me a story. Everytime I write I remember the explosion of delight I experienced on the day I read my first book, and I've always wanted to recreate that feeling for other children.
Do you think about how the pictures will work with the text as you are writing?Yes I do! When I write picture books, I often begin by drawing comics – I did a comic strip for a weekly magazine a long, long time ago – and I draw until the story begins to emerge. And only then do I begin to fashion words.
What is the biggest challenge in crafting a story with such a small word count?The small word count is an exciting challenge and because I love to draw, I don't mind surrendering punch lines to the illustrator. The biggest challenge, really, is not creating the story but creating a story that fits the needs of a publishing market that is limited by its reach and the expensive risk posed by every picture book because nobody knows what story will capture the imaginations of the most readers.
"Candy Gourlay gave up writing picture books for novels after years of rejection. She is over the moon to become a picture book author at last with Is It a Mermaid, though her novels have been listed for many prizes including the Waterstones, Blue Peter, the Carnegie and the Guardian Prize. Her third novel, Bone Talk, will be published in August."