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Sunday 18 September 2011

Interview: Author Anna Branford

KBR warmly welcomes author Anna Branford with this fabulous interview on her writing processes and her adorable junior fiction character Violet Mackerel.

What inspired you to write for children?
An easy answer is that I know lots of incredibly interesting children who give me all kinds of inspiring ideas.

Another easy answer is that I loved reading as a child and wanted very much to contribute something back to the field of children’s literature.

But the most truthful answer is that the kinds of ideas I most like thinking and writing about (small things, for example) seem to fit best within the genre of children’s books.

What other genres have you written in?
The other sort of writing I do is academic, non-fiction writing, where I’m very inspired by writers like Alain de Botton and Steven Pinker. Even in that genre, I seem to end up writing mainly about things like fairies and Santa Claus! But it’s a much more argumentative, analytical kind of writing that comes at the ideas from a different sort of angle.

Tell us about the delightful Violet Mackerel. Is she based on anyone?
I think she is quite a mixture of people I know, with a few small bits of myself blended in. Her theories are definitely mine, but she is much braver than I am – much better at doing courageous things like talking to people she doesn’t know and singing on the radio.

She gets that trait from a handful of children I know and admire because they are brave and bold in exactly that way. And I am sure her funniness comes from my sister Kate, who is one of the most hilarious people I have ever met.

Why do you write?
I find writing an excellent way of ordering tangled thoughts, and I am a very tangly sort of thinker. I read a lot (probably a bit too much) and I also have really interesting friends, so I seem to live in a constant stream of new ideas.

It is very relieving and satisfying to put some of them down on paper, figure out what the connections might be and then shuffle them into a kind of order. For me, both academic writing and children’s writing work in that way.

Have you experienced writer’s block or any other obstacles on your writing journey?
My main obstacle at the moment isn’t really writer’s block, its more the strange feeling of having to yank myself in and out of different worlds a bit too abruptly. Maybe it could be called ‘part-time writer’s leap’?

As well as writing, my other job is lecturing at a university, so sometimes I spend my morning giving a lecture and answering questions about a complicated sociological theory and then I have to sit down in the afternoon and work on a fairy story. I enjoy both parts of my day very much, but sometimes the flying leap between them is difficult to make.

What advice do you have for others wanting to write junior fiction?
My best advice is read lots and lots of junior fiction, drawing from two main pools of books – your own childhood favourites and the new titles in that same field. I think it’s the best way to figure out the right sort of pacing and vocabulary for this age group and a great way to absorb the kinds of ideas and themes that work best.

It’s also just a lovely way to really immerse yourself in a completely delightful genre of books.

Who is your greatest influence on your work?
Well, drawing from the two pools I just mentioned, Beverley Cleary, who wrote the Ramona stories and Joyce Lancaster Brisley, who wrote the Milly-Molly-Mandy books. Those are my own childhood favourites. My more contemporary influences would be Lauren Child and Sally Murphy.

Which books did you read as a child?

At the youngest age I can remember, I read Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Margaret Mahy’s Lion in the Meadow. When I was a bit older, besides the Ramona and Milly-Molly-Mandy books, I loved absolutely anything by Enid Blyton.

Then when I was a bit older still, I loved Philippa Pearce’s Tom’s Midnight Garden and Lucy M. Boston’s Green Knowe books. Then the Anne of Green Gables series and the What Katy Did books and finally Judy Blume’s books, which always had the longest waiting lists of any books in the school library!

What is a typical writing day?
I wish I had one, but in reality most of my writing is done in stolen moments - on the train on my way to and from work, at cafes on the weekend and on my laptop in bed in the evenings.

So I will tell you instead what my perfect writing day would be, even though I don’t have them all that often.

Ideally, I would spend the morning reading. Then I would do a few hours of gardening or sewing or felting – something that keeps my hands and mind busy so that all the new ideas I’ve been reading get to know each other properly.

And then in the afternoon, without any interruptions at all, I’d write and write and write.

Which cartoon character most represents you and why?
I’m not sure if it really counts because it’s more of a comic than a cartoon, but I’m going to say Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes. When he is by himself, his stuffed tiger (Hobbes) comes to life and they have amazing conversations and adventures and play really good tricks on people. But whenever anyone else is there, Hobbes becomes just a stuffed tiger again, so no one believes him.

I think Calvin could represent any children’s writer who is longing to persuade the world that the world is an awful lot more exciting and interesting than it sometimes seems.

Where can we learn more about you?
I have a website with a blog that I update as often as I can, at annabranford.com. And Violet has her own website - violetmackerel.com which is definitely worth a nice long visit, too.

Anna's third Violet book - Violet Mackerel's Natural Habitat - is out 1 November. See the Walker Books website for more.