Continuing my children's book author interviews to coincide with 'StorySpark' at The Ark, Dublin, I'm delighted to have finally made it through 10ft snowdrifts to speak to the excellent Ali Sparkes who kindly stopped building snowmen to answer my questions. Ali's book 'Frozen in Time' was the winner of Blue Peter's 2010 'Book I couldn't Put Down' and 'Book of the Year' awards. Her most recent title, 'Wishful Thinking' was published this summer. Ali will be reading as part of the 'Once Upon A Time Adventures' session for 8-12 yr olds at The Ark this Saturday 4th December at 4pm. Click here for information and booking details.
Hello Ali, help yourself to a mince pie there. Now, firstly, we'd love to know how you got involved with writing children's books?
I worked in journalism for many years, as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor and in radio, and set out to get some scripts accepted by the BBC and other parties, after having some minor success with comedy vignettes on Radio 4 (Woman's Hour and Home Truths). I collected a lot of very nice rejection letters! In my early 30s I decided to make a real push for it and was advised to stop faffing about with scripts where the odds were so stacked against success and to try books. I did. Many, many rejection letters and hopeful but ultimately unfruitful meetings later, I finally got my first book deal with OUP in 2005.
Hurray! So, where do you get your inspiration?
All around me in ordinary life - I like to write about ordinary characters to whom something extraordinary happens. I love the contrast of normal with paranormal or extraordinary. When I was a newspaper reporter the best interviews I ever got did not come from celebrities but from ordinary folk who had experienced something life changing. Much more gripping!
So, how long did it take you to write your most recent book?
About three months. It's UNLEASHED: TRICK OR TRUCE, a 40,000 worder (ish) featuring Spook Williams, a character from my earlier Shapeshifter series. Have to say, though, that two months was spent faffing about, thinking, researching, hanging around with magicians and the like... and the last month was VERY fast writing. I tend to do it that way, although I wouldn't recommend it to everyone.
It wasn't Paul Daniels was it?! 'Story Spark' is such a great idea - how often do you participate in events like this where you read to your fans? Do you enjoy it, or do you get nervous?!
I've never done Story Spark before or anything quite like it. I normally have a whole author 'gig' - very interactive, with loads of props - but have rarely spent a lot of time just reading aloud. I will do a bit of interactive stuff, because just me reading for a whole hour is a bit dry... I have some 1950s fun up my sleeve for in between chunks of Frozen In Time. I won't say too much except this... there will be an opportunity to win a can of signed SPAM. OK... calm down everyone...
Ooo, I LOVE Spam - brings back very fond memories of school dinners. How important are events like 'Story Spark' in encouraging children to read and be excited about books.
Incredibly! Anything that makes reading special will help. Reading should be about pleasure, not duty. The learning is incidental, as the best learning always is...
Here, here. Before you go, please could you tell us what your favourite children's book is (not your own!), and why?
Very hard to choose just one, but in a fight between My Side Of The Mountain by Jean Craighead George, Brendon Chase by BB and The Whispering Mountain by Joan Aiken... Joan Aiken might just have the edge.
Thanks to Ali for her fantastic insights. If you fancy that can of Spam - or just want to listen to Ali reading and see what other tricks she has up her sleeve - why not join her on Saturday.