Quote of the Week:
“‘Thou shalt not’ is soon forgotten, but ‘Once upon a time’ lasts forever.”
—Philip Pullman, 1996 Carnegie Medal acceptance speech
Abi Burlingham has had six children’s books published, two with Autumn Publishing, and four with Piccadilly Press. The Ruby and Grub series, aimed at 2-6 years, was published in 2010-2011, and Buttercup Magic: A Mystery for Megan, for 6-9 years, was published in April this year.
NT: Abi, tell us a little about yourself and where you’re from.
AB: I live in Derbyshire, in the UK, more or less slap bang in the middle of our little island. I teach English to adults when I’m not writing, have two children, and a rescue greyhound who races up the garden like a mad thing and ruins the lawn. I love listening to music and often do so when I write. I like bats and frogs and birds, meadows and trees, the sea, fish finger sandwiches, cheesecake, and fluffy socks. I like being spontaneous and I like surprises!
NT: Nice! And the Hound is my favourite! How long have you been writing, and who or what inspired you to write? Why did you choose your genre?
AB: As a child, I was always fascinated with words and making up songs and rhymes – often very silly ones about members of my family (much to their disgust!). As a teenager, I wrote a lot of poetry, mainly as a way of expressing myself, as I was a very shy child. I found writing poetry very cathartic. It allowed me to examine my emotions and channel them creatively. In my mid-twenties I started entering poems into competitions, then, in my early thirties, having had my first child, I decided to focus on writing children’s picture books. I suppose I am a multi-genre writer as I now write poetry, picture books, books for older children (Buttercup Magic: A Mystery for Megan, is aimed at 6-9yrs) and am currently co-writing a novel for adults. I love the challenge and diversity of writing different things. As to my inspirations, my parents always had a lot of books around, including poetry, and I’m sure that made an impression on me. Stories such as C.S. Lewis’s, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and programmes such as Noggin the Nog, really fired up my imagination as a child. As a teenager, the poems of Sylvia Plath, and a biography on her, really inspired me to take my writing more seriously.
NT: Really interesting early influences there. I love the diversity of your writing. So, how did you come up with the title of your book or series? Give us an interesting fun fact about your book or series.
AB: Ruby and Grub, the first in the Ruby and Grub series, was originally called ‘Bea and Grub’, but the publisher realised that people might read, or hear, the title as ‘Bee and Grub’ and might think it was about insects, hence the change to Ruby and Grub! Grub is based on our old dog, Rosie, who was a little monster – very loveable but very naughty! In Ruby and Grub, Grub digs under the fence to escape. This is based on Rosie escaping under three fences and turning up in a neighbour’s garden, much to the neighbour’s horror! The title for Buttercup Magic was based on the golden dog, Buttercup, and the fact that he and the other animals have special skills, with just a little bit of magic
NT: I’m a dog lover, so I’m just loving how you’ve featured them in your books. And who doesn’t like a dash of magic? I’m curious about your cover art. Who designed it? Why did you choose that particular artwork?
AB: The artwork for the Ruby and Grub books was done by illustrator, Sarah Warburton. She was chosen by the publisher, Piccadilly Press, who felt her artwork would be ideal for the stories. It really is too. She manages to capture the humour beautifully in the facial expressions of the characters. The cover for Buttercup Magic: A Mystery for Megan was done by an artist at Piccadilly Press, who published the book.
NT: She’s done a wonderful job. How do you promote your books? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?
AB: The publisher does a lot of promotion, sending books out to reviewers etc. I promote my books via Twitter and Facebook, where I have an author page. I find school and library visits work really well as a way of promoting my children’s books. These give me an opportunity to bring the books to life by developing interactive activities based around the stories. Children engage with these and take away memories of you and your stories.
NT: What are you working on? What can we expect from you in the future, i.e. more books in the same, or a different, genre?
AB: I am currently co-writing an adult contemporary novel which I have almost finished. I have also written some new picture book stories, a manuscript for 6-9 years and one for 9-11 years, and have done a first draft of a young adult novel. I’m also working with another writer on some books for 8-11 years, which combine fact and fiction. I have plans for another adult novel once this one is completed. I hope to continue to hop from one genre to another. To me, this is what writing is all about.
NT: I agree. Author Ray Bradbury stated that we should “write every day.” On that note, who is your favourite author and what is it that really strikes you about his/her work?
AB: My two favourite authors are Peter Carey and Markus Zusak. I find their writing quirky and original. They are both masters in story telling and create the most wonderful characters. Markus Zusak’s, ‘Book Thief’ is one of my all time favourite books.
NT: I need to check them out. So, E-book, hardcover, or paperback?
AB: Paperback or hardback. I don’t read e-books. They have their place, but I like the feel, the smell and the tactile nature of an actual book.
NT: A woman after my own heart! Abi, what advice would you give to a new writer who wants to become a children’s author?
AB: Research your genre first. Read a good book about writing for children; there are loads available, but I would recommend ‘Writing and Illustrating Children’s Books for Publication’, by Berthe Amoss and Eric Suben. Also, read books for the age of children you wish to write for and think about how they work and which elements you like. Look at publishers’ websites to find out their submission details and which books they are currently publishing. Write with originality and empathy, and make your voice shine through. Armed with all of this, you’ll be in a much stronger position to write a good manuscript that publishers will like.
NT: How can we contact you and find out more about your books?
AB: I have a website at: www.abiburlingham.talktalk.net and can be contacted via that. There are details of my books there and lots of other useless information about me! I write a blog post every Friday, via my website. I can also be followed on Twitter at AbiBurlingham and have a Facebook Author Page: Abi Burlingham. More information about me and my books can also be found via my publisher at: www.piccadillypress.co.uk
NT: Any last thoughts for our readers and your fans?
AB: Always keep your mind open. Break boundaries. Be brave enough to do things differently. Have the courage of your convictions and gain inspiration from life, from people and places and from those magical moments that are so easily missed.
Great advice on which to end. Did you enjoy this interview as much as I did? Please share in the comments.