Friday, 6 January 2012

Dance Together Dinosaurs

'Strictly Come Dancing meets Jurassic Park.' That's how Jane Clarke's latest children's picture book has been described. It's a toe-tapping tale with a twist as a host of dinosaurs compete against each other in a dancing competition. But why do the judges keep disappearing?

You'll have to read the book to find out. But I'm delighted to say that children's author Jane Clarke is here today to provide the answers to some different questions - about her writing, her ideas and collaborating with illustrators among other things.

If, like me, you've ever admired the verve and skill of those bedtime stories that are your nightly reading then the chance to ask one of the people behind some of the most popular children's titles of recent years just what it takes was too good to resist. I voluntarily restricted myself to half-a-dozen questions, although I could've gone on all afternoon. Anyway, here's what Jane had to tell me.

What inspired you to begin writing books for children? Where have subsequent ideas for stories come from - is there a consistent source of inspiration or is each book different?

Over 10 years ago, I was working in a school library reading stories, and helping children select books. A little girl called Jasmine asked me week after week if I had a book that was about 'a princess, rabbits and shopping.' She was so persistent that in the end I made up a story for her, and that opened the floodgates for loads of other boys and girls to ask me to create stories for them to order. It was a lot of fun and eventually I started writing down  stories and went on courses, learning the craft from wonderfully generous people like Pat Hutchins and Tony Bradman. Subsequent ideas have often come from  family experiences and I've had great pleasure turning my sons into elephants, sharks, dinosaurs and other assorted wildlife.

Some people seem to think that writing books for children is something of an easy option. How 'easy' is it compared to other forms of writing?

I've never tried other forms of writing,  but I suspect that finding the idea for a children's book is as difficult for a children's writer as for an author of adult fiction. But I have to admit, I don't need to spend that many hours sitting on my bottom actually writing it :-)

You've produced well over twenty books over the course of the last ten or so years. Do you have you a set writing 'routine' or is your approach flexible?

I'm most productive in the morning, so I try and write then and do office work later . It's great to get out on author visits to school and I always try to seize the moment if something interesting comes up. Working for myself means I can always make up for it by writing at weird hours of the night if I have a deadline. 

You've also worked with a variety of illustrators in your career, including Charles Fuge and now Lee Wildish. How much influence do children's authors have over the choice of illustrator and what is the secret of a successful collaboration?

The publishers choose the illustrator, and I've been very lucky to be paired with such talented illustrators who bring the idea to life and enhance it in so many ways. I think the secret of a successful collaboration is for the author to be flexible enough to adapt their text to the illustrators work once the pictures start coming in.

Several of your books have a nautical flavour or setting (I'm thinking the 'Gilbert' titles and things like 'Eye, Eye, Captain and Sherman Swaps Shells). Is the sea important to you in some way or is this just coincidental?  

Coincidental - but I do love the sea and am lucky enough to live close to it. Today it's a lot greyer and stormier than a picturebook ocean!

Finally, what advice would you give a would-be children's author? And - on a similar note - what's the single most important thing you've learned in your career?

The answer is the same to both - write with joy and enjoy the process.

Jane's latest book - with fantastic illustrations by Lee Wildish -was published yesterday by Red Fox Picture Books (ISBN-13: 978-1849410137) is available now priced £5.99 in bookshops, on Amazon and at The Book Depository.

It's a bedtime boogie!

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