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Heather Dyer

How many books have you had published?
3 published as of 2006.
My first was a picture book, Tina and the Penguin, which was inspired by a newspaper article about a boy taking a penguin home from my local zoo, on a school field trip. I sent it off to a competition for writing for children, and was a finalist. This meant that it got sent to a publisher (Kids Can Press, in Canada) and was made into a book. Later, during a school visit in my home town, I met the actual teacher who had taken his class to the zoo, and who had spotted a penguin on the bus on the way home, and had had to turn round and take it back again!

Next, The Chicken House published The Fish in Room 11, about a boy who lives in a seafront hotel and finds a mermaid under the pier. The setting was inspired by the seaside town of Llandudno in North Wales, where I worked as a chambermaid in one of the hotels on the promenade. The Girl with the Broken Wing came next, about a winged girl who crash-lands on James and Amanda's roof in a storm. The Boy in the Biscuit Tin is due to be published in spring 2007.

Did you write for fun when you were at school?
Yes. And at home on the weekends. I think I started writing my own stories in an attempt to copy authors I had loved reading, like Enid Blyton and E. Nesbitt, to be able to continue being in their 'worlds'. I take some of my early attempts on school visits with me to show the children what I was writing at their age.

Have you always earned your living as a writer?
No. For years I despaired at ever finding a job I liked, or something I was cut out for. I must have had about 20 different types of job, travelled a lot, and felt a bit without a purpose. But now it feels as though it was all meant to be 'grist for my mill'.

When was your first book published and what was it called?
Tina and the Penguin started as a competition entry, which was published as a picture book as a result of becoming a finalist.

Was it difficult to get your first book published?
I did send a lot of short stories off to free magazines first, and got lots of rejections. Even after Tina and the Penguin was published I still got rejections for other picture books, and just kept sending things out hoping that I'd get lucky again sooner or later. I do have a thick wad of rejection letters, but some of them had helpful comments or asked to see other work, so I felt that if I kept trying I'd eventually get somewhere.

Which is your favourite of your own books and why?
Most authors would probably say that it's their latest one, or the one they haven't written yet, because you hope to keep on getting better with each book. At the moment, I'm attached to Hilary in The Girl with the Broken Wing, but I do have a fondness for the setting in The Fish in Room 11. You get so used to looking at the book as a 'structure' that it begins to take on three dimensions, like something you have chipped out of stone, and you can no longer experience it as a reader would.

Which is your favourite children’s book written by someone else?
Can I have three? The Magician's Nephew, by C.S. Lewis, or The Ogre Downstairs, by Diana Wynne Jones, or The Phoenix and the Carpet by E. Nesbitt.

How long does it take you to write a book?
A few months to get a finished fraft, which is usually laborious, a journey where lots of false turns are taken and things are completely rewritten, and then a few more months for edits etc.

Do you use a computer or write first drafts long hand?
Straight onto computer.

Do you have a writing routine or do you just write when you feel like it?
When I'm trying to meet a deadline I'll be up at eight, write until lunch, have a bite and then go back and carry on and then maybe even go back again in the evening. I get a bit consumed by it. Otherwise, maybe just mornings, but all the time I'm thinking and taking notes, even while watching TV or supposedly relaxing. I don't think I ever relax.

Rewriting - do you love it or hate it?
Love it - when the story is done I can breathe more easily. I like getting it as tight as possible, so there's not a word extra. I like it to be able to read well aloud. I like polishing it.

Have you ever belonged to a writers’ group?
Yes, and it was very helpful. I am greedy for criticism, and feel I can see immediately if the criticism is 'right' for my story. I feel it often takes someone else to point out the faults in my story first. The praise was a boost, as well! It was good to have to produce something each week, to read out, and reading aloud was a good confidence booster since I was so nervous at having to do it at first.

Do you have an agent?
Yes.

Why do you like writing for children?
It's just my voice, that's how it comes out. I loved age 7-11 myself, and believe that it is the 'golden age of reading'. There is such joy in being able to escape into another world where anything is possible and things are charming and magical.

How do you get your ideas?
I think they're inspired by magical places that I remember from childhood. Quirky characters in unusual situations spark the story, and it grows bit by bit.

Do you draw the pictures for your books?
No, Peter Bailey has drawn the illustrations for The Fish in Room 11 and The Girl with the Broken Wing.

What advice would you offer anyone who wants to write for children?
Write what you want to read, in your own child's mind. Read, and keep writing.

Are you willing to do author visits to schools?
Yes, I'm happy to do school visits. I can be contacted via The Chicken House, my publishers. Further information on myself and my books can be found on The Chicken House website at: www.doublecluck.com.

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