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Elizabeth Arnold

How many books have you had published?
I have had seven books published so far. Four for children aged from about ten. (Mammoth) (Quite popular with adults too, I've been told.) Three designed for youngsters about seven years old and up.(Mammoth Story Books) 

Did you write for fun when you were at school?
Absolutely not! I wasn't the ideal pupil. We moved around a lot and I hated school.
However, once instructed to write, I was away. I enjoyed creative writing so much that my fingers couldn't keep up with my brain and so I used to miss whole chunks out. This meant my efforts were not always appreciated! I wasn't too hot on spelling either.

Have you always earned your living as a writer? If not, what else have you done/do you still do?

By the time I started to write seriously I was almost a granny. I worked as a science technician for most of my life, either in schools or in the food industry. I ended up as a Quality Control Manager. I have worked in a fish shop too. I learned to fillet fish, which was useful, but the job was just too smelly.

When was your first book published and what was it called?
My first book was called The Parsley Parcel, and published first as a hardback by Heinemann. My first, and probably last hardback! I was lucky, it was short-listed for the Whitbread Children's Award. It became a Mammoth paperback in 1996 and was reissued in1998. That year too, it became a Chivers Children's Audio Book read by Nerys Hughes. This year, Film and General Productions Limited, are turning it, into a television series for ITV. The heroine is Freya, a Romany girl with magical powers.

Was it difficult to get your first book published?
I found a publisher on my second attempt. I didn't actually write The Parsley Parcel for children. I wrote it because I loved the folk law involved, which is quite adult really. So, I sent it first, to an adult publisher, I can't remember who, and they sent it back. Then I realised that my heroine was a child and not too many adult books have child led plots. I sent it to Reed Books, now Egmont Children's Books, and it was accepted.

Which is your favourite of your own books and why?
The favourite, when I'm writing, is always the one half in my mind, and half scribbled on paper. I have to be totally involved. When I am between books, my heart returns to The Freya Trilogy. Without Freya, I would not be a writer. I have to love her most.

Which is your favourite children's book written by someone else?

I always come back to Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Why? Because it was the first book I became truly aware of, from the age of about two. My father used to read it to me at bedtime. I insisted. Through this one book, I learned the joy of reading and being read to, the fun of poetry, and the delights of wonderfully imaginative adventures. There were the most wonderful colour-plates too, and through them, I learned to 'see' in my mind.

How long does it take you to write a book?

It depends whether you mean, write, or edit. The initial idea for a small book might only take a few days, but the editing can take up to a year. Double this, at least, for my books for older children. And that's before my editors add their contributions! But all the hard work is worth it, I think, in the end.

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

First drafts -long hand, always. I think there is still some 'magical' connection between the fingers and the brain. At a more scientific level, typing induces a greater tendency to 'cut and paste.' With hand written scrawl, it is much easier to chuck a bad bit of writing into the bin and start again. I'm convinced that this method produces a more even flow. 

Do you have a writing routine or just write when you feel like it?
I'm an instinctive writer, breaking most of the advised rules. I write when I'm driven, never when I'm angry or sad, unless I know I can tap into those emotions at that part of the story. I think the reader knows instantly when you're not 100% with them.

Rewriting - do you love it or hate it?

This is a bit like the school essay answer! I hate starting. Once I pick up my pen, or open my file on the computer, however. I love it! I always end up thinking 'Why couldn't I see to do it that way the first time?' There's something very satisfying about seeing a work steadily improve. I'm lucky with my editors too, they've learned how to 'play me.' They tend to drop hints rather than give orders, and sooner or later, I usually bite.

Have you ever belonged to a writers' group? If so, did it help?

I still belong to two! The first, I joined when I had almost completed The Parsley Parcel and wasn't sure if I had the nerve to do anything with it. It took me a whole month to summon up the courage to phone the Writers' Circle.-that's how scared I was! I remember them making me read aloud. I wanted to curl up and die. Now, I am so grateful to them. Because of that basic training, I can read my books and speak children and adults alike. I'm an associate member now, and still go to the parties!

In the village I now live in, we have a small circle. Writing can be a lonely business. It's nice to meet other writers, published or not, and exchange ideas, hopes and dreams.

Have you got an agent?
Yes, David Higham Associates.

Why do you like writing for children?

Children are less constrained. With children's books, there is so much more freedom to spread your wings and imagine. Children, are much more capable of walking beyond the obvious, more emotionally dynamic maybe. I enjoy reading children's books most too, for the same reasons.

How do you get your ideas?
I let ideas 'come to me.' I empty my mind, not too difficult, some say. I walk with my dogs in The New Forest, or doze idly in the bath, or cut the hedge, even allow myself to wake up very slowly, and suddenly the idea flips into my head and I know which way I want to walk. Though the idea might not totally gel, for some time.

Do you draw the pictures for your books?
Me, draw? :-)

What advice would you offer anyone who wants to write for children?
Don't talk down. Don't lose heart. Don't give up. With a little talent and a lot of determination, you can do anything.

Are you willing to do author visits to schools?

I visit schools and do talks. Visits are arranged through my publishers.

e-mail contact :-
Telephone:- 020 7761 3500
Post:- Egmont Children's Books Ltd
          239 Kensington high Street
          W8 6SA . 

 Have you won any awards or prizes? 
1995 The Parsley Parcel shortlisted for the Beefeater Children's Novel Award
(Whitbread Children's Award)
1997 Gold and Silver Water short-listed for the Nasan Special Educational Needs
Spin of the Sunwheel Nominated for the Carnegie Medal 1999

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