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Gwynneth Ashby

1. How many books have you had published?
Thirteen, several of which have gone into translations and US editions. I have written travel features for magazines, scripts for schools'radio and two children's television plays. I have also written a book (as yet unpublished) describing my life when teaching children on the remote Cape York Aboriginal Reserve and travelling by lugger up the Gulf of Carpentaria and around the Torres Islands.

Did you write for fun when you were at school?
Yes, I loved writing at school - I had brilliant English teachers throughout my school life. I wrote a 'book' when I was seven and my Godmother typed and bound it. I can't remember what it was about!

Have you always earned your living as a writer? If not, what else have
you done/do you still do?
At first I wrote while teaching in the UK, Australia and Fiji. Then after working as an educational editor, followed by a period giving talks to schools for the Commonwealth Institute, I went freelance. Now I have started my own publishing company ASHBY BOOKS and have written and published a book for 5-9 year-olds : We go to school in Japan. I hope to extend the series describing the school life of children in other countries.

When was your first book published and what was it called?
My first book The Mystery of Coveside House was published in 1946.

Was it difficult to get your first book published?
I was 19 and had chickenpox at college. Not allowed to work, I removed the lining paper from drawers and cupboards in the san and wrote the book in three weeks with a stumpy pencil. I typed the MS on an ancient machine (learning at the same time), then sent it to Hodder & Stoughton who accepted it and gave me a contract for two further books.

Which is your favourite of your own books and why?
The favourite of my books is Looking at Japan. I travelled (as I still do) with boots and rucksack from the northern island of Hokkaido to the Amakusa Islands off Kyushu. The book was important for two reasons: I decided to turn completely to non-fiction writing and it was also the beginning of my love affair with the Far East.

Which is your favourite children¹s book written by someone else?
My favourite children's book is The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett - a magical book with the atmosphere of India and the Yorkshire moors.

How long does it take you to write a book?
It depends. I spend at least three months in a country collecting material and taking photographs. Then probably another three months writing the book.

Do you use a computer or write drafts long hand?
I write first drafts long hand. I have only just transferred from typewriter to computer and am still learning.

Do you have a writing routine or do you just write when you feel like
I write in the morning until mid-afternoon although I may do other things later such as letters and sorting transparencies.

Re-writing - do you love it or hate it?
I always write too much so I have to do considerable re-writing. I also send my text abroad to be checked which often entails more re-writing. I don't mind as it produces a better book at the end.

Have you ever belonged to a writers' group? If so, did it help?
I once joined a local writers' group. It was interesting to talk over problems with other authors.

Do you have an agent?

Why do you like writing for children?
I used to read a variety of children¹s books to my young sister and when I started to write, children's books was an obvious choice. I¹ve loved travelling from an early age so writing geography information/project books is a way of combining travel with writing for children.

How do you get your ideas?
They just come - too many of them! A paragraph I wrote about the Library Boat in Looking at Norway led to a BBC Schools Radio programme and living on a cattle station in the Australian outback produced a children's television play.

Do you draw the pictures for your books? If so, which comes first -
the words or the pictures.
I draw charts and other items in rough for the designer, but take most of the colour transparencies for a book myself. Sometimes a transparency leads to text or a block of text will need a photograph taken to illustrate it.

What advice would you offer anyone who wants to write for children ?
When writing non-fiction make sure the text is clear and not too difficult. Study children¹s sections in libraries to see the current books in your subject. Discuss a proposed book with children in a local school and trial it with children before sending the MS to a publisher.

Are you willing to do author visits to schools?
I enjoy visiting schools and will go anywhere in the country - by public transport as I haven't a car. Age range 5 - 12 years. You can contact me
by e-mail:

Have you won any awards or prizes?
School by a volcano with three other books in the Schools Around the World
series won the Geographical Association Silver Award. After publication of Korean Village, I was awarded a Photographic Prize by the Korean National Tourism

To visit Gwynneth Ashby's website  click here

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