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Tim Bowler

1. How many books have you had published?
Five. They are:
  Dragon's Rock
  River Boy
  Storm Catchers

Did you write for fun when you were at school?
Yes, I've written since the age of 5. I wrote stories, poems, comics, mostly in my spare time.

Have you always earned your living as a writer? If not, what else have you done/do you still do?
I've had lots of other jobs. I was a forester, I worked for a removals firm, I worked on building sites, I was a teacher. At one time in my life, I drove an ice cream van. I also worked as a translator from Swedish to English and still do a certain amount of that, though not as much as I used to.

When was your first book published and what was it called?
My first book was published in 1994 and was called Midget.

Was it difficult to get your first book published?
Quite difficult. I found an agent (the legendary and brilliant Gina Pollinger) and she sent the manuscript round five or six publishers, all of whom turned it down. She then sent it to Ron Heapy, the editor at Oxford University Press, and he accepted it.

Which is your favourite of your own books and why?
I don't have a favourite. I feel differently about each book but don't like one more than the others. They were all both exhausting and rewarding to write.

Which is your favourite children's book written by someone else?
I love so many books it's hard to choose just one but I suppose if I had to do so, it would be one of Arthur Ransome's books from the Swallows and Amazons series. I love them all but out of the twelve I have a particular fondness for We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea. It's got lots of action and develops the characters beautifully and even with its slightly corny ending, I think it's a wonderful book.

How long does it take you to write a book?
It varies but on the whole takes me about a year.

Do you use a computer or write first drafts long hand?
I do everything on a laptop computer. I used to write longhand, then in my early twenties I started using an old portable typewriter but from my mid-thirties onwards, I've used a computer for the entire process. I love the laptop because I can work just about anywhere and I now have a very light model which gives me maximum flexibility.

Do you have a writing routine or do you just write when you feel like it?
I don't work to set hours but to set targets. These are usually numbers of words written or edited, depending on what I'm doing. I'm a very disciplined person and can write almost anytime and anywhere to meet my daily target but my happiest routine involves getting up around 4.30 to 5 in the morning, starting work immediately and getting to my target by about mid-morning. If I'm up later, I try to make sure I've met my target by midday. If necessary, I work on into the afternoon.

Rewriting - do you love it or hate it?
I love it and it's just as well because I have to do so much of it! Books never come out right first time with me. I wish they did but they don't. Midget took ten complete drafts and some chapters were rewritten up to fifteen times. But it's worth it when you see the work starting to flow. You just have to get your head down and do it.

Have you ever belonged to a writers' group? If so, did it help?
I have never belonged to a writer's group.

Do you have an agent?
Yes. My agent (after Gina Pollinger retired) is Caroline Walsh of David Higham Associates and she's great.

Why do you like writing for children?
I don't write specifically for children. I'm marketed as a writer for young adults because my books are about young adults but I actually write primarily for myself. I never think about a target audience. I just write the stories that move me and hope someone somewhere will like them. I love the fact that young people read them. They're so blunt in their responses, so refreshingly honest. It's a real privilege to get letters and e-mails from young readers. I also receive a large amount of correspondence from adult readers, and that's a great privilege, too.

How do you get your ideas?
There are more ideas for stories floating around than there are particles of dust but you have to go hunting for them. It's a question of seeing the story potential in daily events, asking yourself questions like "What would happen if such and such a person got caught in such and such a situation?" Sometimes someone you meet sets off an idea; sometimes it's an event in the news, or in some anecdote you've heard. Sometimes a place sets your imagination racing. Sometimes you can just combine characters and places and objects. A park; two boys playing football; a basket with a baby in it left by the drinking fountain. Suddenly you have a scene and with it the potential to make a story. How did the baby get there? How will the boys react? The more you work those ideas, the more they will work themselves and move the story on in new ways. The big thing is to be alive to what's going on around you and inside your head, and to be creative about what you see and hear and feel, and willing to explore your ideas. You'll go up lots of wrong avenues in the process but if you keep at it, eventually the story finds its true north and you're away.

Do you draw the pictures for your books? If so, which comes first - the words or the pictures.
So far my books have not had pictures.

What advice would you offer anyone who wants to write for children?
Decide on which age you want to write for and read books written by other authors who have been successful with that age range. Then put those authors aside and focus on your own ideas and your own voice. Just get stuck in and have a go. Don't write down to young people, don't assume they can't appreciate subtlety and don't think for a moment they can't handle tough issues. They're a sophisticated audience with an instinctive nose for bullshit and moralising and they like to have a good story with convincing characters and a plot that keeps moving (don't we all?). If you keep telling yourself that your reader has a low boredom threshold, you'll probably produce a good story, whether it's for children or adults.

Are you willing to do author visits to schools?
I do lots of author visits to schools and thoroughly enjoy them. I mostly work with pupils aged 11 to 16, though I do occasionally go to primary schools. I live in Devon so obviously the visits I like most are the ones where I can get there and back home the same day. I do, however, do quite a few visits that involve staying overnight somewhere, though obviously they cost more for the organisers. The best way to contact me is via my publishers (Oxford University Press, Publicity Department) or my website

Have you won any awards or prizes?
I have won the Carnegie Medal (1998), the Angus Book Award twice (1999 and 2000) and the Lancashire Children's Book of the Year Award (2000). I have also won the Boekenwelp Award (in Belgium) and the New York Library's Book of the Teen Age.

For details of Tim's books, visit his website

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