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Jane Clarke

How many books have you had published?
Over twenty now. You can see them if you click on the link to the books page of my website.

Did you write for fun when you were at school?
When I was in Year 2 and 3, I loved writing long stories about my dog, Tinker. But when a teacher started commenting on my awful handwriting and correcting my bad spelling, writing stopped being fun. I started writing again about six years ago.

Have you always earned your living as a writer? If not, what else have you done/do you still do?
I started writing full time in 2005. I’ve been an archaeologist and a history teacher, and for years I was a library assistant at Antwerp International School. It's thanks to a student there that I began to write for children. A Kindergartener was determined that somewhere in our library there must be a story about a princess and a bunny. Week after week, she asked me, and wouldn't take no for an answer - so in the end I gave up and wrote one for her.

When was your first book published and what was it called?
Plodney Creeper, Supersloth, is my first book, by a whisker. Plodney and Sherman Swaps Shells were published in the same month in 2001.

Was it difficult to get your first book published?
I’ve got a great collection of rejection letters, and lots of unpublished stories – I must have written over a hundred thousand words before finding my writing ‘voice.’ An Arvon Foundation writing course helped get me on the right track, find an agent and get published.

Which is your favourite of your own books and why?
My new picture book, Gilbert the Great.  Gilbert’s a Great White shark who wakes up one morning to find that his best friend has gone. It’s a story about loss, but it’s funny as well as sad, and it has a happy ending. Charles Fuge’s illustrations are wonderful.

Which is your favourite children's book written by someone else?
Dr Xargle's Book of Earth Hounds by Jeanette Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross.

How long does it take you to write a book?
It depends on the length. For a picture book, the ideas swirl around for a long time before they meet up with an extra dimension like a theme that makes me think 'that's it.' Then I write the first draft really quickly, often in a morning. I let the characters talk their way through the story. Over the next week, I try to improve it. Then, if I can restrain myself, I put it away for a bit. If I can't restrain myself, Celia, my agent, gets it straight away. The novels take much longer, of course, but I love the way you can lose yourself in a long story, and the hours fly by without you being aware of them.

Do you use a computer or write first drafts long hand?
I use a computer when I'm writing a story, but I have to write poems by hand, and the first draft is really scribbly.

Do you have a writing routine or do you just write when you feel like it?
I used to write when I felt like it, which was often, but a family tragedy relegated writing to the last thing on my mind. As I make a fresh start, I'm beginning to organise myself into a fixed writing routine on the days I am at home, and it's very helpful, giving the day a sense of purpose and achievement.

Rewriting - do you love it or hate it?
Nothing beats the feeling of getting to the end of a first draft and finding that a story works. I enjoy re-writing when I know that a publisher wants the story, and I love to work with an editor and see the story improve. My favourite re-writing involves scrumpling up balls of scrap paper and throwing them in the bin, as I go through draft after draft of a poem.

Have you ever belonged to a writers' group? If so, did it help?
Yes, and yes! I belong to SCBWI and there’s a terrific group in Brussels. I now belong to a writers’ group in Kent, and go to SCBWI conferences wherever/ whenever I can. It’s great to meet up with other writers and I find giving and receiving critique in these groups very useful

Do you have an agent?
Yes, Celia Catchpole took me on after I sent her copies of my rejection letters. She is very helpful and supportive.

Why do you like writing for children?
I've always loved children's books. I treasured them as a child, and my sons treasure the books they loved when they were small. We read them over and over and over again. Our most treasured books are dog-eared, sticky, stained and worn, and one is crinkly from being dropped in the bath and dried out. But and we wouldn't swap any of them for a new copy. I hope to write something that someone will treasure like that.

How do you get your ideas?
My family, pets, friends, and children at the school where I work are a great source of ideas, and none of them have sued me yet.

Do you draw the pictures for your books? If so, which comes first - the words or the pictures.
No, but I'm lost in admiration for those who can - and for the people who have illustrated my books.

What advice would you offer anyone who wants to write for children?
Don't get discouraged, keep going, for as long as you enjoy the writing. And it's not the end of the world if your work is rejected, so try and keep a sense of proportion when that manuscript comes thudding back through the letter box.

Are you willing to do author visits to schools?
I love visiting schools, especially Primary/Elementary schools, and I’m happy to travel long distances (including to International Schools outside the UK).

There’s more information on my web site, www.jane-clarke.co.uk

Have you won any awards or prizes?
One of my novels was shortlisted for the Fidler Award in 2000.
Gilbert the Great won prizes at the Sheffield Childrens' Book Award 2006 and the Norfolk Childrens' Book Award 2007.

For a list of Jane Clarke's books, visit her website at www.jane-clarke.co.uk

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