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Penny Dolan

How many books have you had published?
There will be fifteen books out by 2005, but I have about five other stories I'm working on.

Did you write for fun when you were at school?
I loved writing, and usually came top or almost top. Which was just as well, because I wasn't too good at much else - especially homework.

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

I've sold hats, entered up statistics and worked in a cake shop, yum yum. I've also been a primary teacher and loved teaching Art and Drama and English. I knew I'd never have time to be a writer that way so, when I moved to Yorkshire, I began storytelling and trying to write my books.

When was your first book published and what was it called?
My first book, which is back in print again, is called The Ghost of Able Mabel (Scholastic).

Was it difficult to get your first book published?
I struggled with some long, long stories and kept getting lost so they were all rejected. Then, one day, I got the idea for Able Mabel and everything went quite quickly after that! It was as if I'd found my writing voice. Maybe, one day, I'll tackle those long, long stories again and see if I can write them well.

Which is your favourite of your own books and why?
Every book has to feel like a favourite when I'm working on it, otherwise I wouldn't write it! I do like the characters of Jonas and Scraps in my three Rickety Hall books, partly because Scraps is based on one of my brother's dogs.

Which is your favourite children's book written by someone else?
I have so many books that are favourites, and so many authors whose writing I admire and all the time I'm discovering more favourites. So, sorry, I can't really choose!

How long does it take you to write a book?
Can't exactly say, because it varies so. Picture books depend on getting a good idea. Then a story will write quite quickly - maybe over a week - but I then have to go over and over the text to get rid of the 'clunky' bits. You can't hide a bad sentence in a picture book text! Chapter books take longer - maybe a couple of months, all in all - and need plenty of good thinking time, as well as actual writing.

Do you use a computer or write first drafts long hand?
A bit of both. I write by hand until I have the right voice in my head, and then I'll move to the screen. And I make lots of hand written notes as I type (or think) to remind me of this and that which will need to be put right. The computer slows down my writing to match my thinking, which suits me.

Do you have a writing routine or just write when you feel like it?
I make myself feel like it, I suppose! I write in intense, useful bursts of work and often over a long time. At other times, when I'm visiting schools, I have little energy left to put into writing - though I often get useful ideas when I'm with children.

Rewriting - do you love it or hate it?
I love it once the plot and everything is more or less settled, and you are just trying to make a story as perfect as can be. I also love it when I'm just starting off on a new idea. There's some struggling time between these two stages, but I have excellent editors who give me lots of useful comments.

Have you ever belonged to a writers' group? If so, did it help?
I have, and I run one, and it can be very useful, but I don't belong now. I have some good writing friends met at writers' groups and know a network of helpful children's writers which is fun.

Have you got an agent?
Yes as sums make me nervous.

Why do you like writing for children?
Because they are such an excellent audience.

How do you get your ideas?
By being nosey, listening to odds and ends of information, by watching what goes on around me, by reading books and so on. It's always important to push your ideas a bit - don't just go for the first easy peasy thought that comes into your head. See if you can think bigger and better or more interestingly, and especially if you can link that idea to another.

Do you draw the pictures for your books?
I can draw a bit, so I visualise my stories when I write, but I'm not good enough to be a real illustrator. Besides, all my illustrators bring their own skill and magic to my stories, and that is wonderful.

What advice would you offer anyone who wants to write for children?
Read all sorts of contemporary children's books, and be prepared to write and rewrite and rewrite some more.

Are you willing to do author visits to schools?
Yes, I do author visits, mainly to primary schools. There are further details on my website at

Have you won any awards or prizes?
My book The Tale of Rickety Hall was one of three shorter novels short-listed for the Children's Book Award in 2001, and The Ghost of Able Mabel was a World Book Day 'Recommended Read' in 2004.

To find out more about Penny Dolan's books,  visit her website

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