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Andrew Donkin

How many books have you had published?
Somewhere just over thirty, with five or so finished but yet to come out. The age range varies from seven through teen and they include both fiction and non-fiction. Many of them have a slight slant that I'm told gets boys reading them.
There are full details of all my books at my own website, www.andrewdonkin.com as well as covers, spreads from the inside of each book, author questions sent in by kids, a gallery of children's art (send some from your school and it'll get put up!), as well as more author bio nonsense, and heck, even my dog's got her own page!

Did you write for fun when you were at school?
No, I was more of a reader. I didn't write many stories because I didn't enjoy it. I was (and still am) the worst speller in the entire world and was always in trouble for it with my teachers. So bad spelling combined with terrible handwriting, didn't make writing stories a joy - at least not when it came to getting them marked. I read madly though, books, magazines, American comics, anything I could get my hands on.

Have you always earned your living as a writer? If not, what else have you done/do you still do?
I have a degree in Nuclear Physics & Psychology, but I've never used it to get a job. (Which is strange, considering how really practical it would be.) I started writing when I graduated, so no I've never had a 'proper' job in my life.

When was your first book published and what was it called?
The first children's book I had published was COLOUR ME CRAZY in the very lovely Collins Colour Jet series and it came out in 1996.

Was it difficult to get your first book published?
Not madly. But then I was published in other places first. An editor at Collins had seen some of my comics stuff for Marvel & DC Comics and asked me if I'd like to come up with an idea for a book range that she was launching and so I did.

Which is your favourite of your own books and why?
When writers talk about their books being like children and not being able to pick one favourite, it's true. However, like kids I think that the first one is always that little bit special to you (and maybe your secret favourite), so I'd have to pick COLOUR ME CRAZY from Collins - although lots of the other books have special memories for many different reasons.

Which is your favourite children's book written by someone else?
There are so many and for so many different reasons. If I had to pick just one for being fantastically and utterly marvellously written then I'd choose THE MOUSE AND HIS CHILD by Russell Hoban. Everyone has their favourite, but to me this is just such a brilliantly well-crafted book. You can see just how much care and thought has gone into the placing of every single word on every page. Manny Rat is surely one of the best villains in children's literature. Ever. If only Mr H. would finally publish 'The Return of Manny Rat' the long-promised follow up.
I have a signed copy of Mouse and his Child on my bookshelf and if there was ever a fire and I could only grab two things on the way out, I'd save that and my dog.

How long does it take you to write a book?
A short book like THE BUGMAN might take, say, two months from start to finish. For a book like ALIEN ENCYCLOPAEDIA, which took a lot of research, it might take longer to write. The longest I've ever spent writing a book was the time it took to create DEAD GIVEAWAYS - a book about murders, detectives, and solving crimes. I interviewed policemen, scientists, and psychics for the book and it took a long time to get all the research together - before I could even start writing.

Do you use a computer or write first drafts long hand?
Both. Often when I'm starting to think about a story I'll sit and work out the plot longhand using pen and paper in the old fashioned way. After I'm up and running though, I tend to write straight on to the computer. This is especially true, when I'm late with a deadline and editors are about to start shouting at me. (Which is most of the time, but what can you do?)

Do you have a writing routine or do you just write when you feel like it?
The only thing that ever makes me do any work is deadlines and poverty. Like most children's writers I have plenty of both.

Rewriting - do you love it or hate it?
Depends. Put it this way, it's easier than writing from scratch. At least when there's something on the page you can improve on it. And in a way, the worse it is, the easier it is to improve on. I do like editing - both my own work and other people's. My favourite kind of rewriting is rewriting other people's stuff. I write my children's books alone, but my good friend Uncle Ronnie is my co-writer on TV scripts and the like. One of the best feelings is getting work from other people, and being able to see straight away what bits exactly work, and what bits exactly don't. And then fixing them. That's so much fun, it's hardly work. Of course, I never tell Uncle Ronnie this and always insist I've spent days sweating over a hot keyboard working out where he went wrong.

Have you ever belonged to a writers' group? If so, did it help?
I did once about a million years ago. Just after I had finished my degree and signed on the dole and started to write. I figured that I'd need some structure to the week having been in full time education for so long and then suddenly being faced with nothing but blank pages everyday. It did help at first (it wasn't for children's books or anything - I can't remember what it was actually on.) But after about a term and a half, I realised that most people there were more interested in talking about what they were going to write than writing what they were going to write.

Do you have an agent?
Yes, and she's a treasure, bless her little cotton socks.

Why do you like writing for children?
Before I wrote children's books, I wrote many children's comics, and now I also write scripts for children's TV. Most of the ideas I get, and most of the ideas I'm interested in, just seem to fit better into children's stories than anywhere else.

How do you get your ideas?
Ideas are ten a penny. The difficult bit is knowing which of them can be grown and shaped into a full protein-packed story and which are just time wasters.

What advice would you offer anyone who wants to write for children?

1/ Read.
2/ Read more.
3/ Read carefully and study authors who you really enjoy and admire.
4/ It's harder than writing for adults. (You can get away with murder in a long adult novel. If you're ever lazy in a kid's book then you're dead in the water.)
5/ Don't test what you've written on your own kids or your own class. Of course they're going to love it - DOH! They're your kids! Try entertaining strangers.
6/ Don't worry about publishing trends at all. By the time your own book's ready to jump on the bandwagon, it'll have stopped rolling.
7/ Write whatever you like, but make sure that you write it for you. If it's good, other people will like it too.

Are you willing to do author visits to schools?
I really enjoy school visits and I've done many of them as well as running writing workshops in the last few years. I'm not taking on anymore now because time is just too tight at the moment.

Have you won any awards or prizes?
Yes, and I'm still very proud. When I was 12, I won a much sought-after Blue Merit for my top dollar result in the school Chemistry exam.

For Andrew Donkin's Website,  click here

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