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Griselda Gifford

How many books have you had published?
29

Did you write for fun when you were at school?
Yes – I began a novel for children and finished it when I was 28! I also kept diaries and wrote poetry

Have you always earned your living as a writer?
I had my first short stories broadcast by the BBC when I was about 30 and my first book for children soon after but later on, I combined bringing up children, part-time secretarial work and writing.

When was your first book published and what was it called?
My first book, The Youngest Taylor, was published by The Bodley Head in 1963. It was illustrated by Victor Ambrus who has since become very well-known.

Was it difficult to get your first book published?
I sent The Bodley Head the novel I had begun writing at school – they didn’t want to publish it but asked me to try again. I based my first published novel on my mother’s family and their adventures but brought it up to date – and this book was accepted right away. Margaret Clark of the Bodley Head was very helpful and I am sure suggested alterations but I can’t remember any publication difficulties.

Which is your favourite of your own books and why?
The Story of Ranald – published first by The Bodley Head in 1968 and then republished by Canongate 1985. This was based on Ranald Macdonald’s own account, written when he was about eleven, of his escape after the battle of Culloden. My grandmother was a Macdonald and I inherited an old book written about the family. I did a great deal of research but tried to keep to Ranalds’s story as far as possible. The book had very good reviews – TLS and all!. I feel I have captured some of the feelings of children caught up in civil war and Ranald’s attempt to show he can be brave, even if he doesn't want to obey his father and become a soldier when he is grown up.

Which is your favourite children’s book written by someone else? This is a difficult one – I have so many favourites from the past and now from the present. The first book I loved so much that I hid in a hay-field and read in an afternoon, aged eight, was Black Beauty – but I loved The Wind in the Willows, the Mumfie books by Katherine Tozer, and many others, including many American children’s books, like Little Women. Of the recent books I have read, that I feel are extremely good is Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo – a book for teenagers. I also enjoyed Taylor Five by Ann Halam, You by Sandra Glover, Follow Me Down by Julie Hearn, The Shell House by Linda Newberry…sorry – there are so many I can’t award a first!

How long does it take you to write a book?
It depends how long the idea has been simmering in my head and if it needs a great deal of research. It also depends on other things – like keeping up with family and friends and going on holiday. The shortest time I have taken was one month because the publishers wanted the story in a hurry. The longest time was possibly Ranald – about a year.

Do you use a computer or write first drafts long hand?
I type at a computer but I like to do some work in long hand and sometimes write in a café or the library so I don’t feel guilty about dog walks or cooking etc.! I have found a computer a great help.

Do you have a writing routine or do you just write when you feel like it?
I try to write a certain amount each week but I am easily distracted until the book really gets going and I feel I can’t leave the characters stranded in thin air!

Rewriting - do you love it or hate it?
Sometimes I like it – unless there’s a new idea simmering I want to get on with. Rewrites following editorial advice can be tricky and sometimes annoying if I don’t altogther agree with the editor!

Have you ever belonged to a writers’ group?
I taught creative writing for a long time and some of my ‘pupils’ have become published themselves. I meet one or two of them and a friend who has written for TV and radio and we air our moans about writing (or publishers!) and sometimes read each other’s work.

Do you have an agent?
Yes, Pat White of Rogers, Coleridge & White

Why do you like writing for children?
I suppose because I haven’t altogether grown up myself! I have written for adults as well – and enjoy both types of work – when things go well!

How do you get your ideas?
They sometimes come out of nowhere but usually ideas are triggered off by a small event, or something that happened to me – or someone I’ve met. At the moment, I have just finished a story about identical twins who meet ghosts from the past, leading them to solve an ancient crime. The setting combines two local stately homes and parks and is centred on a sinister lake, The Silent Pool – the pool exists in Surrey – not here. I’m beginning a story set in the last war, using some of my own memories!

Do you draw the pictures for your books?
No. I do paint but not professionally.

What advice would you offer anyone who wants to write for children?
Please don’t think it’s easier to write for children than for adults – it isn’t. You have a critical audience and you are in competition with excellent children’s writers. Try to be original with good dialogue and characters and not too much description for children under 12. I have written the story for one picture-book and this was fun but it’s no easier than longer stories.

Are you willing to do author visits to schools?
Please contact Griseldagifford@AOL.com. I have already visited many schools over the years and would be glad to do more author visits or arrange workshops for the children. I would prefer to be be within a radius of about 50 miles from my home – which is in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire – but I can easily get to Birmingham or Northampton. I will talk to all ages up to 14 – my latest books are for children aged 10-14.

For a list of Griselda's books, visit her website www.griselda.co.uk

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