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Elizabeth Hawkins

How many books have you had published?

Did you write for fun when you were at school?
Yes! Between the ages of five to eleven I wrote constantly. After that homework, the curriculum and exams became too important, so I had little time for much else but school work.

Have you always earned your living as a writer? If not, what else have you done/do you still do?
After university I started work as a research assistant for the historian, Martin Gilbert. I then trained as a teacher and taught for several years in Oxford and California. In the US I became a free-lance journalist writing general interest articles. After I returned to England I became a specialist writer in the art and antiques market. It wasn't until I had children of my own that I tried writing books for children and found I enjoyed that area of writing most of all. I have since remained a writer for children.

I also teach Writing for Children classes and workshops at the City Literary Institute and at Birkbeck College, London University.

When was your first book published and what was it called?
My first book was published in 1977. It was called SUPERMUM, and was written jointly with another journalist, Katie Munro. It was not for children, but for Mums on how to survive life with the under fives.
My first children's book was JOHNNY'S SHIPWRECK, published in 1988.

Was it difficult to get your first book published?
It was a picture book and I was fortunate in that the first publisher I sent it to wanted it.

Which is your favourite of your own books and why?
My favourite is always the one I am working on at the moment.

Which is your favourite children's book written by someone else?
HOLLY AND IVY by Rumer Godden.
This goes in and out of print but I consider it a classic of children's writing.

How long does it take you to write a book?
A longer novel for older children may take up to a year.
A shorter book for children may take a two to three months.
A picture book takes a month.

Do you use a computer or write first drafts long hand?
I have taught myself to write directly on to the computer.

Do you have a writing routine or do you just write when you feel like it?
I write every morning from 10 to 1.00, and am quite disciplined about it. If you wait for when you feel like it you can wait for ever, because there's the washing machine to empty, that friend to ring… and you never get down to it.

Rewriting - do you love it or hate it?
Neither! It's hard work , essential, but very satisfying.

Have you ever belonged to a writers' group? If so, did it help?
I lead writers' groups and learn a lot from hearing other people's writing, but I haven't ever been a writing member of a group.
I believe writers' groups do help, especially when you are starting out and don't have much confidence in yourself as a writer. The support of the group and considered criticism of your work can be very helpful.

Do you have an agent?
Yes: Sarah Molloy at A.M. Heath.

Why do you like writing for children?
I'm not sure, but perhaps because I read so much myself as a child. (Up to five books a week!) I sometimes think that modern children's books have much more exciting story lines than adult novels, and they deal with more interesting ideas. Look at Philip Pullman's NORTHERN LIGHTS for a start. For original surprise twists to the end of the story you can't beat Anthony Horowitz's GROOSHAM GRANGE or Sharon Creech's WALK TWO MOONS. You don't often find that in adult books.

How do you get your ideas?
Everywhere…they're all around me. I got a character in one of my books from a man I saw on the down escalator of a tube station whom I passed as I was going on the up escaltor. I'm a compulsive hoarder of odd little items of interest from newspapers. I also love combing charity shops for old books now out of print.
I watch people and notice incidents that occur. I jot them down and tuck them away in my ideas file. The file is now several bursting files, most of which I will never use, but just sometimes I look through the files and come up with an idea…

Do you draw the pictures for your books? If so, which comes first - the words or the pictures.
No, I don't draw pictures. I don't even think I could draw a pin man. I did so much music at school that I was not allowed to do art, which I've always regretted. However I have a strong visual sense and see my stories unfolding in my mind like a film. I enjoy working on a picture book text. The text and pictures come into my head at the same time, but often the artist who illustrates the book sees a different picture.

What advice would you offer anyone who wants to write for children?
If you want to write for children, go for it! But don't expect overnight success. There may be quite a long haul before you get published and it may be discouraging. This is not time and work wasted because all through this you will be learning more about writing. It's like an essential apprenticeship. Stick at it.
The best piece of advice I was given by a highly successful writer, is to finish anything you start. This forces you to tussle out the problems and is the best way to learn. Constantly giving up and starting something else often leads nowhere.

Reading contemporary children's fiction is important too. You need to know what is being published today. Children's tastes and experiences change with each generation.

Are you willing to do author visits to schools?
I talk to children aged from 5 to 14, as I have written across the whole age range. I am prepared to travel anywhere; I love visiting schools in different areas of the country and abroad.

I can be contacted by Email:

Have you won any awards or prizes?
Yes; the Lancashire Book Award for SEA OF PERIL.

For a list of Elizabeth Hawkins' books in print  click here

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