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Sheila Lavelle  

How many books have you had published?
Over fifty titles, plus another thirty or so in reading schemes for schools 

Did you write for fun when you were at school?
Yes, all the time. Stories, plays and awful sentimental verse.  I had a brilliant English master who gave me a lot of encouragement and got me reading Dickens by the time I was twelve.

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

I worked as a clerk in an office in Newcastle first. Then, after marriage and two children, I trained as a teacher and taught for ten years. 

When was your first book published and what was it called?
1977 Ursula Bear published by Hamish Hamilton and still in print!

Was it difficult to get your first book published?
It took fifteen years of trying different stories and different publishers with nothing but rejection slips as a result.  A home-study course was the vital breakthrough and taught me not how to write but how not to!

Which is your favourite of your own books and why?
My Best Friend was my first attempt at a longer children's novel.  I enjoyed the opportunity to develop the characters more fully and it has turned into a series of six titles.

Which is your favourite children's book written by someone else?

Undoubtedly Winnie-the-Pooh. I still can't read it aloud for laughing.

How long does it take you to write a book?

A picture book text for four-to-six year olds may take as little as two days. A 25000 word 'Fiend' novel could take up to a year or longer.

Do you use a computer or write first drafts long hand?

I jot down notes as bits of the story and characters occur to me and keep them in a folder.  When I feel I've gathered enough material I start drafting them on the computer. 

Do you have a writing routine or just write when you feel like it?
I have to stick to a routine or nothing gets finished.  About three hours each morning is my normal writing time.

Rewriting - do you love it or hate it?

I love editing, pruning and polishing each draft until I can't improve it any further.  What I detest is rewriting to suit a publisher's house style (destroys one's individual voice) or to correct a copy editor's mistakes.

Have you ever belonged to a writers' group? If so, did it help?

Yes, one. No it didn't.

Have you got an agent?
I tried one once with a batch of stories of which Ursula Bear was one.  She sent them back saying there was no demand for 'fantasy' or 'magic' but would be happy to look at anything else I had to offer.  She happened to be in the Hamish Hamilton office when the proofs of that title were being checked.  She phoned me at once, furious that I should presume to offer my work to a publisher without her say-so, and demanding her 10% commission!

Why do you like writing for children?

They have a great sense of humour!.
Do you draw the pictures for your books?
No, I wish I could.

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

1 Read, read, read.  Dissect what you read. Read aloud to hear the rhythms and cadences in the language.
2 A home-study course should be invaluable - most of us are the worst critics of our own work
3 Consult the Writers and Artists Yearbook to find out who wants what.  Individual publishers will send you a list of their guidelines if asked.
4 Aim your work at a specific age group and make the vocabulary level, word length, subject matter etc. appropriate.  There is a vast difference between writing for readers of  four to five and ten to eleven
Are you willing to do author visits to schools?
I am sorry but I am unable to do these at present. 

For a list of Sheila Lavelle's books in print  click here

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