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Alison Leonard

How many books have you had published?
Fifteen

Did you write for fun when you were at school?
Yes, from around the age of 8. I’ve often wondered whether my memory of scribbling that story about a little girl looking after an abandoned fox-cub might be just a dream, but I’ve just met an old school-friend who said, ‘You were always writing. I remember when we were about 8, you wrote a story about a little girl and a fox-cub….’

Have you always earned your living as a writer? If not, what else have you done/do you still do?
I’ve worked in a children’s home and in a hospital, been a social worker and a waitress, I’ve sold furniture and books, and since establishing myself as a writer I’ve been a creative writing tutor all over the place.

When was your first book published and what was it called?
The Crest Of The Dragon, in 1975

Was it difficult to get your first book published?
Amazingly easy – the second publisher took it. Some of the later ones were more difficult – I don’t know why!

Which is your favourite of your own books and why?
It’s a play called ‘You’ve Got It Wrong Again, Gabriel’. I love it because it’s a funny play about a serious subject, Jesus and God and religion. Lots of different schools and churches have put it on, and each time it’s different. It was published by the Church of England, and apparently the bishops were giggling over it. It’s now out of print, but you can get it via my website www.alisonleonard.co.uk

Which is your favourite children’s book written by someone else?
At the moment it’s Philip Pullman’s trilogy ‘His Dark Materials’, and if I had to choose one of those three it’s the middle one, ‘The Subtle Knife’. The knife cuts a slit in the air, and you can climb through the slit into other worlds… Amazing.

How long does it take you to write a book?
Anything between five weeks and five years.

Do you use a computer or write first drafts long hand?
I used to write long-hand and then type it out, but the computer is so wonderfully easy that I write straight onto it. Except when I write a poem – that has to be done by hand and pen.

Do you have a writing routine or do you just write when you feel like it?
I love writing so much that I do it whenever I can, and when I’m not sitting at the word-processor I’m often thinking about my writing. My best thinking time is just as I’m going to sleep at night and just as I’m waking up in the morning.

Rewriting - do you love it or hate it?
Love it! I often write a load of rubbish first time, and it’s such a relief to be able to have another go at it the next day. (And the next, and the next….) Re-writing is another thing the computer’s wonderful at. In fact I’m re-writing these answers as I go along, and I’ll have another look at them after I’ve reached the end….

Have you ever belonged to a writers’ group? If so, did it help?
I belong to two networks of writers, and we meet formally at Meetings or informally over coffee or lunch to chat about writing and publishing. That’s really helpful. I have a few writer friends who I e-mail a lot, which is great, especially for moaning and groaning when some publisher doesn’t think I’m as wonderful as I think I am.

Do you have an agent?
No. I’ve had an agent in the past, and it was helpful to get me in touch with publishers. But now I do it on my own. I suppose I’m a bossy-boots really – I think I can deal with things better than anyone else. I like being in charge of my own destiny.

Why do you like writing for children?
Because it helps me find the child in myself.

How do you get your ideas?
Anywhere and everywhere. At the moment there’s an old caravan parked in my street. It’s all green and slimy and the curtains are drawn, yet the step is polished to a bright silver, so someone loves it. Why is it here, and what do they do in it? Is it a secret place to hide away? Do people use to for wicked deeds, or for happy times? There’s a story in there somewhere….

Do you draw the pictures for your books? If so, which comes first - the words or the pictures.
No. My horrible art teacher at school said I was no good at art, and I’m sorry to say he was right.

What advice would you offer anyone who wants to write for children?
Write. Write. Write. Then be brave and show your story to someone else. Then be even braver and listen to what they say about it. Then be braver still and re-write it – not exactly as they say, but as you think it should be when you’ve taken in what they’ve said and thought about it again. Then, eventually, at the 57th re-write, send it off to a publisher. And so on….

Are you willing to do author visits to schools?
I like doing school visits, and have lots of experience working in both primary and secondary schools. I don’t do readings, I do workshops, so I like spending a whole day or preferably two days in a school, working with fairly small groups. I prefer the north-west, because it means less travelling, but I’ll go farther away if it’s for more than a day. Schools can contact me on e-mail alisonleonard@frandal.demon.co.uk

Have you won any awards or prizes?
My play ‘Carrie and Wid’ was a winner in the Sacred Earth Drama Trust competition 1997, and my novel ‘Kiss The Kremlin Goodbye’ was part of a WHSmith promotion called ‘Real Books for Real Teenagers’.

For a list of Alison's books in print visit her website by clicking www.alisonleonard.co.uk

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