How many books have you had published?
Thirty-four published and one or two stories still sitting in a drawer. (Must get them out and re-read them!)
Did you write for fun when you were at school?
I started writing poems when I was fifteen and I have continued to do so on and off throughout my life. I am sure my teachers would be astonished if they knew I was a published author now. I didn’t start writing to any purpose until I was in my mid twenties and then I wrote plays for children and the radio. Writing books came a little later.
Have you always earned your living as a writer? If not, what else have you done/do you still do?
I was passionate about the theatre and when I left school I was lucky enough to be accepted at the Central School of Speech and Drama. I went straight from Central to Leicester to work for the Flying Phoenix Theatre in Education Team where two other team members and I wrote a play together called Rumble and Dump which we put on for schools in the theatre at the end of the year. I played a character called Sophie who was out to save the world from the dastardly Garbage Gobbler. It was a terrific success and I realised that I could act and write. The two go well together as all actors have breaks when they are resting. Those breaks made good writing time. Mostly now I write children’s fiction and scripts and visit schools to talk about writing and run workshops, which I really enjoy. Very occasionally I do a voice over or some dubbing but mostly I have left acting behind.
When was your first book published and what was it called?
My first book was published in 1980 and called Heggerty Haggerty and the Dreadful Drought.
Was it difficult to get your first book published?
No, I was very lucky. I had a few Heggerty Haggerty stories, my first ever prose stories, in a folder and a friend took them and gave them to her cousin, a children’s book editor. I was extremely fortunate that the editor liked them.
Which is your favourite of your own books and why?
A difficult question. I always think it’s a bit like asking a mum which is your favourite child. I love my characters in different ways. I’m very fond of Heggerty Haggerty, Broomstick and Blackcat as they were the characters that first got me writing stories. But I also love, the Nellie and the Dragon characters as I talk about them a lot when I do a school visit. Then there is Magic Pony! When I was young, like Natty in the stories, I always wanted my own pony but my family couldn’t afford one. A magic pony would have been perfect! When I was grown up I bought my first real pony, Hot Spot, and modelled Midnight Dancer on her writing six books set in Wales where I lived for some years. Oh dear, it’s impossible, I simply can’t choose.
Which is your favourite children's book written by someone else?
Recently, I have got so much pleasure and excitement from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy and have read Northern Lights several times. But a great favourite is Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice which I have been reading regularly on and off since I was a teenager. I would love to have known Elizabeth Bennett, her sharp wit and poise under duress is wonderful. Imagine being able to put Lady Catherine de Burgh in her place as she does with such ease and fluency. And then there is Mr Darcy!
How long does it take you to write a book?
It depends on how long the book is. When I am writing seriously, that is I have got beyond thinking and note taking, I try and write a thousand words a day. That’s the first draft. Then there is the rewriting – several months and more for a long book.
Do you use a computer or write first drafts long hand?
I start with lots of handwritten notes and scribbles. Then when I start page one I may begin it in long hand but usually I try and write straight onto the computer as it does save typing the story in later. I redraft on the computer.
Do you have a writing routine or just write when you feel like it?
I have a definite routine. Up and walk the dog with notebook in pocket, with luck get brain going and good ideas for the days writing. Then back home, feed dog and self, up to attic workroom and get started. I can’t stop until I have written my thousand words. I may be finished by lunchtime, a good day, or still be at it at eight o’clock in the evening. If I don’t get my thousand words down then that’s a bad day.
Rewriting - do you love it or hate it?
I used to love it but now I find if I’m not careful I become obsessive and don’t move on with the story. I find it’s easy to spend hours re-writing the bit I’ve got. So I have to be a bit careful and keep going with the story. When the story is written then I can go back and really set to work.
Have you ever belonged to a writers' group? If so, did it help?
Yes, I have belonged to a writers’ group and it did help. The only problem was that I was the only person writing for children so in the end I left but it made me much more conscious of what I was doing and I learned a lot. Now I am trying to forget all about technique, having become a bit rule bound, and get back to writing a good story.
Have you got an agent?
Yes, my agent is Sarah Molloy at A M Heath.
Why do you like writing for children?
I like writing for children because I can tell stories about anything. I can use myth and magic and revisit places in my memory and imagination. There is nothing better than being able to entertain and engross. I strive to write stories that I would have enjoyed when I was young and I certainly enjoy them now. I suspect there is a part of me that has never grown up.
How do you get your ideas?
The best ideas usually arrive when I least expect them. I always have a notebook with me so that when they pop into my head I can write them down. Sometimes I sit and think hard and sometimes I bat ideas about with friends, particularly when I am stuck. There is much around me to trigger ideas, the children I meet in schools, also, the myth, magic and fairy stories that I read. All these tumble around and pop up again in my imagination. I often start with a character and when the character appears, I ask myself questions about them. That way I can build up the world they inhabit.
Do you draw the pictures for your books?
I wish I could draw pictures for my books. I have lots of pictures in my head.
What advice would you offer anyone who wants to write for children?
Read all the books you can get your hands on and look at what other really good writers have done. And write! Notes, stories, poems, anything. Have fun with words and get a good dictionary. Joining a writing group can be very supportive and help keep you at it.
Are you willing to do author visits to schools?
Yes, I do visits to Primary and First and Middle Schools. I can be contacted via my email address and there is more information on my website. I am happy to go anywhere in the country.
To find out more about Elizabeth Lindsay's books, visit her website.