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Jackie Morris

How many books have you had published?
I have published 18 books, two both written and illustrated by myself. I have just finished another, Can You See A Little Bear, written for me by James Mayhew, a very fine illustrator and writer. I am currently working on another three and have a book about dragons waiting in the wings. There are times when I feel very confused, a little like a rabbit in the middle of the road, with too many things to do and too little time!

Did you write for fun when you were at school?
At school I always felt that although I loved stories what I did was maybe never good enough. My spelling was bad and I couldn't read aloud very well, making me feel stupid and slow. But I always loved stories and especially drawing. Picture books were a great escape for me.

Have you always earned your living as a writer? If not, what else have you done/do you still do?
My main focus has always been on working as an illustrator. I never thought I would ever be able to write for myself, but was persuaded to have a go. I love the place you go to in your head when writing is working. I have, of course done other things in the past to pay the rent, like washing up in a restaurant and working in shops, and other things, best not mentioned!

When was your first book published and what was it called?
My first book was commissioned the week before my son was born, in 1992.
It was written by Caroline Pitcher, published by Bodley Head and called Jo's Storm. It's out of print now but you can pick up second hand copies on abebooks.com if you are lucky.

Was it difficult to get your first book published?
7. I can't really remember. They are all difficult in their own ways.

Which is your favourite of your own books and why?
Mariana and the Merchild have beautiful characters in them. I enjoyed painting The Lord of the Forest by Caroline Pitcher.
It was a very different experience working on The Seal Children, which I also wrote. It is set in a real landscape very close to my home, so I would be deep in the story, painting the characters and the landscape and then walk through the real place hours later.
I also enjoyed working on How the Whale Became by Ted Hughes. But Can You See A Little Bear, which was published until Autumn 2005 was a true delight to work on.

Which is your favourite children's book written by someone else?
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, a book for all those who love books.
The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula le Guin, a real book about real wizards and dragons.
Secret Heart by David Almond
The Sterkarm Handshake and The Sterkarm Kiss by Susan Price. Wonderful, magical, violent, rich.
The Northern Lights Trilogy by Philip Pullman
Bear by Raymond Briggs, The Boy and the Cloth of Dreams illustrated by James Mayhew, The Singing Ringing Tree illustrated by Louis Brierley, and many many more.

How long does it take you to write a book?
A lot less time to write than to illustrate, though I would love to have the skill to balance the world of a longer novel inside my mind for the time it takes to create it.

Do you use a computer or write first drafts long hand?
I write with an ink pen. I think it is because I am an artist, and I like to see the ink coming out of the nib and onto the paper, and then I type it up into the computer and make changes.

Do you have a writing routine or do you just write when you feel like it?
Mostly I paint and I have to go hunting for stories, which I usually find when I am walking. I think the rhythm of walking helps chase the words.

Rewriting - do you love it or hate it?
So far I have enjoyed it. I think it is easy to fall into the trap of being to precious about the words we write, and many authors who are very well know and because of their commercial clout refused to be edited would benefit from some heavy editing at times. This is true of the adult publishing world as well as the children's.
    However, there are times when it is worth standing up for what you have written so that a committee of sales and marketing and various other people with great expertise do not turn the work that goes out into the public world with your name on it into something very far from the original commissioned piece.

Have you ever belonged to a writers’ group? If so, did it help?
No, but I am more of a lone sort of person than a pack animal.

Do you have an agent?
I used to have an agent, but I do not have one anymore.

Why do you like writing for children?
I don't write for children, I write for myself. The Seal Children is as much a book for grown ups as it is for children, although because it has pictures many people don't realise this. But some people get the idea. It is a love story, which I hope works on many levels, if it works at all.

How do you get your ideas?
By exercising my imagination in the same way that piano players practice every day, and footballers train. I make up stories, I question things, I am nosy and I like odd things.

Do you draw the pictures for your books? If so, which comes first - the words or the pictures?
The words come and the pictures with them and there is no first or second.
Illustrating other people's work, the words inspire the images, though with Can You See A Little Bear, James took a series of images I had enjoyed painting and wrote a simple text that I could explore and play with in the same style.
   Caroline Pitcher would often ask me what I would like to paint next, and then work up a text for me, and Viv French has written a book for me inspired by a painting I did of a woman and a bear.
   As well as writing and illustrating books I paint and exhibit work in galleries, and the paintings often have a hidden narative which I leave to the viewer to discover. Each person who looks brings their own story to each painting and there is no right or wrong story.

What advice would you offer anyone who wants to write for children?
Do not patronise, and never ever say the phrase "it's ONLY a children's book"
Like anything else, write from the heart.

Are you willing to do author visits to schools?
Yes. I will go anywhere, especially to remote Scottish Islands and International Schools. I charge Society of Author rates and travel. I will work with any age and can do painting workshops, murals, slideshows, masterclasses, face painting, writing workshops and talk the hind leg off a donkey. Contact me via my website.

Have you won any awards or prizes?
I won the Tir Na N-Og with Sian Lewis for Cities in the Sea and was in the top ten for the Children's Book Award Federation of Children's Book Group with Snow Whale by Caroline Pitcher. And I was nominated for a strange and bizarre award for Grandmother's Song by Barbara Soros, but can't remember the name of it now.

For more information about Jackie and her books, visit her website.

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