1. How many books have you had published?
Thirteen. Also, short stories have been published in magazines and anthologies.
Did you write for fun when you were at school?
I used to do some scribbling. I would start a notebook, feeling very important, fill about three pages, then lose it. What I truly enjoyed was writing letters, mainly to friends during school holidays and to an uncle who was in the army and stationed abroad.
Have you always earned your living as a writer? If not, what else
have you done/do you still do?
I did not earn any money this way until I had settled down seriously to writing. Before then, I had taught and had children. Once books were published, I began to do work both with adult groups and in schools giving talks and leading workshops. I have held a five month writing residence in Corby (Northants) and was awarded an Arts Council Fellowship in creative writing for two years to work in two small communities in Derbyshire. While doing these jobs, I was able to continue my own writing. Most of my other activity has been arts-related, much of it voluntary.
When was your first book published and what was it called?
1973 A Narrow Escape. It was published by Hamish Hamilton in their Antelope series of well produced little hard backs. They were illustrated, about 7,500 words, written for seven to nine year olds. In A Narrow Escape two children are given a hamster in the hope that it will be some compensation for moving house. Strangely, it is not unlike what happened to my children. The book is now out of print but there are still a few copies in libraries.
Was it difficult to get your first book published?
Not many people publish what is truly their first book and I am now relieved that mine never slunk into the shops. My first for children was accepted by Hamish Hamilton (see above) without reservations. I wrote it because an editor had seen some short stories and suggested I try an idea for their Antelope series.
Which is your favourite of your own books and why?
My favourite book is the one I happen to be engaged on. But I look back with pleasure to comedies that reflected my enjoyment of my own children's adolescence: Enter Tom, Grow up Cupid, and Moving In. However, I am equally fond of later books: Foundling, Undercurrents, Smoke Trail, because they are set in the Yorkshire Dales, country I love and where I like to tramp.
Which is your favourite children’s book written by someone
What a difficult question! I enjoy so many and often admire them greatly. Asked to selct one, I have to say, Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. It embraces so much.
How long does it take you to write a book?
The teenage books will take on average ten to twelve months. That is, from the first idea to the neat script reaching the publisher, so it includes research, re-writing and generally tidying up. Adult books, which are longer and have entailed a lot of reading etc. may stretch over eighteen months or two years.
Do you use a computer or write first drafts long hand?
I never write the first draft on a computer because I could not bear to look at a screen for more than two hours. I am more comfortable with a piece of paper in a typewriter. Sometimes I regress to a stub of pencil.
Do you have a writing routine or do you just write when you feel
Often there is no opportunity to write when I feel like it so a routine is essential. By which I mean, part of each day is set aside for sitting at my desk. I rarely start before eleven o'clock, then I go on till I am written out.
Rewriting - do you love it or hate it?
I am not sure how to interpret this but no English publisher has asked me to re-write a book. When comments are made, I always examine them carefully. I take note if the criticism is valid but not, if it is a matter of taste. However, the U.S. edition of Foundling (retitled Found) involved me in a great deal of work and irritation because I was asked to alter expressions which it was deemed would not be understood by the American reader. The term for them is 'Briticisms'. Yet they were part of the reason that the book had attracted the publishing contract!. On the other hand, the re-writing I do before the book is ready for my editor to read I find stimulating. It is very satisfactory to look at a new draft of a chapter and know that it is improved. Usually, I spend a lot of time on this.
Have you ever belonged to a writers’ group? If so, did it help?
No, I have not sought one. I would not wish to discuss my work. One of the first things I learnt was that talking about a book while it is still being written kills it off. The idea is dissipated by the talk; you cannot convey what is inchoate and fragile without risk of its being modified. Books are intended to be read. (I feel I should point that out when I'm asked to describe a book that is published, and add: Why not buy it?) A lot of authors would not agree with me about writers' groups, though. We all have to find what is best for our personalities and work.
Do you have an agent?
Yes. David Higham Associates, Ltd.
Why do you like writing for children?
Because so much is involved--the readers' level of maturity, interests, curiosity, knowledge, experience. These have to be borne in mind. And you still wish to remain true to your subject; that is why you have set about writing the book.
How do you get your ideas?
I cannot answer that in any meaningful way. By the time a book has begun to wash around, I have forgotten what started it. However, I do remember the origin of one quite clearly. My son told me how he had watched a friend cut his toe nails. His description was hilarious and some time later I realised that it had given me the idea for a book about a young girl's setting up in a flat. I wrote the book, Moving In, but nobody in it cuts his toe nails. The first particle of an idea is not always the most important, and there are a great many that are quickly discarded.
What advice would you offer anyone who wants to write for children?
Read as much as possible but that can also encourage imitation. To understand your reader, you need to get to know a few children. You could not have better models and they might even start a few ideas.
Are you willing to do author visits to schools?
Yes. There are details about this on my web site: www.juneoldham.co.uk
Have you won any awards or prizes?
Yes. An adult novel, Flames, won the Yorkshire Arts and Virago Press Fiction Award
and I have been awarded an Arts Council Writing Fellowship.
To visit June Oldham's website click www.juneoldham.co.uk