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Joan Poulson

How many books have you had published?
Including those I have edited, around fifty on a variety of subjects.

Did you write for fun when you were at school?
Yes, I used to invent worlds of fantasy but I've always written for fun. Writing is probably my favourite activity

Have you always earned your living as a writer? If not, what else have you done/do you still do?
I taught in primary school for a very short time (teaching is impossibly difficult!). I also organised a small play-group for a while but have earned my living as a writer only for the last eight or nine years with the facilitating of writing courses providing much of my income. I've run writing workshops in hospitals, schools, on summer play schemes in inner city areas (and in New Mexico). I have worked with children at the Voice Box at the Royal Festival Hall and facilitated writing courses for the Arvon Foundation and at Schumacher College, Dartington. Recently I've been Writer in Residence on the national arts/environmental project 'Onetree' which has involved over seventy artists and craftspeople. My book Onetree Singing will be published this August by Blackthorn Books.

When was your first book published and what was it called?
My first book for children was a poetry collection Celebration published in 1995 by the international children's charity UNICEF.

Was it difficult to get your first book published?
UNICEF made it very straightforward. They were extremely supportive and made the whole process a joy. All the money raised from publication went directly to the charity and everyone, from printer to graphics designers and illustrators gave their work as a gift.

Which is your favourite of your own books and why?
Usually the most recent and I particularly like the variety of pace and subject of poems in my last collection Pictures In My Mind (Hodder Wayland 1999) with wonderfully witty illustrations by David Roberts. But I grew to like the characters so much in my novel Dear Ms (A and C Black July 2001) that this must be first choice.

Which is your favourite children's book written by someone else?
Currently it's Philip Pullman's magnificent The Amber Spyglass but a long-standing favourite is Alan Garner's The Stone Quartet. I have a great love of picture books so would want to include anything illustrated by Maurice Sendak or Raymond Briggs, Jane Ray, Michael Foreman, Anthony Browne......

How long does it take you to write a book?
This varies enormously and I frequently have a residency running in tandem. I'm not a fast writer but I like to write every day and to date it has taken anything from six months to around eighteen months to complete a book.

Do you use a computer or write first drafts long hand?
Always long hand to begin with then I combine computor with pen on paper for further drafts. The pen must have black ink although the thickness of the nib can vary.

Do you have a writing routine or do you just write when you feel like it?
I feel uncomfortable and edgy if I'm not writing most days. I like to begin as early as possible in the morning and work until I feel completely satisfied with my output. This varies hugely as the first draft of prose will flow quite smoothly for hours but editing is a much slower process.

Rewriting - do you love it or hate it?
Love it! I adore having a weekend in which to shut myself in my study (having first made sure that there is a delicious selection of food and good coffee in the house) switch off all telephones and edit. I take breaks to walk in the sunshine or turn up the central heating, make coffee, dance, do yoga......and edit. It's especially pleasing to work on poetry, puzzling and playing until the perfect word is found, making sure that there is nothing superfluous but each word is working hard. (No drones in Joan's poems!)

Have you ever belonged to a writers' group? If so, did it help?
Yes, I have but not with children's writers. I belonged for almost ten years to a small, closed group, all professional writers and poets. Two of the group also write radio drama, one short stories, several write reviews and for academic journals. The monthly meetings, which we manage only infrequently now, were hard-working, the criticism tough and honest. We knew and respected each others work, recognised that anything less than rigorous criticism would be pointless but it was also made positive and supportive. I think groups such as this where the attitude is generous and professional can be invaluable.

Do you have an agent?
Not at present.

Why do you like writing for children?
Because children are so honest, often more open to new ideas and usually a lot more fun. I find it very challenging to write for children because they are so direct and discerning But I also believe that children are incredibly important. They have so much potential and are too often let down by adults. I am thinking around this as I write, haven't been asked this question before and perhaps what I'm trying to say is that children deserve the very best we can give them. That is the challenge!

How do you get your ideas?
Oh, this is a difficult question and I think I must say from anywhere and everywhere! I think it's useful to try to be open to anything floating by and ready to take hold of it, very lightly. But curiosity is useful and I have always been curious. As a child I spent a lot of time with my profoundly deaf grandfather. He encouraged me to be observant - to keep my eys and ears open. I find that ideas often come when two or more images (aural or visual) collide to create a spark.........

Do you draw the pictures for your books? If so, which comes first - the words or the pictures.
No, sadly I only do the words - but working with words is so satisfying and can be equally colourful and rich-textured that I wouldn't want life to be different.

What advice would you offer anyone who wants to write for children?
I find it difficult to 'give advice', have too much to learn myself. That said, it is important to know how children think and feel about things. It isn't enough to have had your own children or to work with children. Perhaps the important quality is empathy but it can be useful to find out what children are reading: look at the few reviews of children's books in national newspapers, talk with buyers of children's books or managers of that section in the large bookshops and read what is recommended. Then read what appeals to you. This can be helpful but it won't tell you how to write. I think the same things apply to writing for children as for adults - write as if you are writing for any intelligent audience, don't patronise or 'write down' and most important of all - enjoy what you are doing. If you don't....

Are you willing to do author visits to schools?
I rarely have time to visit schools but (because I do enjoy reading my work to children,my favourite audience) can sometimes be persuaded to give readings and mainly in the north of England. I can be contacted though my publishers: Hodder Wayland or A and C Black or by email: (where I can also be contacted for more information on my new book Onetree Singing.

Have you won any awards or prizes?
I have been awarded a Writing Bursary by Arts Board North West and numerous prizes for my poetry in Canada, the U.S.A and in this country.

For a list of Joan Poulson's books in print  click here

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