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Katherine Roberts

Did you write for fun when you were at school?
Yes. At primary school, I used to fill whole exercise books every time we were asked to write a story… luckily, I had a wonderful teacher called Mr Sheen who encouraged me to do this and gave me new books to write in without complaining about how much paper I was wasting! But my original stories were not written down - I used to make them up in my head and tell them to my little brother at bedtime.

Have you always earned your living as a writer? If not, what else have you done/do you still do?
To pay the bills, I've programmed computers, helped Engineers with their maths, looked after and exercised racehorses, sorted potatoes, stacked straw bales, dusted shelves in a pet shop… all of this eventually ends up in my books in unrecognizable ways!

When was your first book published and what was it called?
1999 - SONG QUEST, which won the first Branford Boase Award for an outstanding first novel for children.
The Award also honoured my editor, Barry Cunningham, highlighting the importance of the editor in guiding a first-time novelist to publication… Barry, it should be noted, was also responsible for guiding JK Rowling with "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone".

Was it difficult to get your first book published?
Very… but mostly because it took me such a long time to realize that I was a children's writer! (I thought I was a SF writer and spent many years sending short stories to magazines that sent them back because they weren't serious enough.)

Which is your favourite of your own books and why?
The next one, because that's the one I'm not going to ruin when I write it. It'll be perfect, it'll win all the prizes, it'll be loads better than all the books I've written so far, it's got a brilliant idea, it's going to be FUN to write and FUN to read, and I'm not going to get stuck at all… Oh dear, maybe next time!

Which is your favourite children's book written by someone else?
Difficult, since I keep reading and finding books I like better. When I was a child, I loved Elyne Mitchell's "Silver Brumby" books. As an adult, I think the prize has to go to Philip Pullman's "Northern Lights"… so far!

How long does it take you to write a book?
How long is a piece of string?

Do you use a computer or write first drafts long hand?
I use a computer to do the first draft and then print it out, edit it, type in the changes, print it out, edit it, type in the changes, and so on until it's finished… I have to force myself to send it off, otherwise I'd go on doing this forever since I'm never completely satisfied.

Do you have a writing routine or do you just write when you feel like it?
'Routine' and 'writing' are mutually exclusive. I can have an editing routine, but the actual creation of the first draft comes in fits and starts. Sometimes 2 chapters a day, sometimes 2 words, sometimes nothing for 2 weeks.

Rewriting - do you love it or hate it?
Hate it, but it has to be done otherwise no one would ever understand the story.

Do you have an agent?
Yes, Maggie Noach.

Why do you like writing for children?
Because they're the most open-minded and enthusiastic readers! This means I enjoy a wonderful freedom to write different kinds of books, that my friends who write books published for adults do not.

How do you get your ideas?
The same way you get yours.

Do you draw the pictures for your books? If so, which comes first - the words or the pictures.
No… but I draw sketches of the fantastic creatures and maps for my books, which I pin up on my notice board while I'm writing. A proper artist then takes my sketch-map and turns it into the one that actually ends up in the book.

Are you willing to do author visits to schools?
If you twist my arm... Age 10+, South Devon/Cornwall.
You can contact me via my website.

Have you won any awards or prizes?
Yes, the Branford Boase Award for "Song Quest"

For a list of Katherine Roberts' books, visit her website.

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