How many books have you had published?
14 - most of them picture books, but some of these are now out of print. Most are still available from libraries and some can be bought second-hand via the link to www.amazon.co.uk
Did you write for fun when you were at school?
Yes, I wrote my first book when I was 8. Can’t remember what it was about, only that it was full of illustrations.
Have you always earned your living as a writer? If not, what else have you done/do you still do?
I am Danish born and only moved to this country in my early twenties to work in a shipping company. Later I passed some language examinations and became a translator which is a very good job, if you want to work from home. Oddly enough, I’ve never translated any of my own book into Danish although they’ve all been published over there. Foreign publishers have their own translators and I’m more than happy when I see what they’ve done to mine.
When was your first book published and what was it called?
My first book was called Solo (1990) and was a story about a duckling that imprints on a cat. Solo started out as a much longer story, but the publishers liked the idea and rang immediately to say so.
Was it difficult to get your first book published?
Yes, it took ages, and with the contract for Solo came the publisher’s sadly abridged version of my story. Full of enthusiasm, I caught the first train to London to tackle them about this. My lovely editor looked bemused, she’d heard it all before, and when I’d finished putting my case for the longer version, she reassured me that all would be well. I think most writers have faced the dilemma of whether or not to accept changes they don’t like, in order to get that first contract. You don’t say ‘no thanks, I think I’ll try someone else,’ when you’re told that your book is going to be published in several countries, you just hope the publishers know what they are doing. Elizabeth Martland, who illustrated Solo, was also a first-timer and her illustrations are delightful.
Which is your favourite of your own books and why?
Probably Three Bags Full illustrated by Sally Hobson, now a great friend of mine. The book was runner-up to The Mother Goose award. Sally’s illustrations are perfect for the story which has been translated into something like ten different languages. Sadly it’s now out of print. Toby’s Doll’s House and The Wish Cat (which was runner-up to the Experian Big 3 Award in 2003) have both been read on television, which is lovely. I am also very fond of my two Flying Foxes: Jake and the Red Bird and Jed’s Really Useful Poem.
Which is your favourite children’s book written by someone else?
As a Dane, I have to say Hans Christian Andersen, although some of his Fairy Tales are almost too traumatic to read. I am working on re-telling some of his lesser known stories, at the moment.
How long does it take you to write a book?
Writing a picture book can take a very long time. It’s a constant striving for perfection which is almost impossible to achieve, and I have many unfinished picture books sitting in my files waiting for completion. The whole thing has to work on so many levels, and if just one of these isn’t right, the whole thing collapses and becomes boring.
Do you use a computer or write first drafts long hand?
I use my computer for everything.
Do you have a writing routine or just write when you feel like it?
If I’m not translating, I’m writing. Unfortunately, I have a bit of a butterfly mentality, fluttering from one story to another, picking out old stories, working on them for a while, then getting a new idea, and so on. Not a very productive way of working!
Rewriting – do you love it or hate it?
Neither. It’s just something that has to be done. You have to be careful not to lose the freshness, when you keep going over things. But when you finally reach that ‘tingle-in- the-spine’ moment, there is nothing like it.
Have you ever belonged to a writers’ group? If so, did it help?
Writers’ groups are not my thing. I feel happier on my own, especially when I know that my trusted writing friends are only an email away.
Have you got an agent?
No, I’ve never had one. Sometimes I wish I did.
Why do you like writing for children?
Because, deep inside, I’m still a little girl. I write for myself and hope that other children will like the stories.
How do you get ideas?
Ideas come when I least expect them – often when I’m doing something completely unrelated. A word on the radio, a snippet in the paper, a particular walk of someone in the street. All grist to my mill. I have hundreds of ideas lying in a deep drawer. Pity they don’t often come with a satisfying ending.
Do you draw the pictures for your books?
No, but I’d love to have a go.
What advice would you offer anyone who wants to write for children?
Just do it!
Are you willing to do author visits to schools?
I have visited schools all over the country and taken part in lots of festivals, but these days I prefer to stick to my local schools. However, if anyone especially wants me, let’s talk about it. I can be contacted either via my website www.ragnhildscamell.com
For a list of Ragnhild Scamell's books, see www.ragnhildscamell.com