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Ann Turnbull

How many books have you had published?
About 30. These range from picture books to longer novels.

Did you write for fun when you were at school?
I have difficulty linking the words "school" and "fun"! I hated school until my teens, when it became a bit more tolerable. I was good at writing essays, but all my real writing was done at home. Throughout my childhood I dreamed, planned and wrote (but rarely finished) stories of people who lived in times more strange and exciting than my own.

Have you always earned your living as a writer?
I learned shorthand and typing at school, and did secretarial work for about eleven years. Later I went to teacher-training college but left when I realised teaching was not for me. I feel that the most important and interesting non-writing job I ever did was homemaking and bringing up my two children.

When was your first book published and what was it called?
My first book was The Frightened Forest, published in 1974.

Was it difficult to get your first book published?
I spent years writing and rewriting the same historical novel. It was rejected by several publishers - although I did have encouraging comments from some of them. Then I was inspired to try a fantasy for children. I had a feeling The Frightened Forest might be my breakthrough - and it was. The second publisher I tried accepted it. However I was asked to meet the editor and talk about some rewriting. At the end of our discussion my mind was full of ideas for improvements, and I went home, phoned the secretarial agency I'd been working for, and took a week off to rewrite the story. The revised version was accepted immediately.

Which is your favourite of your own books and why?
This is difficult. But I think at the moment it has to be No Shame, No Fear, which is my latest book, by far my longest, and my first for young adults. It's a book I had wanted to write for years and that was important to me, and at last the time seemed right.

Which is your favourite children's book written by someone else?
When I was a child it would have been one of the Narnia books. When my children were young and I had to read the same books to them over and over again it would have been The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss or Burglar Bill by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. Now? One of many, many favourites is Pennington's Seventeenth Summer by K M Peyton. Pennington is an original and completely convincing character and the book is moving, funny and inspiring. Anyone between 12 and 95 who hasn't yet discovered this book should try it.

How long does it take you to write a book?
I like to allow about eight months for a book of 25,000 words. I can write faster, but prefer not to. It's the thinking and planning and research that take the time - the stuff the reader never sees.

Do you use a computer or write first drafts long hand?
I usually write in pencil in longhand (or occasionally shorthand) because I find it more comfortable to sit thinking and writing with a notebook. And I'm a fast typist so it doesn't take long to put it onto the computer.

Do you have a writing routine or do you just write when you feel like it?
Unfortunately I hardly ever feel like it until I'm already doing it, so I start work about 9 am when my husband leaves for work. I tend to write in the morning and type and edit in the afternoon. Then I'll go for a walk. I often do a bit more in the evenings and at weekends.

Rewriting - do you love it or hate it?
I love it! In fact I have to resist a temptation to constantly rewrite as I go along. In theory I feel it's best to get the draft done quickly, but in practice I find this first version emerges slowly but with little need for major revision once it's done. However, it's still essential to rewrite. I listen to the rhythm of each sentence and check for repetitions; and if I ever find myself wondering, "Shall I cut this bit?" - I do. I may also add quite a lot extra at this stage: whole scenes and conversations which bring the characters more clearly to life.

Have you ever belonged to a writer's group? If so, did it help?
For the last few years I have been a member of a network of children's writers which I find very supportive.

Do you have an agent?
Yes. My agent is Caroline Walsh at David Higham Associates.

Why do you like writing for children?
I remember very clearly what it felt like to be a child and enjoy going there again in my imagination. I also like the freedom of writing for children: the different lengths and kinds of book, and the feeling that anything is possible. But I really wish there was not this big distinction between children's and adults' books. I just write books.

How do you get your ideas?
From all around: books, newspapers, TV, places, things that happen to me (but I change them). Ideas don't just spring into being, ready-made. Something may interest me and become the kernel of an idea, and gradually other bits of ideas will attach themselves to it and it will begin to grow.

Do you draw the pictures for your books? If so, which comes first, the words or the pictures?
No. I can't draw - so the words always come first.

What advice would you offer anyone who wants to write for children?
Remember how you felt as a child. Don't talk down and don't feel you have to avoid difficult subjects. Read as many current children's books as possible. Don't imagine that it will be easier than writing for adults.

Are you willing to do author visits to schools?
I have almost stopped doing these, but occasionally a school will have been reading one of my books and would like a visit - in which case I would come if possible. I am West Midlands based, but have family connections in other areas, so it's always worth asking. Contact me via my publisher or email me at annturnbull43@hotmail.com . I will talk about my books and how I do research, etc. I don't do workshops.

For a list of Ann's books in print, visit www.annturnbull.com

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