How many books have you had published?
Over forty. The most recent are Cleopatra (A & C Black) and Highway Girl and Road to War in Scholastic’s My Story series. They were great fun to research, as well as to write, because each is set in a different historical era. I've also written lots of short stories for children which have been broadcast on radio and TV, and published in magazines.
Did you write for fun when you were at school?
When I was at school, we didn't have Creative Writing or Story Writing. We wrote Compositions. To me it was a chore, something to be tackled on a technical level, and I was very aware that presentation mattered a great deal. It wasn't fun.
Have you always earned your living as a writer? If not, what else
have you done/do you still do?
I was a teacher for many years, and then a prep school librarian for ten years. But now every day of the week is mine for writing activities. I say 'activities' because as well as working on my current book, that could be researching in the public library or a museum, visiting a school, exploring a historic site or browsing in a bookshop.
When was your first book published and what was it called?
My first book was published in 1994, and it was called Chaos at the Hasty Tasty. It was one of three books that were published at the same time. My first short stories were broadcast on Radio 4 in 1986.
Was it difficult to get your first book published?
My first book was bought by the first publisher we approached, so it doesn't seem as if it was difficult to get it published, until I recall the paper mountain of short stories and books that went before, many of which are still in my bottom drawer!
Which is your favourite of your own books and why?
That's a difficult question, but I've come to learn that my favourite book is always the one I've just finished, so my answer to this question changes all the time! Two of my all-time favourites are To Kill a Queen and Bloody Tower in Scholastic's My Story series. The first is the diary of Kitty Lumsden, and it centres on a plot to kill Elizabeth I and put Mary Queen of Scots on the throne. Kitty is the daughter of Tilly Middleton, the feisty diarist of Bloody Tower. I loved every aspect of writing those books, from getting inside Kitty and Tilly's skins to researching at the Tower of London itself. I'm also fond of Boudica and her Barmy Army. I so enjoyed the research for that, which took me from an Iron Age roundhouse to Colchester Castle, Norwich Castle, and even to Pompeii in Italy! Oh, yes, and Road to War (you can tell I’m not good at making decisions), but I'm absolutely loving the book I'm doing at the moment!
Which is your
favourite children's book written by someone else?
I have about fifty favourites, depending on the mood I'm in. It's hard to choose, but I think I could single out Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. Pullman is a wonderful writer, with a powerful imagination. Like many people of my age, I was brought up on a combination of Enid Blyton and classic writers like Dickens, Kipling and Rider Haggard - all good stuff, but how I envy children today! The book shops are stuffed with stories and information books from wonderful authors and illustrators.
How long does
it take you to write a book?
It doesn't take me very long to actually write a book, but the time involved in producing it is another matter altogether. An idea can be warming for months, or even years, before another idea comes along and sparks it off. Then I have to hold myself back. If I start writing too soon the story can fizzle out round about chapter three, never to catch fire again. Once the words are down, there's a long spell of reshaping and rewriting.
Do you use a computer or
write first drafts long hand?
I use a computer. I love the idea of writing long hand, but my hand gets painful and I get ratty if I have to write by hand. Word processing suits me because I can type as fast as I think and the inevitable keying mistakes from this three-finger typist don't matter a bit.
Do you have a
writing routine or just write when you feel like it?
Every day I'm at home, I start work as soon as I'm showered and dressed. I eat cornflakes while I collect my email, and struggle hard to resist answering it. Then it's head down and bash on with the book. I'm very bad - I eat lunch at the computer, and have to really discipline myself to take a break and go for a walk.
Rewriting - do
you love it or hate it?
I absolutely adore the rewriting process. Once the story's down on paper, I feel I can take a deep breath and relax from the tension of the first draft. I write very long, so I always have the pleasure of cutting, sharpening and polishing. Love it!
Have you ever
belonged to a writers' group? If so, did it help?
I did belong to a writers' group. At the time, I didn't know anyone at all in the writing world, so it was great to be with people who cared as much as I did about writing. If you belong to a writers' group, there's always someone with whom to share the agony and the ecstasy.
Have you got an
I do have an agent, and she means a lot to me. Yes, she places work and (we hope) sells it, but she also makes helpful suggestions, and is generous with her time when discussing a manuscript. She's a one-woman support system - a friend in good times and bad.
Why do you like
writing for children?
I like writing for children because it makes me happy. It's the most difficult, most satisfying work I've ever done.
How do you get
I find getting ideas extraordinarily hard. I dreamed a goodie once, but it took nearly five years before I linked it with something else to make it work. Mind you, if someone actually wants a story, it really helps focus the mind. The publisher of my first book said that if I came up with two more ideas she would offer me a three-book contract. I had those ideas ready before I reached home that night! I always know when I've got a really strong idea, a goer, because I get a curly feeling in my middle.
Do you draw the pictures
for your books?
When I was at school, we had marks for art, and I got '2 out of 10, fair' every single time. It put me off drawing for life, so I'm very grateful for the illustrators who enhance my work. '10 out of 10, brilliant', say I.
What advice would you offer
anyone who wants to write for children?
1) Read a lot, especially current books.
2) Immerse yourself in the writing business - read the trade magazines, go to conferences, get the feel of what's going on.
3) Write, write, write, and never give up. It's fun, and incredibly rewarding. I don't mean financially - don't go into it for the money - but for sheer pleasure and satisfaction, I can't think of anything better.
Are you willing to do author visits to schools?
I'm happy to visit schools occasionally. I like to talk informally to those aged 8-80 about why and how I became a writer, how I work, how a book develops from idea to finished product, (even about where ideas come from!) and the more questions there are, the better. I live in the south and will drive locally, or travel further afield by train. You can contact me through my website
For a list of Valerie Wilding's books in print visit www.valeriewilding.co.uk