Monday, 13 May 2013

Author Interview - Caryl Hart

I am honoured and excited to introduce the talented and clever writer, Caryl Hart. If you think you have heard me mention her name before, you would be admirably correct. Caryl wrote (among others) the excellent story of The Princess and the Peas, which I recently reviewed. Thank you Caryl, for popping over to Susie and the Pencils to answer my nosy questions. Much appreciated.

What led you to become a writer?

I've always loved the process of writing, but never really thought of it as a job until my daughter Jess was born.  We spent a lot of time at our local library and read LOADS of children's books.  Many were brilliant but some were really less than mediocre.  It was these less-than-brilliant books that really ignited my desire to write for children.  I felt, "can write better than that. If this book has been published, I can get one published too."
I was very naiive, of course, and knew nothing of the publishing industry, but I was determined to give it my best shot. Progress was very slow initially as I was working part time and being a mum as well, so I didn't really get anywhere for a good few years. But then, around six years ago, I gave up my job and applied myself to becoming a writer full time - well, as full time as you can be with two small children.  I have never looked back!

Where do you write?

Until the end of April, I was working at home. I had a space in the house, but it was a bit of a thoroughfare and  FREEZING even in the summer. Working at home is great, but it can be quite isolating, so, at the beginning of May, I began renting a studio in town.  It's wonderful to have my own space where I can leave my things and know they'll still be there when I get back!  I have floor to ceiling windows so I can see the world going by. I have lots of storage so I can display my books, and there are always people around so I don't feel so isolated.  It's early days yet, but I think it's going to be great.  I can even bring Roo, my dog.  She has a new bed in the corner and seems very settled already.

Do you use a computer or a pen and paper to write your stories?

I write mostly on the computer, but carry a notebook around everywhere so I can write things down when they occur to me.  I also use the notes app on my phone to jot things down, and a web book that I sometimes take out to a cafe or outdoor space to write.

How much does your initial story idea or draft vary from the final published version?

That depends on the book.  For example, there were hardly any changes to the text of  Don't Dip Your Chips in Your Drink, Kate!  whereas I completely re-wrote Welcome to Alien Schoolthree times!  Sometimes, the core idea for a book is sound, but I have to do lots of re-drafts to get the actual story line to a place where my publisher is happy. 

This may involve one or more complete re-writes, a total change of setting, or just small tweaks.  A text can change at any time, right up to the point where illustrations have been finalised.  But that's part of the excitement for me.  It can be frustrating, but I've learned to place my trust in the editors and designers I work with. The finished product is always so much better than what I started with!

Do you ever get stuck in the middle of a story and how do you resolve it?

All the time! Especially if I'm writing in rhyme, because I might know what I want to say, but just can't find the words to fit the rhythm and rhyming pattern.  I used to get very anxious and desparing about it, but now I've learned to just take a step back and leave it for a few days, weeks or even months.  At some point my brain will work out what to do - usually at 4am, or when I'm driving or walking the dog.  Then I have a rush of excitement and plough straight back into it.

Which of your published books are you most proud of?

Gosh, that's difficult.  All of them in different ways.  I love Rhino? What Rhino? because it was the first book to be acquired and is great for reading out loud to small children.  I'm also very proud of Whiffy Wilson because Leonie Lord has taken my words and used them to create themost adorable characters.  I'm very proud of the Albie stories as these are proving very popular with children and seem to be encouraging boys to get reading and writing, which is brilliant.  But probably my favouite at the moment is The Princess and the Peas.  I'm really happy with the way the story develops and how well the rhyming works, but the best thing for me are Sarah Warburton's illustrations.  They are absolutely magical.  I could look at them for hours - she's done a completely stunning job.

What's the funniest or sweetest thing a kid has ever said about your stories?

I do lots of school visits so get plenty of feedback from children.  Sometimes the little girls will come up and give me a big hug and say, "I LOVE you!"  which is very sweet.  Children tell me all the time how much they love my books and that I'm their favourite author.  I guess this is one of the reasons I love going into schools so much - it's great for the ego!

Who are some of your favourite authors from your childhood, and currently?

As a young child I loved Dick Bruna - my favourite story was called Snuffy about a little brown dog who finds a missing girl.  I wanted to be the little girl in the story as I always used to fantasise about being an orphan!  Recently I have also been reminded of the Ant and Bee books which I had completely forgotten about.  When I was older I loved The Famous Five - well, who didn't!
I have so many favourite authors now, it's impossible to list them all.  My favourite book of all time is Farmer Duck by Martin Waddell, because it is so cleverly written.  

What do you look for in a good read?

I like books that give me an insight into what makes people the way they are.  I love contemporary world fiction because I was terrible at history and politics at school.  Books such as The Kite Runner, God of Small Things, The Bookseller of Kabul and Falling Leaves are among my top reads because they paint a really vivid picture of real lives in other cultures.  I also love reading young fiction and teen fiction - I adored Twilight and the first Hunger Games book though sadly I did not felt quite so passionate about the second and third books in these trilogies. 

If you could choose any type of dwelling to live in, what would it be?

A treehouse, definitely.  I love being in the middle of nature and a tree house would be the perfect place to feel safe and connected with the wildnerness.

If you happened to find yourself on a crazy adventure, what would you want it to include?

I'd be brilliant at surviving in the wild by hunting and fishing and building little dens to sleep in.  There would have to be a beautiful wild boy and lots of action.

If you could invite any famous people, past or present to a tea-party, who would you choose?

I'm not very good at famous people.  I never know who anyone is.  So I'd probably invite some of my author / illustrator friends.  They are the people I feel most at home with and I'm sure we'd have a brilliant time.

Describe your favourite pair of shoes (that you own).

Keens.  They are incredibly comfortable chunky walking boots.  I'm quite small, and I love wearing really BIG shoes.

Thanks Caryl!  

We're looking forward to reading your latest book, Catch That Rat! 
when it comes out in July. 

You can find out more about Caryl and her books here:

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