Cristy Burne

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Interview with Helen Limon, winner of the Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Childrens Book Award

Helen Limon accepts her prizeHelen Limon was recently announced the winner of the 2011 Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Childrens Book award.

The award is for a manuscript that celebrates cultural diversity in the widest possible sense, either in terms of its story or in terms of the ethnic and cultural origins of its author.

Helen’s winning manuscript, Om Shanti, Babe, is set in India and, like Takeshita Demons, includes elements of local legend and mythology. Just the kind of book I like 🙂

Below Helen is lovely enough to answer some questions on her forthcoming book, being a writer and what it’s like to win this writing award… THANKS HELEN!

– Why did you enter the Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Childrens Book award?

I entered because it seemd a great opportunity to get a thoughtful reading of my manuscript and because I think Seven Stories is a fantastically wonderful and important resourse for children’s books and because some of the characters in Om Shanti, Babe such as Cassia’s gay dad, the deaf girl, Nandita, and the middle-class Indian family are not frequently represented in children’s books.

– Where did inspiration for Om Shanti, Babe come from?theyyam face
Inspiration came from a two week winter holiday in Kerala and was followed by months (and then even more months) of research.

– Can you tell us more about the mythology of the Theyyam and how it is important to the story (without giving too much away)?
The Theyyam is a very ancient and very colourful part of the spiritual culture of Kerala, particularly in the northern hill regions.

It is kept alive through private donations and celebrated by karali of many different religions and backgrounds.

In the story, Cassia has an encounter at the Theyyam which sets in motion some important changes in her relationship with the young Indian charater, Priyanka.

mehandi wet– What has happened to Om Shanti, Babe since winning the award?
Winning is AMAZING! I’ve had so many opportunities to be involved in interesting projects since the award and it has made me feel like a ‘proper’ writer.

How do you find the publishing process?
I love the publishing process – looking at book covers, thinking about strap lines and sharpening things up. I have even enjoyed tidying up my eccentric punctuation!

– Favourite part of being a writer?
The opportunity to talk to groups about why children’s books are hugely important and because they always give me tea and (great) cake.

– Least favourite part of being a writer?
Not having enough time to write!

– Advice to aspiring writers?
Read, write, read, write, don’t edit yourself too much, let it flow, make mistakes (sometimes they turn out to be the best bits) read, write repeat from start!

– And a sneak peek extract from Om Shanti, Babe: ( I want to read more!!!)

I went back inside and tugged at the doors. The wooden frame stuck and they closed with a bang.

Inside the bedroom, a ceiling fan turned, gently moving the warm air around just enough to make it breathable. I slid out of my shoes and put my bag on the bed nearest the door. The mosquito nets were a glamorous touch, but I’d expected our room to be a bit more five-star-and-mini-bar. Dad wouldn’t have rated it at all.

I cranked up the ceiling fan and, as the blades began to turn faster, something moved on the wall. A pale pink lizard had scuttled along and stopped just inches away from the light switch. It blinked. A tiny tongue shot out of its mouth and slid back between its jaws. I stood very still, holding my breath. The lizard blinked again as I moved slowly away from the wall and ran for the door.

Lula would have a fit when I told her and, while Mr Chaudhury got rid of it, I would be able to reclaim the order book. But when I got downstairs no one seemed bothered about mini-beasts stalking the walls.

‘They are called Geckos, Cassia. We think of them as our guests. They will help keep your room free of spiders and flies,’ Mr Chaudhury said. His teeth were very white and when he smiled, his mouth crinkled at the corners. What a creep. He’d made it sound like geckos were his best friends and that I was some kind of teen psycho-killer.

Lula looked a bit embarrassed. She had told me loads about India, but, clearly, there were some things she’d left out.

– More on this international and annual awardidiom booksellers (You should enter!)(Yes you!)
The Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Childrens Book Award is for a manuscript that celebrates cultural diversity in the widest possible sense, either in terms of its story or in terms of the ethnic and cultural origins of its author.

The prize of £1,500, plus the option for Frances Lincoln Children’s Books to publish the novel, will be awarded to the best work of unpublished fiction for 8-to-12-year-olds by a writer, aged 16 years or over, who has not previously published a novel for children. The writer may have contributed to an anthology of prose or poetry.

The purpose of The Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award is to:

• Take positive steps to increase the representation of people writing from or about different cultural perspectives, whose work is published in Britain today.

• Promote new writing for children, especially by or about people whose culture and voice are currently under-represented.

• Recognise that as children’s books shape our earliest perceptions of the world and its cultures, promoting writing that represents diversity will contribute to social and cultural tolerance.

• Support the process of writing rather than, as with the majority of prizes, promoting the publication.

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My top five interview questions for Cristy Burne

Head over to Booked Up HQ to check out the great books available and explore their super new website.

I have a guest post on the Booked Up blog this week, about writing Takeshita Demons and being a writer, and hope that lots of kids will ask me lots of questions.

See you there!


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Interviews with shortlisted writers

Over the last few weeks Tom Avery, the winner of the 2010 Diverse Voices Childrens Book Award, has interviewed writers shortlisted for the prize. The interviews give a great insight into what goes on behind the scenes in a writer’s life, and include some great advice for anyone keen to break in to the childrens writing market: keep at it!

The interviews are with:

Remi Oyedele – author of Goal Dreams

Karon Alderman – author of Story Thief

Sue Stern – author of Rafi Brown and Candy Floss Kid

Two of these three stories were inspired by newspaper articles, the third by real life, so it just goes to show that fact and non-fiction are powerful ways to spark your imagination and to explore new ideas.

I’ve got a horrible cold at the moment so will keep this post short…




Filming for the Booked Up DVD

A still from one of the 50 billion takes we filmed for Booked Up on Thursday

Exciting times!
As part of the Booked Up program, WalkTall Media are producing a DVD introducing the 19 books on the Booked Up list. Each book is introduced by its author, then reviewed by a Year 7 student. And to keep things short and sweet, each segment is only 30-40 seconds long.  So…I was asked to film myself talking about Takeshita Demons for the DVD. COOL!


Have you ever tried to talk about something you love in just 30 seconds?


I’ve done a bit of media training but haven’t had a whole heap of experience in front of a camera. In fact, I’ve tried to be seriously coherent for the camera just 4 times before:

Attempt 1) Australia’s Catalyst team tried to interview me about the LHC Computing Grid while I was working at CERN, in Geneva. I was incredibly nervous and stuffed up so often and so badly they didn’t end up using my bit at all.
Gaining-experience Rating:
5 stars
Waking-up-with-nightmares Rating: 11 sleepless nights (about 7 before, 4 after)

Attempt 2) An independant documentary-maker came to CERN to do a docco on the LHC and interviewed me about the LHC Computing Grid. As a young(ish) female scientist(ish) I was supposed to be the perfect choice for his documentary, except for one thing: I couldn’t put three words together. Luckily, when it finally came out, they only used about two seconds of my footage.
Gaining-experience Rating: 5 stars
Waking-up-with-nightmares Rating: 4 sleepless nights (3 before, 1 after)

A still from the Teacher’s TV interview

Attempt 3) My editor Janetta and I did a short interview about the Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award for Teacher’s TV. Luckily, I got to see Janetta being interviewed first, so I had a chance to see how it’s done 🙂 Plus, most of my camera nerves (the “mind goes blank just looking at the camera” bit) were gone: My previous efforts might have been awful, but they were brilliant practise. So, I was able to talk without stumbling too badly and I managed to say what I wanted to say (which apparently is the other Very Important Thing ;-))
Gaining-experience Rating: 5 stars
Waking-up-with-nightmares Rating: 3 sleepless nights (but I slept well as soon as it was over 🙂 YAY!)

A still from the video for the 2010 Diverse Voices presentation

Attempt 4) About three weeks ago we made a short video to congratulate the winner of the 2010 Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award (Tom Avery, although I didn’t know it at the time!).

Me losing it because some mad fellow is chasing wild pigs in the background

Luckily, my fabulous husband was behind the camera, and I knew my ridiculous friends (we **love** your work!!) were somewhere in the background being ridiculous (thank you!).

So, we managed to make a colourful video that said what I wanted to say (which was THANK YOU and CONGRATULATIONS! and HAVE FUN!!).
Gaining-experience Rating: 5 stars
Waking-up-with-nightmares Rating: 0 sleepless nights (this was more like a home movie: no microphones or special lighting)

Which leads me to experience #5: Film a 40-second blurb of yourself talking about your book.

Easier said than done! Luckily, I managed to locate a fabulous Perth-based cameraman with the patience of a saint (Seb Craig of KBC Films, and I thoroughly recommend him and KBC for being professional, reliable and good at what they do…they were great!) and an awesome location (the Hyogo Prefectural Government Cultural Centre…I am SO grateful to everyone there for their help!). After a grueling session of 50 gazillion takes (and me forgetting my own name for half of them), I sent the finished products to WalkTall Media: fingers crossed they like them.

Step over, Tom Cruise

So…It was HARD WORK! I have a new appreciation for actors, because its not easy saying the same thing over and over. Luckily (and did I mention this before?), Sebastien was incredibly patient and also superb at giving the right feedback at the right time. (Including the brutal-but-useful “I wasn’t convinced…Start again”)

Still, it wasn’t easy: it was a freezing morning, but we had to turn off the heater cause it was affecting the sound (poor Yumiko had to wear a thick jacket and drink hot tea just to stay warm: it was super-chilly!). Plus, the Perth Japanese school has classrooms upstairs, and at once stage the kids were practising their taiko drumming (actually: this was perfect timing for a coffee break :-)).

We also filmed some readings, and a couple of short blurbs: one about The Filth Licker, and one about the 2011 Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Childrens Book Award.  They should show up here in the next little while 🙂

All in all, it was exciting and harrowing and afterwards I couldn’t really talk much at all. I just sat and drank tea and soaked in the sunshine. It was all I was capable of, I think. And on Sat night I went to the movies with girlfriends and drank champagne and laughed a lot, and it was GREAT!! A recipe for unwinding stress 🙂

So…fingers crossed the filming we did worked: I can’t wait to see the DVD and meet the other Booked Up authors!


Interview with Tom Avery, winner of the 2010 Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award

So by now you might already know: the winner of the 2010 Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award is Tom Avery with Too Much Trouble. But who is Tom Avery? And what was he doing before the Frances Lincoln Award team got their hands on his manuscript?

Well, I’m glad you asked, because…..I’m lucky enough to have the answers!! Thanks to Tom for taking the time to answer my questions while he was preparing for the award ceremony….it’s pretty nerve-wracking, but in a totally wonderful way!

So first: a synopsis of the winning manuscript: Too Much Trouble

Too Much Trouble is the story of two brothers, Emmanuel and Prince.  Emmanuel tells us his story as he looks back on how events led to him holding a gun to a man’s head.  The story opens on an ordinary day for the boys at school where they strive to go unnoticed, fending for themselves on handouts from their drug-dealer uncle and living in a house where they compete for space with their uncle’s marijuana.  But life changes completely when their temperamental uncle decides the boys are too much trouble and withdraws his already limited support.  Left to look after themselves, the brothers are led into a life of crime from which Emmanuel cannot see a way out.

How cool does that sound!?!?! I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

And so now…some Q&A time with Tom:

Tom with his class

1)      You are going to work as a teacher with a focus on communication and language. Do you have a favourite activity for encouraging primary school kids to love reading?

It sounds simple, but reading great stories to children really makes a difference.  Children love having books read to them, they get to experience the story without the barriers that might be in the way if they read it themselves.  I remember reading ‘Prince Caspian’ to a class, before the Disney film came out, they loved it, and it spurred them on to read the other Narnia books.  I had boys competing to be the first to finish all seven.

2)      You currently teach a unit called “How much freedom do you have?”: What are your students’ reaction to the themes you work on? Are they interested in freedom, discrimination, equality, etc? Do they see it as relevant to their own lives?

Most pupils are completely engaged with the themes that the unit touches on, so much more so than I could have hoped for when I planned the module.  We look at religious freedom, through the events of the gunpowder plot, and have long debates about the school holidays based around Christian celebrations, the majority of the pupils are Muslim and are only allowed one day off of school a year for religious observance.  We look at freedom of opportunities, through the life and actions of Rosa Parks, growing up in an ethnically and economically diverse city the pupils know all about this.  We also look at the way asylum seekers are treated in regards to freedom by studying the wonderful book, ‘The Island’ by Armin Greder, which couldn’t be more relevant to some pupils as they have come to Britain as asylum seekers.  The only problem is, the children then start questioning all the things that they’re not allowed to do in school!

3)      Had you entered any other competitions before the DV award? Any you recommend?

I have never entered a writing competition before.  A friend who had read parts of my manuscript ‘Too Much Trouble’ recommended that I enter, I am very glad that they did.

4)      Do you think there’s a place for ‘diverse voices’ in children’s literature?

What would literature be without ‘diverse voices’?  Children read books about children because they can relate to them; they can see a small part of themselves reflected in the story.  We live in an increasingly multi-cultural and diverse world, particularly in the cities of Britain, and all these diverse children need to see parts of their story reflected in what they read.

5)      You and your wife both work after your toddler is asleep. Any tips to other writers who are also parents?

Number 1 – Keep writing.  It’s very easy to sit down in front of the T.V. after a days work, then playing with, feeding, bathing, dressing and putting to bed your kids.  But if your dream is to be a writer you’ve got to keep writing.

Number 2 – Prepare to be interrupted.  If your children are anything like mine they don’t do what you expect, but that’s why they’re so gorgeous.

Number 3 – Marry someone wonderful.  My wife is so amazingly encouraging.

Sorry, not very practical.

[But if I can butt in here: I think they’re great answers, and thus very practical :-)]

6)      Is Too Much Trouble your first attempt at writing a book?

‘Too Much Trouble’ is my first finished manuscript.  I have started other books in the past, but have always lost confidence at some point, again I point to my wonderful wife’s encouragement for finishing ‘Too Much Trouble’.

Geraldine Brennan, a judge of the award, spoke to Tom about what inspired him to write Too Much Trouble.

Tom Avery, 26, grew up in Lewisham with two older brothers and a younger sister.  He trained as a primary teacher at the University of Greenwich and taught in New Eltham for two years before joining Queensbridge School, a performing arts college in Moseley, Birmingham. In September he will start a new job as co-ordinator of English, communication and language at Torriano primary school, round the corner from Frances Lincoln.

How did you start to write and what helped you?

I have wanted to be a writer since the end of primary school but I always lacked the confidence to get beyond the first few chapters. My wife Chloe encouraged me to stop talking about the story that was in my head and put something on paper around the time we had our son, who is now 15 months old. She is a freelance fashion designer and we both have to wait until Caleb is in bed to focus on our own work.

I wrote most of the book that became Too Much Trouble and various friends and colleagues commented on it as well as Chloe and my mum, a midwife who is a prodigious reader. I redrafted it several times and the Diverse Voices competition gave me a deadline to finish it and make it slightly shorter and more compact.

How did you come to focus on the issues of gun crime and unaccompanied refugee children?

In the places I’ve lived in and know about – Lewisham, Hackney and inner-city Birmingham – I became aware that these issues affected the lives of the young people I was meeting and I couldn’t ignore them. Like Emmanuel in Too Much Trouble, there are so many young people taking on responsibility that they shouldn’t have to deal with.

What did you enjoy reading as a child and what do you like to read now?

There were lots of books at home and I got lots more out of the school library. I remember Roald Dahl, Michael Morpurgo and the Allan Ahlberg poetry anthology I Heard it in the Playground. Later, I got into fantasy and enjoyed Ursula LeGuin and Jostein Gaarder. As an adult, I love Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns) and all Nick Hornby’s books because his characters always seem real, tangible and organic: you aren’t aware of them having been written.

As a teacher, I love exploring books with pupils and I’ve enjoyed reading Louis Sachar’s Holes and Frank Cottrell Boyce’s Millions to classes.

What else do you enjoy about teaching?

I like encouraging children in whatever their passion is and getting them to think about the world we live in. I thought about being an architect when I was in sixth form but I spent my gap year running youth groups for my church – my dad, a maths teacher, had run the children’s group when I was younger and I had helped with that and enjoyed it – and I realised then that I loved working with young people. I trained as a primary teacher and spent two years teaching Year 4 and 5 in south-east London before my current job at Queensbridge. It’s a very diverse school: half the children do not speak English as a first language and there are 17 languages spoken in the school.

My main role is teaching a cross-curricular unit of work for Year 7s called: ‘How much freedom do you have?’  We look at religious freedom, freedom of opportunity, discrimination, equality, protest and so on through English, history, RE, citizenship and geography.  There’s a lot of scope for creativity.

The closing date for the 2011 Award is 25th February 2011. For entry forms contact:

E:     T: 0845 271 0777

For more details visit


Interview with children’s book specialist Geraldine Brennan

I’m rejigging my website in the leadup to the release of Takeshita Demons. I’m deleting some bits and adding others, and one of the things I rediscovered was this interview conducted by children’s book specialist Geraldine Brennan shortly after I won the 2009 Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award with Takeshita Demons. That was nearly a year ago already! I’ve reproduced the interview below:

—> And keep your eyes and ears peeled for the announcement of the winner of the 2010 Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award. The award ceremony is being held June 8 at Seven Stories. I can’t wait to find out more!

Your father is a New Zealander, your mother is Australian and you experienced both cultures growing up. What was that like?
When I was a child we lived on a farm in the Bay of Plenty in New Zealand’s North Island. My father worked in real estate so it was a kind of hobby farm, but my mother grew kiwi fruit and we kept goats and cows. My sisters and I spent most of our time outside climbing trees, catching eels and having adventures. We had two Jersey calves as pets.

I was 13 when we moved to a suburb in Perth. Just living in a suburb was a shock to me, and my new school was much bigger and the kids much more badly behaved. I remember the feeling of being different in a school and trying not to be. The New Zealand and Australian accents are quite different and I remember not always understanding when people said my name, so I wouldn’t answer them, and that would be embarrassing.

In Takeshita Demons, Miku is struggling between being proud of her Japanese culture and not wanting to be singled out for it in Britain. By the end she feels at home in both places and that is certainly how l believe it can and should be. I like to feel part of wherever I am. I feel proud of all the different parts of myself: the Kiwi, the Aussie, my experiences in Japan, in Switzerland, and now in the UK…I often say I am from London but if the All Blacks are winning I’ll happily say I am from New Zealand.

How did your connection with Japan develop?
I had studied Japanese since I was 11 and had always wanted to go there. After university I spent two years in a suburb near Osaka, teaching English communication in a high school through the Japan Exchange and Teaching programme. I soon realised that you can never be Japanese, you are always a gaijan (foreigner), a novelty and a bit exotic. It could be isolating. My students were the exception, they accepted me completely as myself, which I think young people naturally do.

I returned to Japan some years later to work as an editor of translations for a biotechnology company at Tsukuba Science City near Tokyo. My Japanese was better by then but I still can’t handle all the levels of politeness: I can talk to friends or children, but not to a boss or someone’s grandmother. I used to long for people to speak to me in Japanese but I was also a great opportunity for people to practice English.

I made good Japanese friends, including a colleague who was Japanese but had lived in America, so he understood the sorts of things that would seem strange to me. At lunchtime we would chat and he’d tell me things about Japan. It was through him that I began to understand about Japanese people’s relationships with spirits, ghosts and demons. There was no contradiction for him between working for a science company and knowing that there was a ghost in the room.

Tell us more about the demons!
There are dozens of supernatural yokai that most Japanese people will be familiar with. They appear over and over again in all kinds of stories. Some are benign, some are nasty and some you’re just not quite sure. The demons that Miku has to deal with include the nukekubi, a kind of child-eating flying-head demon, and the noppera-bo, a faceless demon that can take on other personae.

Most Western children don’t know about these yokai in the way that they know about vampires and werewolves, but just as vampires fear garlic, the demons often have an Achilles heel or fatal flaw. The nukekubi, for example must leave its body somewhere while its hungry head flies around, and you can destroy the head by destroying the body. I chose the demons I thought would have the most potential for an adventure story, but there are plenty more for future stories. I like to write about children, especially strong girls, having great adventures.

Why do you write for children?
Children who read have a great time and are exposed to lots of different ways of living and being. As a child I loved mystery and adventure stories and often read six or seven books at once. I loved Roald Dahl because of his energy and humour and I loved the Nancy Drew books, although it was annoying that she was always being rescued by her boyfriend.

I have done a lot of work in outreach science education and love to connect with children through new ideas. I also know how short their attention spans can be. I really want to use writing to continue to connect with children and challenge them to think in new ways.

How do you fit writing into your life?
I usually write on evenings and weekends, but when I start I don’t stop. I take over the dining table and leave it to Doug to make sure I get fed. My first manuscript, a 30,000-word adventure for the same age group, won a Young and Emerging Writer’s fellowship (from Varuna House) and the Voices on the Coast writing competition. At the moment I’m editing a third novel for slightly older readers: I’ve decided a certain character needs to go. I love the power you have as a writer in that way.

What do you do when you’re not writing?
In my current day job, I promote the use of grid computing to help the world’s scientists solve global problems, such as air pollution and climate change. These scientists work together, across time zones, cultures and language barriers, in collaborations involving hundreds of countries. This is the world that the children I am writing for will have to work in. It’s all about finding ways to collaborate and that starts with understanding each other.

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Witch doctors, crocodiles, magic and treachery: The Gift by Gemma Birss

Gemma_BirssGemma Birss’ The Gift was Highly Commended in the 2009 Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices children’s book award.

Gemma is a fabulously warm and energetic writer who has lived in Iran, Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Japan, France, India and England. She says she has “millions of stories from different countries and cultures in my head, all jostling with each other to be told.”

Here we interview Gemma about The Gift, her writing, and the magic of good cup of Tetleys.

The Gift tells the tale of Chipo, who wakes up one day in a strange place. She has no memories and has lost the ability to speak. The story follows Chipo through the African bush on an adventure involving witch doctors, Tokoloshes, crocodiles, snakes, magic and treachery. With an extraordinary ability to read the sky, Chipo’s adventures finally lead her to discover her true identity and the harrowing truth of her past.


‘I want to show you something,’ Tendai said, jumping up.

I followed her towards the lucky bean tree.

‘Do you think you can remember to climb?’ she asked.

I nodded.

Tendai climbed quickly. Her feet knew all the knots and ledges. I followed her carefully, putting my feet where her feet had been and using the same hand grips she used. She stopped at the top of the trunk where the branches split out in different directions. There was a hollow in the centre of these branches, which was big enough for us both to sit in. I clambered up after her.

An excited grin spread across Tendai’s face as she reached her hand into a small hole in one of the branches. I thought nervously about the boomslang that had fallen from this same tree. Pungwe’s warning rang through my head; I didn’t have my magic anymore. I no longer knew how to sing to snakes and I couldn’t protect either of us as I used to. I hoped that Tendai realized this too. She didn’t pull out a boomslang, though. She pulled out a handful of necklaces. My mouth fell open with surprise. There were necklaces made from lucky beans, necklaces made from bird feathers, necklaces made from small bones. I reached out to take the one that caught my eye. It was made from thousands of yellow, jagged teeth. My fingers closed around the sharp edges.

‘That one is made from crocodile’s teeth. It is to protect you from the crocodiles in this river. It is a Tokoloshe necklace. Pungwe gave it to you.’

What do you usually write about and who do you write for?
I usually tinker away at a little diary, which means I write mainly for me. In my diary, I write about my life. I like to capture all those millions of fleeting moments. It’s like a photo album but with words. I’m always pottering about in my diary, and I don’t ever leave home without it. I write whatever pops into my head so it’s a kaleidoscope of my thoughts. I suppose I use some of these ideas and expressions in my books, so in that way, I’m writing for everyone.

Why do you write?
I have to confess; when I’m writing a book, I don’t actually write it. The book writes itself; the words spill out onto the page as they please and I don’t have much say in the matter. When I wrote The Gift, it was incredibly exciting because I didn’t know how the story was going to unfold. Chipo was having all these brilliant adventures and I had to keep writing to see what would happen next! The main reason I write, though, is that when I write, I am superlatively happy. Happiness for me is a cup of Tetleys, a notebook and a black pen.

Where and when do you write?
I write everywhere, but I spend a lot of time writing on trains and buses. Long journeys are the best for writing – watching the world unravel past your window, you have all the time in the world for ideas to unfold.

What was your favourite book as a child?Kpotheleopard
Kpo the Leopard by Rene Guillot. It was the first book that I chose for mum to buy me.

Who is your favourite children’s author either writing today or from the past?

I still have a deliciously soft spot for  Quentin Blake’s work, particularly his Lester goes to the Seaside. My favourite character from this book is Otto. Lester and Otto are at the beach and Otto picks up a stick to write his name in the sand. Then he tries to write his name backwards. It comes out as Otto. So he tries again, Otto, and again, Otto, and he gets very down in the mouth because, unlike Lester, his name is the same both forwards and backwards. Finally, an ingenious idea dawns; he grabs his stick and writes ‘Toot’! And then he dances about with glee at his cleverness. I also love Mini Grey and Oliver Jeffrey.

Some of Gemma's amazing artwork...

Some of Gemma's super-cute original artwork...

What are your plans for the future and for The Gift?
Whilst getting my story published, I’m also illustrating my picture books and training to be a Kundalini yoga teacher.

I’m working on a grown-up book at the moment too, which is a bit of a ‘spiritual journey’ kind of book… it’s taking its time to work its way out and is a challenging but really worthwhile process.

Who knows what the future holds – but if my past is anything to go by, it’s going to be an interesting ride!


Good luck with your writing and illustrating!!