Former journalist and children’s laureate, Dame Jacqueline Wilson, has written around 100 books. She talks writing tips and tacking tough issues with Time Out Kids.
Your new book is called The Worst Thing About My Sister. Was it written from life experience?
(laughs) No! I don’t actually have a sister. But I’ve always been interested by sibling relationships and fascinated by the way sisters can love each other to bits but absolutely drive each other mad at the same time. I must admit that one of my best friends did tell me all about the squabbles she used to have with her sister when they used to share a bedroom, which helped me form my ideas. I think for little girls, their bedrooms is their special place where they express themselves, it is going to be very difficult for them, especially if one is very messy and imaginative, and the other is very neat and tidy and girly.
Was your own daughter and your own experience of parenthood, a source of inspiration for your ability and desire to write children’s fiction?
Not really. My own family circumstances, I think, are very separate from everything that I write. I like to make everything up – but certainly I’d like to feel any particularly close relationships between mothers and daughters, might mirror my own with my daughter. But then I would say that – wouldn’t I? My own mother and I are also very different characters, but we have a good relationship and she still tells me what to do!
Your books often tackle tough issues like abandonment, divorce and bullying. Tell us why that is?
I think partly it’s a reaction to the sorts of very bland children’s books that I read when I was young, where parents never seemed to quarrel and there never seemed to be any money worries in families – and I used to compare that with my own life – and with that of my friends, and I used to wonder why, given this cosy, reassuring view of life, when all around me life was very different. I think, possibly, I might have tipped balance the other way now but certainly, with The Worst Thing About My Sister there is very much a nice family, and mum and dad are very fond of each other. It’s a very reassuring book – I do very much value families and family life and I think one of the messages that come across in my books is ‘never mind of you don’t have the conventional mum and dad, loving family set up’. You can still, in some ways make your own family with the people around you.’
Who’s your favourite character out of all the books you’ve written, and why do you like her so much?
I have to say Hetty Feather, my Victorian foundling character. I like Hetty, because she’s had a really tough life and she’s always had to look after herself and be responsible, and she’s had a pretty deadly upbringing, but she still manages to be feisty, upbeat, passionate and imaginative. In the first book, she’s still in the foundling hospital, in the second book she’s 14 and has learned what the outside world is like, and I’ve very nearly finished writing a third book about her, where lots more things happen. In the new book, she’s 15 now and pretty determined too!
Do you have any tips for budding young writers who think they might like to become an author one day?
I always tell children to read lots, because the more you read, the more it enriches your imagination and the better your vocabulary gets. You also learn how other people tell stories, and also I think it’s useful to get into a regular writing habit. I advise children to keep a diary because if you are obliged to write something every single day, you’ll get a feel of what it’s really like to be a writer. Most successful authors don’t wait until they feel inspired, they just write whether they’ve got a splitting headache or if they’ve got worries and concerns. That’s the only way to carry on and get things done.
Ages 10+, March 9, 11.30am-12.30pm, Al Baraha 3, and March 10, 11.30am-12.30pm, Al Baraha 3.