As part of the UKMG Extravaganza (see @UKYAX) I’ve been able to chat to author Susie Day. My daughter and I both read the rather excellent Pea’s Book of Best Friends, and we were both able to ask Susie about her writing….
First - Amy in particular wanted to know where you get your ideas from.. are they from personal experience, or all from your imagination?
I come from a big family too (youngest of four sisters), and I was quite Pea-like at that age: bookish and worrisome. But my childhood was quite traditional and undisrupted, which doesn’t make for much of a story! I tend to start with something real (visiting the Tower of London, for example) and then bounce off into daft made-up directions like being best friends with Anne Boleyn, fake kidnappings and so on.
She also wondered if you felt the story would have felt different if the girls had had more traditional names.. are their names supposed to help you understand they aren't a traditional, usual family?
Names are so important when I’m writing; I really can’t get going on a story if they aren’t right. For a while the girls were called Katy, Nina and Tinkerbell - but it wasn’t till I went for a walk along the canal and ‘She’s called Pea!’ popped into my head that it all clicked. Lots of readers really hate that they have unusual names, which I think is a shame. Being unusual isn’t a bad thing.
She also felt that it was good that you included unusual families, especially the two mums next door - she wondered if you felt it was important for children to realise that not everyone is the same?
Absolutely! Our children’s fiction is outstanding at providing us with orphans, but not so good at reflecting the variety of family structures in our reality. Kids need books that allow them to escape to fantastical places and magical worlds - but also ones which relate directly to their own experiences. No child should feel excluded from the joy of finding themselves on the page.
There were a few extra things I wanted to ask - how did your writing evolve.. did the childrens' books come before YA.. and do you have a preference?
My first book was a bonkers genre-busting adventure story for 8-12s, and then I wrote teen and YA before coming back to children’s. I love both. And I find, without meaning to, I tend to write about the same things in both: awkward characters, wonky families, friendship, some sharp edges but hopefully lots of jokes.
Did you set out to write about diversity, or was that just a natural part of the story telling for you?
I live in Oxford, I work in an international school, I’m gay. The world I live in is diverse. There’s an odd assumption that it’s a natural default to write exclusively about straight white able middle-class people, and diversity is something we might consciously add in. I think it says a lot about the people who traditionally work in this industry. We need to move past that.
Has the diversity aspects of your stories received much feedback.. good or bad? Is there any difference between the way children and adults respond to the story lines and characters?
I’m often contacted by parents and teachers asking for recommendations of more stories with same-sex parents, mixed-race families, inclusion across the board; the response has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s brilliant to know that my books are stocked by Letterbox Library (an independent non-profit bookseller which supplies a lot of schools), and Gay’s The Word bookshop in London.
Many kids don’t really notice, which is exactly as I’d hope; to them, they’re just reading about characters in a story. But I’ve had letters from individual children who have never seen ‘someone like me’ in a book before, and that’s pretty special.
Were you a keen reader as a child - did you have a favourite author?
I went to the library every Saturday morning and had usually read two or three books by the time Doctor Who was on. I loved the classics: the Narnia books, Swallows & Amazons, Noel Streatfeild. And masses of Enid Blyton! Pea’s Book of Holidays is actually all about Blyton, and that awkward relationship so many of us have with her books: the ones that made me an avid reader, but are so problematic too.
Do you read MG and YA yourself now? Again, any favourite authors, any who have been an inspiration for your own writing?
I hardly read anything else, honestly. Lately I’ve really enjoyed Keris Stainton’s young teen Reel Friends books, Robin Stevens’ Wells & Wong boarding school mysteries, and Tamsyn Murray’s Completely Cassidy. For YA, I don’t think you can go wrong with Keren David, Catherine Johnson, Sarah Mussi or Cat Clarke.
How many Pea books are there to date, and are there any more planned? What are you working on at the moment.. can we have any hints?
There are four Pea’s Books, and no official plans for more... officially... who knows? The Secrets of Sam & Sam spins off to focus on the twins next door, and my next book is about a new chaotic family on the same street: Billie, her brothers, her dad, and the terrifying adventure that is starting Year 7. It’ll be out in 2016.
I’d like to think Susie for her time.
If you’d like to read some of the other articles and posts, please visit the other sites taking part…
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