Today we hear from author, Julia Jarman..
A Book Babble
Lots of writers say they write for themselves or – if they’re children’s writers – their ‘inner child’. Me? I’m not sure. If I’ve got an inner child I must have an inner toddler as well and an inner teenager. I write for a wide range of readers – from tots to teens and in-betweens but not grownups – yet. But that’s not entirely true. When I write picture books I’m aware of the adult who is reading the book to the child, maybe many times, so I try to put something for them too. I think I write for an audience. When I write I like to think there’s someone out there wanting to read my story, maybe aloud. It’s no coincidence that the first books I wrote were novels for bright 8-12 year olds and I was a mother of three children: one boy two girls aged 12, 10 and 8. They all said, ‘Write about real children like us.’ The girls said, ‘Put lots of scary bits in.’ My son said, ‘No, don’t.’
I started writing my Time Travelling Cat series – though I didn’t know it was going to be a series – because I couldn’t get them to read historical fiction. ‘The past – boRING!’ said one of them. I set out to prove they were wrong but needed to trick them into reading it. My device, a time-travelling cat, came from eldest daughter who heard me talking to her cat when he’d returned after an absence of over a week. ‘Where have you been?’ I said. ‘He’s probably been time-travelling,’ she said. I knew it was a brilliant idea because it put me in ‘What if?’ mode. What if a cat could travel through time, where would it go? Egypt was the obvious answer and I wrote ‘The Time Travelling Cat and the Egyptian Goddess’ (though early editions are called ‘The Time Travelling Cat’ as I thought it was a one-off). The cat has now travelled to Roman, Viking, Tudor and Victorian Britain and the Aztec era in Mexico. and the latest is ‘The Time Travelling Cat and the Great Victorian Stink’.
My children grew up faster than me – maybe I do have an inner child – and I started writing for teens. ‘Hangman’ about bullying and ‘Inside’ set in a prison are dark and I don’t like dark but they did, well the girls did. I write books for teens that I have to write because they’re in my head and I have to get them out or go mad.
Nowadays I’m more influenced by the children I meet on my school visits. ‘Class Two at the Zoo’ was the outcome of a writing workshop, in which a Year 4 boy proved to be an expert on anacondas. Lynne Chapman’s zany pictures capture the craziness.
Pupil demand definitely dictated the choice of subject matter for the latest time-travelling cat adventure. Horrible history is IN and sewers are BIG, so I chose to set my story in Victorian times, in 1858 the year the River Thames came to a complete stand still because it was so full of the brown stuff. The plot is a murder mystery. When a hired killer sets out to murder Joseph Bazalgette , the brilliant engineer who has a plan to solve the sewage problem, hero Topher and Ka the time-travelling cat leap into action.
The biggest influence on my writing at the moment is my grandchildren, five of them now, aged 9 months to 9 years. Since the first was born I’ve written a clutch of picture books. The ‘Big Red Bath’ was inspired by bath-time fun, ‘Big Blue Train’ by riding on Grandad’s model steam train, the ‘Bears on the Stairs’ by their bed-time delaying tactics, ‘Ants in Your Pants’ by one of their favourite books. ‘Write us a pants book, Grandma!’ Guy Parker Rees’s gentle humour makes him the perfect illustrator for this story.
I’m so lucky to have fantastic illustrators and they’re influencing my writing too. They make me want to write more just so I can see how they interpret my words. Two imaginations are definitely better than one. The best illustrators always add something I haven’t thought of. Adrian Reynolds is working on ‘Big Yellow Digger’ at this moment and I can hardly wait to see his added extras AND I’ve just had an idea for the ‘Big Green Machine’! I’d better stop babbling …
Thanks, Julia! You can visit Julia’s website here now.