1. When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?
While I'm writing a book I usually don't think about who might read it someday – I'm too busy being each of the characters! But when the first draft goes off to the editor, most of all when I first see the cover and later hold the finished book in my hands, I try to imagine who might read it and whether or not they'll enjoy it.
I meet a lot of readers during school visits and other appearances, and that's very important to me. Meeting readers is probably the best thing about being an author. I had a very special reader in mind, though, as I was writing Charmed Summer, the first book in the Flip Flop Club series. Her name is Lydia and she reminds me a bit of Elly and a bit of Sierra. I dedicated the book to her.
2. I commented that Charmed Summer has a rather timeless feel in many places, reminding me of some of the wonderful children's books I grew up reading. Which books and authors influence you when writing?
Thank you very much! It's not always easy to trace your influences as a writer. These are the first books I've written which are 'realism' – set in our world, in our time. I read a lot of fantasy. Favourite authors include Diana Wynne Jones, Philip Reeve, Jonathan Stroud, Penelope Pearce, Joan Aiken, Margaret Mahey, Garth Nix. I do love the Swallows and Amazons books, and I admit to re-reading We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea when writing Whale Song so I could see how Arthur Ransome dealt with the technical side of sailing. He puts a lot more sailing jargon than my editors allowed! I also loved and love E. Nesbit's books like The Treasure Seekers and Five Children and It. And anything by Michelle Majorian: she's amazing.
Great picks - Aiken and Nesbit in particular are two of my favourite authors, and I love most of Ransome's books. (Although I have to be honest and say We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea is one I'm not overly keen on. Whale Song sounds intriguing, though - can't wait to read it!)
3. Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what's the soundtrack to the Flip-Flop Club series?
Oh, that is difficult. Yes, when I'm writing older. I'm writing a YA book at the moment and I don't think Elly, Sierra and Tash would be too keen on the music I listen to while writing that! I don't tend to listen to music when writing for 8-12s. I'd love to take a poll of FFC readers' favourite tracks and artists. For the next FFC books I could listen to a play list based on that and see what happens!
4. As much as I liked the three main characters, Tash's dog Mojo is a total scene-stealer! Who's your favourite fictional animal?
So glad you loved Mojo. He's straight-forward wish fulfilment. I'm desperate to have a border terrier but we can't right now: I'm too busy to look after a dog properly and both I and my husband travel quite a lot for work. We have two lovely soppy cats and they're much petted and pampered, but yes, I want my own Mojo!
My favourite fictional animal? Again, a tough one. The horse, Flicka, from Mary O'Hara's amazing book, My Friend Flicka, broke my heart when I was Elly's age. The intensity of that love between child and animal was very much part of my emotional life as a child. I've always loved animals and started off studying biology at university with the intention of becoming animal behaviorist like Jane Goodall. But I soon found out I was a hopeless scientist.
The other fictional animal that stands out for me is Charlotte in E.B. White's Charlotte's Web. That book made me want to be a writer, and I'll always be grateful to my fourth grade teacher, Mrs Ormsbee, for reading it to our class. I don't think the importance of reading aloud to children can ever be emphasized enough.
Agreed, Charlotte's awesome! I've never read Mary O'Hara but so many people love her that I'm clearly missing out... will have to sort it out at some point!
5. What would your ideal pair of flip-flops look like?
Definitely green, like Elly's. And they'd need to be comfortable, so not too slippy and hard. I'm not that sparkly though: I leave sparkle to Sierra.
6. What advice would you give to someone trying to write their first book for children?
In one paragraph or less, eh? Well, read good stories. Don't just read what you liked when you were young – read what 's being published now. Take a creative writing course; join a local writer's group so you can start getting feedback. Have a look at The Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), which has a very good website with lots of information to get you started.
Most of all, decide why you want to write and especially why you want to write for young people. I write children's books because that's what I most enjoy reading. I also happen to think children and teenagers are the most interesting people on the planet. Writing for children is not, believe me, a path to fame or fortune. Most published writers will never be able to give up their day job. So write for love and to become the best writer you can be. Like any art, it takes years of hard work and practice.
7. There are some wonderful extras in Charmed Summer - a particular favourite of mine was the 'Create Your Own Time Capsule' piece. If you were burying a time capsule, what would you put in?
Photographs of my son and husband; a copies of my books; letters from my parents (yes, they are old; they write letters!); recorded phone conversations with dear friends; photos from our family holidays on the Scillies, which is the place most like Sunday Island. Maybe I'd bury one of my motorbikes in a hermetically sealed chamber so in twenty years I could open it up and have a ride on a retro-bike. Except everything will have gone electric by then ...
8. Of course, even when children have finished reading the book, they can then find out more on the fabulous website! Are you heavily involved in it? What's your favourite part of the site?
The website is great. Oxford University Press have done a lovely job with it. I have an author page there and will answer any questions from readers. I love the trailers and the secret area is fun. Favourite: Flip Flop Club ecards.
9. Which book would you recommend to people who enjoy the Flip-Flop Club, and why?
Ballet Shoes, by Noel Streatfeild: a classic loved by so many. And The Railway Children, by E. Nesbit. So good! Books about friendship that I really rate are: Gene Kemp's Juniper and Katherine Paterson's heartbreakingly beautiful Bridge to Terabithia which was made into a film a few years ago. Juniper is an adventure/mystery and Terabithia is simply a stunning classic. Both you'll have to order through the library or find online. I don't think Juniper is in print, which is scandalous. And always recommend books by Diana Wynne Jones. Especially good ones for readers this age are Charmed Life, Witch Week and The Magicians of Caprona.
Some brilliant picks there - Ballet Shoes and The Railway Children are two of my all-time favourites! Wynne Jones is someone else I really should read more of...
10. What's next for Ellen Richardson?
Fab! Hope you have a great time there. Best wishes for the future, I'm looking forward to reading more about the Flip Flop Club!