Friday, March 31, 2017

GUESTOPIA: Kidlit Author Anne Booth

Anne Booth

Today, I am delighted to welcome the super talented children’s author Anne Booth to Guestopia! It’s a double celebration for Anne right now; not only does she have a brand new picture book out, but this month she’s celebrating the three year anniversary of her middle grade novel Girl with a White Dog. And it’s this novel we’re going to find out more about. 

Anne lives in a village in Kent with her husband and four children. She has two dogs called Timmy and Ben. She is not afraid of spiders, so is a good person to ask if you need one removed from your room! Her lovely author agent is called Anne Clark!

Right, let’s get started with the interview so you can find out more about Anne and her books.

Was Girl with a White Dog (GWWD) your first published book?


Which genre is it?

It is middle grade, which is officially 9-12, but I have had letters from 14 year olds who loved it, and Jessie and Kate are in Year 9 of secondary school.

Is it a series or standalone?

It’s a standalone. My other MG book, Dog Ears, is also standalone.

How did the first idea for GWWD book sneak up on you?

I think it was a combination of things, including  a conversation overheard in my local post office, my worry about the headlines in the newspapers, my MA in Children’s Literature where we had studied Nazi Children’s books, my time caring for mum who had dementia, my love of fairytales, and a book called Amazing Dogs by Jan Bondeson, which set me off on a historical detective quest to find out more about dogs in Nazi Germany.

How long did you plot/plan until you started writing it?

That’s hard to say. I read lots and lots of books - as many children’s books about the second world war as I could - both ones I remembered from my childhood and present ones, before and during and after writing all the versions. I read lots and lots of history books about Germany in the 1930s, and I also read lots about dementia, and I kept changing my notes and trying out sample chapters and plan as I went along. Whilst still working on it I went to Munich for the weekend with my friend, and things we found out there changed the story, and I went to The Wiener Library to see an exhibition of Nazi German books, which was crucial. I would say the whole process before getting an agent took about two years in any spare time I had whilst caring for my mum and family.

Once you started, did the story flow naturally or did you have to step in and wrestle it into submission?

The first version flowed a little too naturally, in that I set it in the third person, in 1930s Germany, with a very young protagonist and a fairy tale feeling from the beginning, but it didn’t work. I found this version very easy to write, and loved many elements, but it had a big problem, which was pointed out to me by a publisher very early on. The publisher loved the lyrical elements, but she said, because of the young main character and the style, that it read as if it was written for 5-8 year olds, and  she felt the subject matter was too scary and serious for that age group in the way that I was dealing with it.  So then I had to think again about how to approach it, and decided to set it in Britain today, and make the heroine the age of my youngest girls, who at that time were in year 9.

How many drafts did you write before you let someone read it? Who was that someone?

My children were my first readers - or rather, listeners - right from the start. They were very patient and let me read out extracts to them and then commented whether my Year 9s were believable or not.  My husband, a secondary school teacher, gave me good advice too about the structure of a school day. I realise writing this, that reading my work out loud is very important at the beginning of a book, so it is first about getting people (my long- suffering family!) to listen to it.

Did you employ an editor/proofreader or did you have critique partners/beta readers before you started querying?

I didn’t employ an editor but I was very grateful for the detailed feedback from the publisher who rejected my first draft. I  sent various versions and bits of versions to friends, and I especially cried on the shoulder of another unpublished writer friend,  Virginia Moffatt, who was thinking about similar things whilst working on a novel for adults about different generations affected by war. (I am glad to say her novel is going to be published this year with Unbound and is called Echo Hall).

I also remember going for a respite break from caring, down to ‘Retreats for You’ in Devon and reading out a bit to Shelley Harris, the novelist, who was down there working on her own book. Shelley had been a secondary school teacher and kindly gave me feedback about whether a particular English teacher in a scene was believable.

I have been interested in online discussion recently about sensitivity readers. For Girl with a White Dog I asked my friend Helen, a primary school teacher who has a disability and has played sitting volleyball for  Great Britain and narrowly missed being in the paralympics for both swimming and sitting volleyball , to check out my depiction of the disabled character Kate. I was really grateful for her feedback as otherwise I would have been really worried that I might have inadvertently written something patronising or hurtful because of my own lack of experience being disabled.

Roughly how many drafts did it take before you sent the manuscript off into the real world?

So many! I had nearly a complete book written as a fairy tale, then I tried out lots of different versions of different chapters and plot twists for the final version. Once I did decide I wrote the book quite straightforwardly.

Did you receive many, if any, rejections before you were snapped up by your agent?

I remember that initial feedback after the rejection of the first version by the publisher. Then I can’t remember - I think perhaps four or five but it may well have been more. I sent to some agents but also to publishers who were taking direct submissions from writers. I remember being very disappointed when there was one publisher whose editors really wanted to take it but then it was turned down at the end by marketing. That ended up being a blessing, as I was so depressed I sat down and wrote the picture book ‘The Fairest Fairy’ to cheer me up, sent it off and it was accepted by Nosy Crow! Then I had the good luck to read  a tweet from ‘the Bookseller’ on Twitter that Anne Clark was setting up an agency.  I was so lucky to have Anne, as she had been an editor, and she  saw the potential in my manuscript and helped me prune it before we sent it off.

Which publisher signed this book?

Catnip Books.

How many drafts until it was published?

That’s hard to say. Anne had done a great job editing the version we sent in, then Non Pratt and Liz Bankes, the editors  at Catnip at the time, suggested extra scenes and some further culling of sub plots, all of which really improved it.

Has the book changed dramatically since the first draft?


Are there any parts you’d like to change even now?

I don’t think any writer will ever be 100% satisfied by any book - but I think I had so much excellent editing from Anne and Non and Liz that I think that, as a work, it is as good as I could make it and wouldn’t benefit from any further tinkering. Sadly, I feel  everything in Girl with a White Dog is still relevant for today, and I feel passionate about telling that story and going into schools to talk about how and why I wrote it.

How involved were you/have you been in its publishing process?

I felt very involved even though I don’t think I changed anything - Catnip sent me, for example, the designs for the cover, designed by Pip Johnson and illustrated by  Serena Rocca and Non even told me about the font they were going to use. I thought it was all amazing. I think my actual contribution to process was to say the cover was absolutely lovely and suggest the dog was a little smaller, and the rest was just me feeling overwhelmed by admiration and excitement!

Do you have another job?

At the time of writing I was a registered carer for my mum, and also supporting my elderly dad. Now, since my mum’s death, I still support my dad but I am not an official carer. Instead, supported by my husband, who is a teacher, I am working full time as a writer.

What part of being a writer do you find the easiest?

Discovering stories and having ideas - I love the way that so many things can inspire a book - a news article, a conversation with a friend or overheard on a bus, a book, a film, a tweet,  my own or friends’ experiences. I love the reading and research and I love opening a notebook and jotting down ideas and extracts. I also love working across the age range and with illustrators - my next picture book ‘I want a Friend’ is coming out this month - it is illustrated by Amy Proud and I love seeing what she has done with the characters I imagined.

What part do you find hardest?

I think controlling all my ideas is hardest - I can try to place too many plot lines into a story and I am very grateful for my agent and wise editors - it is lovely to see an overgrown story expertly trimmed, even if it can be a bit painful during the process.  I think I am learning from the advice and  getting better at not overloading a story - I hope so anyway. I have even recently been asked to add things, which, thinking of that unwieldy manuscript  Anne received, made me smile.

Do you push through writing barriers or walk away?

Both really. I am very lucky to have two dogs, and walking them can help. Sometimes I go away and read a children’s book or some fiction from another genre from that I am working on, or read history or other non-fiction, or watch a film or a comforting detective programme on TV. I can get  inspired and also a bit distracted by twitter and Facebook too. But  ultimately you always have to come back, sit down and write and re write and have a cup of tea and re-write again. It is both fantastic fun and hard slog.

How many projects do you have on the go at the same time?

It is best for me to get my head down and work on one project at a time per day or week, but sometimes you can be working on one book and get sent urgent edits for another, or have a great idea for a picture book when working on a middle grade, or another book from the same genre. Ideas for new books are always occurring to me, and I jot them down in notebooks to come back to later.

Do you think you’re born with the talent to write or do you think it can be learned?

I think people are natural story- tellers, but I think you can always learn how to tell stories better, and not everyone will want to turn their stories into books. To be a writer in particular you need to love writing (I know that sounds obvious but I think some people love the idea of being an author but not so much the idea of being alone, putting words on paper or on a screen), and first of all I think a writer must be an enthusiastic  reader of the type of books they want to write. I think writers must be open to learning from reading the work of other writers, and to be a published writer I think you also need to be open to editing and also aware of what else is currently being written and published in the genre and on the subject you are writing about. I read a lot of wonderful children’s books about the second world war before I was satisfied that my book was adding anything new to the body of work and so would have a chance of being published.

How many future novels do you have planned?

SO many! I have to keep calm and deal with one idea at a time, but I have so many ideas. Luckily my agent is very good at keeping me on track and focused on projects, or I could go off on too many paths.

Do you write other things, such as short stories, articles, blogs, etc?

I  have written non fiction articles about being a carer and other things, and I have had a short story for adults long listed for the Bridport Prize and later published online, and won 3rd prize in a flash fiction competition. My Creative Writing MA is in adult fiction, and I have an adult novel I wrote which I am looking at again when I have the time!

What’s the highlight of being published so far?

I have loved so much about it. It’s been wonderful being short listed for awards and getting lovely reviews and very exciting, for example, being asked to the Edinburgh Festival. I also absolutely love seeing my words illustrated, and it has been amazing seeing the work of the illustrators  Rosalind Beardshaw and Sam Usher and Sophy Williams (and Amy Proud and Ruth Hearson in books to come).

I think the highlight though, has to be hearing from, or meeting, real live children who have read a book I have written and tell me they have loved it. That makes everything worthwhile! I love getting letters and I love meeting children in schools. I  enjoy planning the presentations and getting props and costumes together - I have a very cute little blackbird which whistles, for example. I really enjoy chatting to children and hearing their very interesting questions, and because I write across the age groups I can have so many fascinating and fun experiences. On World Book Day, for example, I started the day dressed as a fairy, talking about fairies and making friends and helping reception children paint rainbows and sing songs, then I went on to Years 3 and 4 and talked about rescuing animals and writing stories, and ended the day presenting a show about ‘Girl with a White Dog’ and ‘Dog Ears’ with years 5 and 6.  I couldn’t do that every week and I felt exhausted after it, but it was so great working with each age group and felt that I was the luckiest person in the world to work across the age range. I have been to some amazing schools and met such wonderful inspiring children and staff since being published, and I still find it amazing seeing children with books with my name on!

I have just remembered a different highlight - seeing my story Refuge become the beautiful Nosy Crow book illustrated so sensitively  by Sam Usher. I am proud it is raising money and awareness for refugees , and so happy that because of it, I got to do a BBC radio interview and meet the lovely Syrian picture book writer and illustrator, Nadine Kaadan. Being published has given me so many interesting experiences.

Give me one writing tip that works for you.

Write things down in longhand in a notebook you like the feel of - draw diagrams, cross out, experiment, have fun.

And one that doesn’t.

I can’t plot everything in great detail before hand - I have to have a basic framework but I have to allow the characters and story to change as we go along. I also don’t like to show too many people what I am doing as my confidence can be easily rocked or the story ruined at an early stage.

Can you give us a clue or secret about the next book?

Hmmm … for middle grade I think it is about the power of story again…the one I am working on has more action than my previous middle grade books but a similar idea of looking beyond the initial story you are given. For 5-8s - more magic and nature. And for picture books - some new characters I am really looking forward to introducing to children.

What question have you always wanted to be asked but never have? What would the answer be?

I can’t think of any - except perhaps ‘can we turn your book into a film or animation?’ My answer would be ‘OOH Yes - but let me ask Anne my agent first!’

Another question could be ‘ Would you look after these rescue donkeys if we give you and your family  a cottage in  a beautiful part of Ireland, near enough to somewhere with bookshops and lots of music, and with you having enough time, and money to live on, so that you can keep writing lots and lots of books?’ But nobody has asked me that either yet. The answer is  ‘yes’!

Fantastic! It's been so wonderful to offer you the chance to get to know more about this wonderful author. To follow Anne and discover more about her incredible books, these links might help!


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