Interview with Author Laura Dockrill
Hello and welcome back to the UA Book Blog. This week we talked to Laura Dockrill, award-winning children’s author and illustrator. Laura is represented here at UA by Jodie Hodges for her books and Dan Usztan for her scripts. She writes for young people of all ages, from picture books up to YA, including works of poetry and theatre. In this interview, she tells us about her upcoming work, her writing process and offers aspiring authors her top writing tips.
1. Let’s talk about your upcoming book. What made you write Big Bones? What came first – was it the story, the message or the main character, BB?
Big Bones was spawned out of various trails: drunken conversations with friends, chats with my sister, school visits with kids and a constant internal dialogue. Turning 30 was a bit of a weird meltdown for me, I suddenly panicked that I wasn't who I wanted to be, I wasn't where I thought I should be. Why didn't I own the Disney Castle, why couldn't I ice skate? Why didn't I have 12 perfect and polite children and live on a farm with geese and stuff? Where was my pierced belly button and ability to do the splits? Who was I meant to turn to now I was a grown up myself? There was no emergency panic button I could push anymore to say 'HELP ME I'M JUST A KID!' The kids now looked to us as GROWN UPS. People on the bus call me a 'lady.' I couldn't take it, where did the last 15 years go? And so I had to go back to the little me I left behind and give her a voice. The book is about confidence – WHY DON'T THEY SELL CONFIDENCE IN SHOPS? It’s about self-care, body positivity, sisterhood, kindness, happiness, and FOOD. It's an apology to my younger self and an apology to bread also, for turning my back on it for so long.
It's about growing up.
2. Can you tell us a bit about your writing process? What does your average writing day look like?
It's tea. And dark chocolate digestives from the fridge. One eaten frozen cold with the lovely crack sound and the second dunked in the hot tea. Then I get up. I shower and go straight to my desk with some kind of amazing smoothie and write whatever I'm working on. I write from home, in my PJs looking out of the window. Hmm... not exactly my PJs actually – more like what a person would wear to paint a house. Every day is different because I like to have a whole host of projects on. I write for adults and kids and trespass into the fields of books, theatre, song writing, film and art. So one day I might be writing my own book, the next I'm at a school visit storytelling to 600 kids in Newcastle and then the next, writing with pop stars. I love the variety of my job. It's like a Lazy Susan, I get rid of one project and another scoots around, by the time I've whizzed off that one, the one I sent off comes back around with feedback tied to its back. They are like watering lots of mini plants, always one needs feeding. I try to fill my day with lots of nice food, walks too and fit in a coffee with a friend or a meeting. Sometimes I like to have a pot of food or a lasagne cooking behind me in the background because A) cooking is the only way I truly relax. B) Something to look forward to. C) If my writing goes badly that day I can say WELL AT LEAST I MADE A LASAGNE.
3. You write across all different ages and genres in children’s books – from picture books to middle-grade to YA to poetry, even. How do you get into the different voices for all the work you do? Do you find it difficult to switch from one to the other?
I try to not see the work as hugely different, I like to always treat all the work with the same care, respect and dedication- just with adult writing I can stretch my wings a bit vocabulary wise, but kids have more capacity for nonsense. Both have their pushes and pulls. I don't find it difficult to switch heads from one to the next because I always try and write exactly like myself, my influences all are able to morph into worlds without changing their voice or style and I find that very reassuring. Poetry is my number one boyfriend, he comes everywhere with me in all my work and will appear throughout everything I do, unavoidable, no matter what. The hardest bit is trying to tame my voice when I speak to you guys or my accountant. That's when I have to look as though I'm normal for a second.
4. What advice would you give to people looking to write for children/young people?
Write how you talk. Write what you know. Keep everything. Don't be afraid to recycle, borrow or lend. It's NOT all about being a genius - you don't have to go to university or know every word in the dictionary to be a writer. You don't have to be BFFs with Stephen Fry and David Attenborough. It's NORMAL to be nervous, normal to think your work is crap. Of course you'll think that – it would be egotistical, off-putting and weird to think you were amazing.
BUT WHAT IF YOU ARE AMAZING...WAIT, YOU ARE AMAZING. AND IF NOT YOU, THEN WHO? SOMEBODY HAS TO BE A WRITER. DO IT RIGHT NOW THIS SECOND, YOU ARE ONLY A WRITER ONCE YOU START WRITING. THEN YOU ARE, FROM THAT EXACT SECOND, A WRITER.
A writer does not mean 'having books out.' Don't make excuses, you can write without 'that new posh engraved pen', 'that new laptop', that 'trip to Thailand' – SHAKESPEARE NEVER HAD A LAPTOP! Get out of your head what other people think of you; you are not pretentious, thinking highly of yourself, asking too much of the world by putting your thoughts down on paper and asking somebody to read it, you are just doing what you want to do – AND THAT'S REALLY COOL. Share your work but take feedback with a pinch of salt - not everybody knows more than you do.
Make time to write. That means sacrificing the pub, the party, the cinema and the washing up, too. Follow your instinct. Not all of your night time dreams are GENIUS but your day time dreams just might be. Maybe they are the dreams that people want to hear? Listen to the voice inside you that shouts the loudest. The idea that harasses you the most. Be brave. Whatever scares you most – aghhhhhhhhhh – WRITE ABOUT THAT! When you write a love scene your heart should be beating out of your chest. When you're writing a chase scene your cheeks should be red! When you're writing about food you should be hungry. When you're hurting your characters you should feel sad, maybe cry a bit. You should get angry and write with a frown on your face or a smile, too.
Don't worry about spelling or grammar. Your imagination is a muscle, it needs pumping. Set yourself personal goals. Don't write how you think you should sound, write how you sound. YOU ARE INTERESTING.
5. We know you’re exceptionally busy. What exciting projects do you have coming up?
Apart from Big Bones, I am writing some kids’ theatre. A short film with my little brother and I have a picture book out too called ANGRY COOKIE.
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