Frequently Asked Questions

About me

 

What is your Full name? Do you have any nicknames? 

My full name is Jacqueline Anne French.

(I don't think I'll mention my nicknames!) 

How old are you?

I was born in 1953 and am not dead yet. Work it out.

How many brothers/sisters/children/grandchildren do you have?

I'll answer when they all agree that I can tell you. they haven't all agreed yet.

Were you good at writing at school?

Yes, very (she says modestly). My first book was called Tresses and the Unghostly Ghost. I wrote it when I was six and the headmistress liked it so much she had a copy run off for every kid in the school. It was about a haunted horse. (The ghost noises were particularly good). That was followed by Mary and the Disappearing Fish (they were found in a cave below the sea ... that one had an exploding volcano too, and a tsunami) and then a couple set in ancient Egypt, also with volcanoes, earthquakes, strange tunnels etc..

 

When did you know that you were a writer?
At six, bored one Sunday afternoon, I wrote a book, and found creating your own pet universe was even more fulfilling than reading. The headmistress printed off a copy for every kid in school.

When did you first read your writing aloud or give it to someone to read and what was their reaction? How did it impact on you?
Miss Davies, my infant school teacher, let me tell the class a story at the end of each school day. For a kid who couldn’t read single words on the board (I still find reading chunks of text easier), whose handwriting was and still is illegible, it meant that I was never regarded as dumb. Odd, sometimes, but a good ‘odd’ if it led to stories.


What and when was your first acceptance? How did you feel?
My first acceptance was in the late eighties, though it took years for the book to be published. It went with a bang: our phone line was hit by lightning, and I shot screaming across the room. Cathie was puzzled by the scream of anguish. Wasn’t it good news? 

What were your favourite subjects at School?

My favourite subjects when I was at school were English of course, and history and ancient history. Maths and art were problems, as I am severely dyslexic.  My maths teacher was constantly furious that I got the right answers, but the wrong way - or transposed numbers, which she took as carelessness, but I literally couldn't see my mistake. I am the worst artist this side of the black stump - but I love creating gardens and houses, so it almost makes up for not being able to draw. 

What schools did you go to?

Camp Hill Primary, Somerville House and Brisbane State High.

Only one of them burnt down while I was there. That was not my fault.

After that  I went to the University of Queensland  on a scholarship and studied far more subjects that I was supposed to.

I also unofficially studied science and medicine courses at the University of Sydney, and passed the exams, but that was done by mail, which wasn't the way things were supposed to be done back then, and I was far too young to be admitted as a proper student.

I took the big envelopes arriving every week for granted back then, but am amazed at the generosity of the staff now. I think perhaps that after I had done the first exam they may have been curious, or sympathetic to a kid who wanted to lean about photosynthesis instead of Run, Spot, Run.

where did you grow up?

I was born in NSW and my parents lived with my great-grandmother but then we moved to Brisbane. When I was at school I was living part of the time right on the edge of the bush and on a farm while at university. I moved to Canberra when I graduated then to the Araluen Valley a year after that.

What other jobs have you had?

My first job was washing up at the Mater Mother's Hopsital in Brisbane when I was twelve but had signed on as fourteen. That as where I learned to love lamingtons.  I've been a sugar packer, cook, journalist, chambermaid, gopher for a private detective, echidna milker, public servant, farmer... 

What are your hobbies?

In my spare time I read, cook, pick fruit, plant trees, follow wombat tracks, eavesdrop on wallabies and rock pythons,  mooch around the bush and swim in the creek and gossip  with friends.  Gossip is a very good way of getting material for books.but in a sense I never have spare time, as anything that happens may be cannibalised and turned into fiction.

What sort of car do you drive?

A very dusty one. We live on a dirt road called "The Goat Track". The council gave it another name a few years ago, but ever local still calls it 'the Goat Track'

 

How did you become so informed about aboriginal culture?

There are too many answers to this one.  Partly it is because Maureen Watson (Auntie Mug) Pqstor Don Brady and Kath Walker, now known as Oodgeroo of the Noonuncle, found me as a lost teenager and gave me comfort, vegemite toast and a sense of belonging.   I also worked in an anthropology museum, taught indigenous women English, and have a passion for old diaries and just listening to stories of long ago. But mostly I can't answer, as those who have taught me have not given me permission to pass on.

Where do you live?

We live in a house we built ourselves out of stone from the creek,  and wooden extensions put on later, with fruit trees and gardens all around us (Fudge the wombat helped dig the holes - wombats are good at that - but it can be difficult to get them out again).

We've also got a possum who dances on the roof every morning at 4 am, two wedgetail eagles who live in nests on the cliffs above us, 8 chooks (none of them has many brains), and a very handsome rooster called Arnold Shwarzenfeather. 

Underground and eating grass and sometimes carrots we have Rosie McBristles, Mumma McBristles, Wild Whiskers, Phil, Totally Confused and many other wild wombats. Wild Whiskers bites and chews the doormat, just like her mother, Mothball, who was the wombat in Diary of a Wombat.

And then there is Fruity McFruitFace the wallaby, and Millie the echidna and the two big burrowing frogs who live next to out water tank, and a host of other frogs and animals.

Can we visit your farm?

No.

 

Why?

My husband says so. 

Do you have any pets?

No ... just the chooks and the wombats and the birds and the wallabies and the echidnas and the ... well, you get the idea. I'd much rather live with wild animals than pets. Wild animals don't need you, and don't have to suck up to you to get their dinner...it's really an extraordinary privilege to have a wild animal as a friend.

What's you favourite animal?
Well, humans. My favourite animal is actually dogs - if aliens captured me and said I could only take one companion animal, it would be a dog. But after that, wombats.

Why do you love Wombats? 

You can't watch a wombat walk without grinning. I love living with wild animals like wombats about me, too, as they are fascinating, and every day I learn more about them. But have a look at the Wombats and Wildlife section for more details.

Can we have a wombat at school?

Only if the government gives you a permit, and they won't unless you know what you are doing.

 

Favourites

What was your favourite book as a child?
Karalta, by Mary Grant Bruce - it's exciting if you ever manage to get a copy. Also Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne.

 

What is your favourite genre to read? Why?
Everything.
Though not westerns.

Or books about cricket.

Or politicians’ memoirs unless they have been dead 20 years.

Or where the hero saves the world by accidentally killing 162 bystanders.

Or any books with anachronisms.

Or clichés.

Or a theme that is depressing, which is not the same as gritty or demanding. So quite a lot of ‘nots’, but most have little to do with genre.

 

What is your favourite genre to write in? Why?
Everything.
Most writers are reading omnivores.

I’d read the telephone directory if it had just a little more plot. So why not write omnivorously too? But it took a couple decades before Harper Collins felt that publishing my fiction for adults wouldn’t harm my reputation as a writer for kids.

  

What's your favourite colour? 
Dunno, it depends. I'm very fond of purple but not purple cows or purple skies. Also blue. 

What's your favourite food?

My favourite foods are those I cook for other people. I love feeding people: lots of people, lots of food.

But what I feed them depends on what I think they'd like.

 

I love fresh brown bread and butter; cherries and apricots straight from the tree; chilled mangos; crisp red apples with slices of cheese and eggplant parmigiana.

And chocolate, and new corn straight from the plant .... and many many others, depending on the season.

Who is your favourite or most inspiring historical figure and why?

One would be Socrates, who encouraged the young to ask questions, and seek excellence in their own lives, and Mary MacKillop (Saint Mary of the Cross)  who made it possible for so many kids to find the answers, but it isn't a question I have ever really thought about. There are so many I admire, for so many reasons

What are your favourite books (that you've written)?
Many favourites for different reasons:

I'd say that Goodbye, Mr Hitler is the best, most profound, and most necessary book that I have written. It was also the most difficult. I am very glad that I will not have to face writing it again. Even speaking of it brings me to tears, but they are tears of gratitude.

There's also:

Diary of a Wombat because it is about a wombat friend I loved;

Walking the Boundaries, an early book that still speaks to me of my land;

To Love a Sunburnt Country in the Matilda series; the Miss Lily series because while the themes are important, the books are fun to write ... and always, of course, the books I am working on now, or I would never keep on writing them.. 

Being a writer

What it's like to be a writer?
Wonderful. You get to just sit at your computer making up stories... and then get paid for it. One day I’ll wake up and find I am back in Miss Morrison’s maths class, with the ruler over my knuckles for daydreaming.

Who inspired me to be an author?

No one ... I fell in love with books and wanted to create them

Did/do you have any writing heroes or mentors?
Socrates, Patrick White, Oodgeroo of the Noonuccal, Judith Wright. The latter was friend, as well as a mentor. We met when she cornered me at the post office and declared ‘Don’t you dare stop writing.’

How do they encourage you?
Judith insisted, to me and others, that what I wrote mattered. After a lifetime of people telling me that writing was a waste of time -- no one could ever make a living as a writer -- the depth of her belief gave me the confidence not just to write, but to write words that did matter.

 

As for the woman I knew as Cath Walker, I first saw her when I was 12, yelling ‘f!!#* the b%$^&*@*s!’ about institutionalised bigotry and hatred. I thought ‘I want to grow up to be just like her.’

Do you mentor others? What do you do?
Yes, but not well. I am too tactless.
 

Do you write fulltime? If not what are your other jobs?
Theoretically, but these days advocacy for literacy, libraries, and kids generally, plus answering requests and mail, take up an increasing amount of time. But my only paid work is writing, or talking about writing.

​Why did you become a writer?

I was broke. I needed $106.40 to register the car, and sending off a story was the only way I could think to do it. I was living in a shed in the bush with a young child at the time as well  as a wallaby called Fred, a black snake called Gladys and a wombat called Smudge.

 

It was described by the editor at HarperCollins as the messiest, worst spelt manuscript they'd ever received- she picked it out of the pile for everyone to laugh t, but ended up by reading it aloud to everyone in the office. Then she rang me up to accept it.
 

It was the messiest due to Smudge the wombat who left his droppings on the typewriter every night.

 

After three months of wombat droppings the letter 'e' didn't work, so i had to add al the 'e's in biro.  the spelling was due to the fact I am dyslexic.

 

In the same fortnight I was offered a regular column in a newspaper and a farming magazine and discovered that writing about flowers and fantasy is easier than hauling manure in the old green truck to feed the peach trees. I have been a fulltime writer and wombat negotiator ever since.

 

But I had always WANTED to be a writer. Just hadn't the courage to do anything about it...or possibly the desperation that made me really WORK at my story, to make it the best that I possibly could. I think that bit is what really did it....

How difficult was it to get your first piece of writing published?

Not hard at all, once I'd summoned up the courage- or desperation- to do it. My first novel Rainstones was shortlisted for the CBC and NSW Premier's awards; my first articles to the Canberra Times, Earthgarden and Hobby Farmer led to regular columns, and my first few gardening articles to a request to do a gardening book. I was lucky; I was also desperate, and that was probably even more important than luck. I HAD to write publishable material; it was the only way I could think of to support myself and my young son in what was still a primitive shed in the bush. I simply didn't have enough money to relocate. But I was surpised at my success. I sent the first story away simply hoping to get enough money to register the car and a year later I was making a still small(but to me magnificent) reasonably regular income.

Who is your biggest influence?

If there was just one, or even a hundred, I'd write boring books ... or maybe only one kind of book. Everyday someone influences me deeply, in person, or in print or memory.

What's the worst thing about being a writer?

People keep giving you spoons. Can't think of anything really bad..

If you weren't a writer what else would you be?

I've been a farmer, and might still do that; a cook, but I think my knees  wouldn't be able to stand for the long hours needed these days. The jobs I;d really like would be a Scientologist ... working out how to communicate with aliens or  other intelligent earth species, or my brain transplanted to a spaceship to help found a colony on another world. But it isn't really relevant ... I have been an author since I was six. The difference now is that i am paid for it.

How many more books are you going to write?

Probably about six a year for the rest of my life.

 

Do you prefer to write novels or picture books?

Both.

How long are you going to live for?

Hopefully someone will transplant my brain into a spaceship to help found a colony on  a new planet...and that will means thousands of books by the time we get there. 

Have you ever won an award/s or been shortlisted? What was it for?
At last count it was over 60 awards or shortlists, but that count was about 10 years ago. A truthful answer is ‘I dunno.’ But not being shortlisted for a book I know is good still feels like someone has slashed my fingers.
 

Have you ever been awarded a grant? How did it help you?
I received a small grant after my first book came out. It allowed me to write Walking the Boundaries, still in print, full time, which lead to the ability to support a husband who bravely gave up his job to follow me to the bush I love.
 

Do you belong to any professional organisations? What are they and how do they help you?
The ASA, and  SCBWI … sorry, I can never remember acronyms! Nor do I remember to pay my subscription on time, and am too far away to ever attend events. Which is a pity, as I miss contact with other writers, or rather, having that contact mostly limited to email. Also the fun everyone looks like they are having on FB.
 

Do you participate in writing workshops as a student? Which ones were memorable?
I’ve never attended a workshop that I wasn’t giving. And some have been very memorable, for all the wrong reasons. And sometimes the right reasons too.
 

Do you run writing workshops? What do you include?
I gave myself a two year holiday from giving writing workshops. I’m just about ready to resume, I think., and if anyone wants to organise a trip to my place in January, will give a free writing workshop then. But only if all the organising is done by others … except maybe lunch. (Do love feeding people)
 

How has dyslexia affected your writing?

I doubt I'd be a writer if I wasn't dyslexic. There was a study of road accident victims who had certain sorts of brain injuries in the US a few years ago...can't recall who did it now. After their accident their verbal IQ, ort intelligence, went up by an average of 15 points. The study concluded that it's as though the visual part of the brain suppresses the verbal. In other words, if you are dyslexic you may be much more intelligent with the way you use words than you might have been otherwise. This doesn't mean that being dyslexic makes you a genius! But it does explain why so many good word spinners are dyslexic.With my form of dyslexia too (it's a very common form) it's as though the brain goes too fast to process the images in front of it. One way to tell if someone has the form of dyslexia I have is to get them to look at a word. If the word blurs before about 10 seconds is up, they have a problem. It's much easier for someone with my form of dyslexia to read LOTS of words than to read a single word on the page. So the sad thing is that so many kids with my problem are given 'Run Spot Run!' remedial books that just make the problem much worse! I can still remember the terror in my first year at school when each kid in the class had to read a single word on the board. I didn't even know what they meant! But luckily I had learnt to read when I was about three, just looking at the page while my mother read to me...but the teachers didn't discover I could read till they found me illegally in the library one lunch time, nearly finished Black Beauty! I could read that okay...but not a single word on the blackboard! Once someone with my form of dyslexia (I won't call it a disability, because I don't think it is) learns to read, they are usually a very fast reader.

How did being dyslexic affect you at school?

My first two years at school were with an amazing young teacher, Miss Davies, who taught us all to read and write, even though it as her first years of teaching. Sh realised very soon that even though i couldn't read 'Run Spot Run' I could read large books, and never yelled at me for day dreaming or not trying, as other teachers did.

 

In all my school years, I really only had three problems: a geography teacher who would not accept I knew more than she did; a maths teacher, who was infuriated because I could do some things perfectly   but was unable to even see others, and kept making what she thought were careless mistakes, transposing numbers or letters. She believed I was either making deliberate errors or  just didn't care; and German.

 

Back then, you had to pass a language at Leaving to go to university. I knew I'd do well in my other subjects and get a scholarship, but a half mark was deducted for every spelling mistake in German. Even in English I'd make more than 100 mistakes in a two-hour exam paper.

 

But about 30% of the mark was for an oral test at the University. We were told to say we wanted to study German at uni, so they'd give us a good mark to get more students. But I was honest and said my German was terrible (in German) because i couldn't spell, and that I wanted to study philosophy and psychology, and yes, I'd read Wittgenstein but in English, but I did love reading Goethe in German... All that after 100 students all said they wanted to study German! The examiner sat back and laughed when I said I didn't want to. He asked the next question on the list: 

What did you have for breakfast?

I ate an apple.

Only an apple?

I am too fat, I said.

Actually I had no money, and had found the apple, but I couldn't admit that.

You are 'schoen'  he said, then close the list of questions and we just talked about philosophy in German.

 

We heard alter than only one student had been given 100%, and i did pass German, got my scholarship, and went to uni. But i think it was because that one kind man gave me 100%, and so despite my poor written mark I passed. My oral German wasn't 100% kind of good, but I think he knew i needed that mark to reach university, and he wasn't going to see my chance taken away.

And at uni one linguistics essay was marked down for spelling, a Distinction instead of a High Distinction plus, and i was annoyed ...... and that was it.

Years later, two of my teachers made told anecdotes about how hard my writing had been for them. But they never penalised me, and always have me generous marks, and even at times told me i was brilliant, which I needed to be told when things were hard, back then. They knew i did my best, and regarded the writing and spelling as  far less important than the content of the work.

But I was lucky. I taught myself to read before I went to school, because so many people read to me. I told fascinating stories to the class, so no one thought that I was dumb. I could remember anything, the whole text book after i had skimmed it once.

There are many many forms of dyslexia. I am lucky to have a form that lets me read quickly. I have been even more blessed with magnificent teachers through the years.

How do you become an author?

Write. re write. rewrite again. And again. And again. Send it off. Be prepared to repeat this process for twenty years. If you're dedicated enough - and honest enough to keep improving your work, and don't close off your mind to the fact that OF COURSE it can be better, you'll get there. (But few people can do this; even fewer want to. If you both can do and want to, you're a born writer.)

Writing

How many books have you written?

Count them! Any answer I give now will be wrong as I publish about six a year. But they are on very different topics, and for different age groups, so you are unlikely to be interested in all of them.

Do you read your own books?

No. Or only when I'm in front of an audience and can't get out of it.

How long does it take you to write a book?

A lifetime of thinking; a few years planning; a few months writing; many more months trashing and rewriting ... and as long as it takes.

Where is your favourite place to write?

Wherever I happen to be that is comfortable, quiet and beautiful, and preferably in the valley where I live.

Why did you start writing for children?

I'm not sure ... I sent my first story to Angus and Roberston ... who deliberated about whether it was for children or adults and then asked for more stories for a book for children. By the fifth story I was hooked. My work is often a blend of detailed reality and fantasy: much more easily accepted in kid’s books than adult's.

How do you write so many books?
I have a small pocket universe in my handbag that I pop into to write books. I also concentrate, avoid traffic, supermarkets & tv.

How many books a year do you write?
It depends how many emails asking questions for assignments I have to answer. These days three quarters of my time is spent answering questions and requests.

How do you research your books?

If I don't know the subject extremely well already,  

I don't even begin to think about writing about it.  

Usually a subject fascinates me - often major inaccuracies about how we think about the past - and I hunt down all I can on the subject. A decade or two later, that subject may become a book. 

 

I use a lot of online sources now, like Project Gutenberg: wherever I can find source material written at the time I'm writing about, but I also use New Scientist, Australasian Science etc and other sources for archaeological articles so I can find out where to look u the original papers.

 

The 'place' varies: I go there and walk the land if it is substantially the same as the time 'm writing about. But Gallipoli and Darling Harbour, for example,  are so changed that they might warp the images created by those who wrote about them long ago. But I have explored relatively unchanged coves in the Sydney region, and beaches and cliffs and peninsulas in the Mediterranean that I think must look much like Gallipoli looked in early-April 1915. 

Have you ever travelled overseas, if so did it inspire any of your books?

Yes, I have travelled overseas and yes, the experiences and places do feature in some of my books.

Why do you love history and writing about real life events in many of your books? 

You miss so much if you life in the tiny box of the present. Everything we are today is linked to the past, and to the future too, and the more you understand it the richer life is. But also history has extraordinary stories, and it is a joy to craft them to be true to the time and the events that happened then. 

Why do you like to write about natural disasters?

We need to understand our land to cope with disasters and change, and to understand why we need to all work together, helping each other, when times are bad - and when they are good too.

The first of the 'disaster books', Flood was written when Andrew Berkhut, head of Scholastic Books, rang me during the Brisbane floods in 2011 to ask if I could quickly write a book to raise money for the Premier's Flood Appeal. After that, Bruce Whatley created Fire and Cyclone, then a student suggested Drought. We have two more books in the series being created and there may be one more after that.

The books show what each disaster is like, but also how we can survive them. After Cyclone Tracy, the book Cyclone is about, cyclone proof houses and shelters were invented. The Netherlands now build homes that are flood-proof, tethered deep into the ground so they float in a flood - and so do their footpaths. CSIRO has created bushfire-proof homes. The books teach us that the land will also challenge us, but when we accept that, we can protect ourselves and others from disasters.

Do you ever get ideas from other writers?
No. Every time someone uses someone else's idea it sort of fades. and there are always so many ideas and so many books to write, that sometimes I feel like putting a 'shut' sign on my brain so that I don't start longing to write another book before I finish the eight or so I have planned already. 

If you are stuck halfway through a book what do you do?

Think.

 

Do you cry when writing the sad parts in your books? 

Yes. And the happy parts. It is easier to get readers to cry at sad parts. You know you are a good writer when they cry because a book has made them happy, or seen how beautiful the world or friendship can be.

Have you ever studied to become a writer?
No. Yes. I study writing every time I start clicking at the keyboard. I'll never stop studying, working at my writing, and I hope it will continue to improve. Andof course everything I see smell hear or think becomes material I'll use. But formal study- no, though a lot of what I have studied formally, from history to psychology to stylistics is useful.

How many drafts do you do of each book?

I don’t know. I work on a computer, so I can just go over and over the story making changes, rather than separate drafts. Some books like The Boy Who Had Wings need a lot of rewriting, others like Walking the Boundaries had only about six words changed.

Inspiration

How do you get your ideas?
From music, walking and chocolate (not necessarily in that order). A child once sent me half a Mars Bar. I'm not sure what happened to the other half, but the bit I got was delicious.

 

It's a bit like making compost. When you make compost you throw in anything you can find - dead dogs, old doormats, last night's dinner - and if you've made it properly what comes out the other end is quite different - lovely, rich, fertile muck. When you write stories you throw in everything you've ever known - but what comes out at the end is quite different from the original ingredients.

 

I love talking to the older people here and hearing their stories (I get a lot of my story ideas that way) - about the time the flood covered all the valley for six weeks and the time a bushranger held up the gold coach just above our gate - but the driver slipped over the edge and over the ledge of the mountain and ran down to get help - and everyone from the pub came up to help the guard, carrying spades and mattocks and anything they had. The bushrangers were so terrified by the noise they galloped away.

 

I've never met anyone who didn't have stories to tell  — but sometimes they think they aren't interesting just because they happened to themselves.
 

What do you do when you get stuck for ideas?
My problem has always been too many ideas, not too few. Sometimes I wish I was an octopus and could write 8 books at once!

 

Can you give me a great idea for a story?

No. I can't train every afternoon to make you a  fast runner, either. You need to learn to think of how to create ideas — and creating story ideas will help you create other ideas about your life and the universe.

How can I get ideas? 
That's easy. If you want the inspiration for a story you just go to the nearest supermarket and ask the check out person where you can buy half a kilo of ideas.

 

They'll either start laughing or think you're mad or call the manager and have you chucked out....and any of those will give you a great story to write.

 

You can't buy inspiration. You can't call it like a dog either. But it's true - sometimes inspiration does just jump on you and you feel you HAVE to write a story.

 

I have three things I do that ALWAYS provide inspiration. I am perfectly serious about all three of them so don't laugh. They really do work.

 

Step 1: Go for a walk 

I have never gone for a walk without inspiration floating in from somewhere. Humans evolved as walkers... and sometimes I think we function best when we're walking. Charles Dickens, a great English writer of the Victorian era, walked for enormous distances around London and in the countryside and wrote large rambling novels.

Don't take the dog for a walk. Don't walk with your best friend or your baby brother either. Just walk, so your mind is open for the stories.

 

Step 2: Play some music

Most writers I know either write to music or play music before they start. The area in your brain that appreciates music is very close to the language centre in your brain. Music will ALWAYS give you inspiration.

Play whatever music moves you most - doesn't matter what. If you can, move to the music. Let it flow through you. Don't think of anything but the music - till the idea comes.

Then start to write.

The last music festival I went to gave me three short stories. And the last concert gave me a novel and a half. 

Step 3: Eat some chocolate.

Yeah, I'm serious. That's one of the reasons I'm fat — every book I write demands some chocolate and I write a lot of books. But I gained my fat in a worthy cause — every kilo was a contribution to Australian literature.

I only eat chocolate when I sit down to write, which means as I love chocolate, I am VERY eager to write my books every day.

Of course if you can reward yourself with an apple instead, it'll be much better for you. And your books will probably be just as good.

Do you ever get inspiration for a new book from a dream

 No. 'Inspiration' is shorthand for I thought about it a lot. Or maybe it is a fantasy for those who don't want to think ... all they need to do is wait for inspiration.

Getting your work published

Do you think I could be a writer?

Of course ... but I do need to give you a word of warning. I love playing the violin- but I am a really lousy violin player. That's because I don't enjoy playing the violin enough to ever practise it...I just play when I feel like it. I'm an amateur violinist, and always will be. Well, it's the same with writing stories. You may love writing stories - but unless you love writing them enough to WORK at them, spend weeks and months or years improving them, going over and over and over them, you don't really want to be a professional writer. Professional writers WORK at their stories. Yes, of course you need talent too. But just as a professional football player needs to spend years training for every match they play, a professional writer needs to spend years working at their books. If you don't enjoy the work- and aren't prepared for a heck of a lot of it- don't think of being a writer

How difficult is it for new writers entering the field?

I don't know. If you're brilliant, you'll have no trouble ... well okay, yes you will, but not MUCH trouble. If you might be brilliant with a heck of a lot more work ... you may find an editor who'll work through your book with you, but this is less and less likely as editorial staff numbers decline in most publishing houses. If you're the Duchess of York you'll have no trouble either, no matter how boring your work is. If you're a good middle of the road writer ... well, that's where luck comes in. It may also help to try a small publishing house first, or a new one looking for authors; or even self publish. Major publishing houses are more likely to accept you after your first book has been a success. So are agents.

I am a young author — am I too young to get published?

If your book is good enough to be published, it will be an excellent PR gimmick to say you are an incredibly young author. Publishers would love it.

But, realistically, writing is a craft that you learn, and you  need experience to have enough material for fascinating content. So theoretically, yes, you can be a published author at any age.

However, most very young authors were published by 'vanity press' publishers paid by their parents.  I know of only three authors published at a young age by main stream publishers ie ones who accepted the book because it was superb, not because they'd publish anything they were paid to publish. All three now write very different books and dislike reference to their early books, as their work is now far more mature and rich. 

I am 10 years old and I have written my first chapter book and would like to get it published but I don't know who can publish it for me without it being too expensive

It's VERY difficult to get your first book published! Thousands of people send their books to publishers every week.

 

I have a feeling you're going to write some stunning books in years to come. But meanwhile, be patient! (I know you don't want to hear this, but it's true.) The more you work at your writing, the better it gets — just like you need to learn to be a doctor or a teacher. (Talent just isn't enough). Writing is a craft; it takes time to learn. But, mostly, books need good ideas... something the reader will be fascinated with. And ideas need time to mature too, as does life experience. 
 

Just keep working at your writing. But don't lose your chapter book either — it's going to be valuable when  you're a famous writer. Ask your parents/teachers/ librarians for help designing a cover on your computer at home or at the library, then 'self-publish' by printing off copies to give as presents. Good luck — and keep writing! 

Will you please edit my book which has been rejected six times so it can be published?

No. You need a  professional editor, who will expect to be paid as it will be a lot of work and expertise.  I don't have experience or expertise reworking other people's books.

 

Will you donate books to our charity?

Yes.

 

But I also get asked this every day, and always do say 'yes'. If you make more money than I do (after donations and paying wages) could you buy the book and donate it yourself? But if you are a school that has been through a flood or fire, don't hesitate to ask, or if you know a child in need. 

We all know that would be writers should read and write as much as possible – do you have any other advice?
 
The hardest thing of all to say is: I don’t think this concept will ever make a good book. Unless you can create work with original concepts, expressed without cliché, you will never be a writer.
 

I warned you I was tactless.

Somehow it is accepted that it is a kindness to tell an athlete that they will never play for Australia; a musician that they don’t quite have the genius for a symphony orchestra; a science student that they are not going to be accepted for medicine or vet science. But everyone is supposed to be able to write.
 

We can all write. We can’t all write well. It is false pretences to take money by assuring everyone that they can.

 

But most people, who want to be writers can write. They only need duct tape and handcuffs to keep them fastened to their desk till they focus hard enough and long enough for the imprisoned genius to emerge.
Handcuffing workshop participants however is illegal, so I have to find other ways to show them that the ideas and words are there, waiting for release.

© Jackie French