Friday 12 July 2019

An Interview with Philippa Rae

I'm very privileged to welcome Philippa Rae to my blog today. We're delighted at Chapeltown to be publishing her enchanting story for children all about a certain Wilma, pictured above.     

1.   What do you write? Why this in particular? 

I have enjoyed writing short stories and poetry. I am an impatient type and get a buzz out of completing something quickly! 

My natural instincts are to write humorous pieces but, in the future, I would love to write a fantasy novel.  This is a challenge to set myself for the next couple of years. I do have two half written longer books in my files, so I must schedule in finishing those. 

For example, I have a complete three act children’s play (written for a school performance for a whole class) which I wrote a few years ago sitting in my files which I am getting workshopped with a school and three fifteen-minute animation scripts, one of which is now honed and ready to be sent out. 

2.   What got you started on writing in the first place? 

When I was in my last year at primary school I used to enjoy writing stories in my lunchtime.  I remember trying to write a Lord of the Rings style piece!   

However, my interest in dancing took over and it wasn’t until I was working in the production team at Cbeebies Radio that I started writing poems and stories in my scripts. Initially it was just one or two, but it developed from there. Since then I have dipped in and out. 

It has been trial and error finding the right format for my style.  Some things come easier than others though obviously practice in anything makes perfect!  Some people find their writer’s voice early in the process.  But initially I wrote for radio for a preschool audience which is a specific craft of words interweaved with sounds. So, in the past I suffered from a tendency to overwrite or be too matter of fact as with radio explaining was the main way of signposting the narrative.  I had to relearn a different way for print production. 

I also learned to let go of pieces and move onto the next project.  It’s very easy to think after I could have done this or that better or keep fiddling with something but sometimes its best to just move on and do something else or hand it over to someone else to look at.

3.   Do you have a routine? 

I often write chunks in long hand and then type it up again on the computer.  I am the sort of writer that likes to write the basic structure first and then keep adding as I hone the work.   

Initially I was fixated on trying to find a totally original idea till I realized that it was the treatment which was the most important.  The pressure of forcing inspiration was creating writer’s block and I found after that things flowed much better.  

If you can find a totally original idea, then wonderful but otherwise most things are often a mish mash of stuff we have picked up. Usually we don’t realize where we have got the idea from!  

I do carry a notebook as inspiration usually strikes when you least expect it.  Story development reminds me of a pickled onion.  It takes a while for things to ferment and then it’s great fun to peel off all the different layers as the story falls into place. 

The hardest thing I found with writing longer pieces is that it is a solitary and disciplined process whereas I come from a background of busy events and media production, so I am used to working in teams with lots of people giving their opinions. Obviously, the publishing team has a big input into the finished product but during the early stages it is mostly a solo job! 

4.   When did you decide you could call yourself a writer? Do you do that in fact? 

I enjoy being involved in creative projects across a range of mediums.  I would probably describe myself more as a content producer than specifically a writer.  I enjoy media production, creating content for websites and charity events and promotions as well as writing for magazines.

I never set out to be a writer, it was being asked to create pieces for my job that reminded me of my childhood.  Even when I was first published I wasn’t really thinking about writing as a full-time career but an enjoyable sideline.  I like entering competitions and have been quite successful.  But it is other people who place the emphasis on this element though it is actually just one part of what I am interested in. It would be nice though in the future to say that I was a full-time writer! 

Writing has been on the backburner for me for a couple of years because of a bereavement. I lost someone very close to me and then unfortunately six months later I was diagnosed with advanced cancer in three places, so I have just ticked along whilst I was undergoing treatment as I wasn’t able to put in the necessary promotional work needed for books. 

We all react to treatment differently and I found the operation, chemotherapy and radiotherapy very invasive and exhausting.  I take my hat off to all the inspirational individuals who manage to achieve great things however challenging their circumstances, but I am a lousy patient and most definitely not very good as a tortured artist toiling away – I write best and usually mostly when I’m happy! 

Now I am in remission I am very grateful to be given a second chance and so I have been working on the number of half-finished projects I have accumulated and dipping in and out of over the last few years.   

5.   What are you most proud of in your writing? 

I have recently been trying classes that are in genres outside my comfort zone to stretch and stimulate myself into some fresh approaches.  It’s a great way to perk up your brain!   

In the past I attended an excellent picture book class taken by authors Chrisytan and Diane Fox which helped me to pin down the style needed for picture books, after having written so many short stories for radio and magazines, this format was ingrained in me and hard to shake off.   

In fact, Cinderella’s Other Shoe (with wonderful cartoon drawings by Tevin Hansen) was originally written as an exercise set in the class so I was delighted that we won the Purple Dragon Fly Awards for best humour book. 

6.   How do you get on with editing and research? 

I was once told that you learn most in the editing process and this is true!  I do have a bit of a blind spot sometimes no matter how much I read something that I have written with typos escaping through! 

I know that my better pieces are usually ones that I let breathe for a couple of weeks before returning to them.  Then I have allowed some distance between myself and the work and am able to spot any mistakes! 

7.   Which writers have inspired you? 

I enjoy reading work by many different authors but people that spring to mind are the wonderful rhyming books of Jeannie Willis as well as the unique picture book styles of Oliver Jeffers and Emily Gravett. I wish I could illustrate!   

I don’t really like naming favourite authors as it means singling people out which is very hard when there are so many great books. But I have been writing reviews for Kidscene for nearly seven years and two classics that spring to mind are Triangle and Wisp: A Story of Hope.

I also love the animated films.  Two films that stick in my mind are Chicken Run and Gnomeo and Juliet! 

8.   Do you have any goals for the future?

I do have three books scheduled for publication in 2019 and 2020 with three more in in development with publishers.  

In my early career, I really enjoyed teaching children dance and so I am in the process of developing some workshops to take on the road which will be fun!   

It’s great to be working with Bridge House and Gill again. I have contributed to their anthologies in the past. Amongst other things, Gill has developed an expertise in the short story market and producing collections for charity.  The stories that she is publishing with me are short chapter books and I am really looking forwards to the first one – Wilma’s Magic Hat with superb spooky illustrations by Ashley James. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Informative and inspiring interview with a popular and highly respected children's author. I've noticed that on most of Philippa's books have 5 star reviews and in fact I've used 'Count the Sheep to Sleep' and 'Cinderella's Other Shoe' with groups of children and they loved them both.