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‘I can’t imagine not having a novel to think about’

Jacqueline Wilson has written more than 100 novels, and sold over 40 million in the UK alone, but the author of children’s literature is in no hurry to call it quits

Image Credit: © James Jordan Photography
With a writing career spanning over 46 years, Jacqueline Wilson has created some of the best-loved children’s characters
Gulf News

For as long as she could remember Jacqueline Wilson had loved books. Even before she could read them she had carried them around, looked at the pictures, and secretly created stories. Pathologically imaginative, Wilson wrote her first novel Meet the Maggots when she was just nine. And ever since, she’s been creating stories, becoming one of the most-read in children’s literature.

When other children’s fiction writers are writing about wizards and Greek demi-gods, Wilson’s tackles issues such as adoption, family dysfunctions, divorce, mental illness and bereavement, in a way that few others do, into first-person narratives that end on optimistic notes.

Her novel Wave Me Goodbye, published last May, is about 10-year-old Shirley, an evacuee who is thrown into uncertainty when she is sent away on a train with her schoolmates during the Second World War. Her novel Clover Moon features a brilliant and brave new young heroine, who ends up in an institution for destitute girls in Victorian London, escaping an abusive stepmother.

It is this kind of insight into the miseries, giving her characters and plots a vital sense of authenticity that makes her books so popular, comforting millions of children. “I think it’s important to try to face these uncomfortable issues, and to comfort any child going through such worrying troubles,” says the best-loved, best-selling children’s authors.

She opened up to readers about her unhappy childhood in her 2007 autobiography for children, Jacky Daydream (her nickname at school). Unlike adults, Wilson says, children read a lot of books, as children’s books like Harry Potter show fiction is still big business.

The 72-year-old author has written more than 100 novels, and sold more than 40 million books in the UK alone. It’s safe to say she could comfortably retire from writing, but, she says, it’s such a part of who she is that she can’t even consider it. “It’s become such a part of my life I can’t imagine not having a novel to think about and develop.”

She writes every day, producing at least two books a year.

Her first was published in 1971, but her breakthrough came 20 years later with The Story of Tracy Beaker that spawned a BBC TV series and a musical later.

With a writing career spanning over 46 years, Wilson has created some of the best-loved children’s characters, many of whom have gone on to become Bafta-winning and nominated screen adaptations, including The Story of Tracy Beaker, The Dumping Ground, Hetty Feather, Girls in Love, Double Act, Dustbin Baby and The Illustrated Mum. In November, she was awarded with the Special Award at the Bafta Children’s ceremony.

It’s not just writing to which she’s addicted, though. She would rather read than do anything else, and buys modern and antiquarian books to add to her library at home. At her Victorian house in Kingston, the books are slowly taking over. “There are bookshelves in almost every room,” she says.

This March, the author, famed for long book signings, will be connecting with her young fans at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. Her third trip to Dubai, Wilson, adept at spreading herself around, would meet every single one of her fans in person if only it were possible. “I’m looking forward to my events, and catching up with all my friends,” she says.

Excerpts:

My parents are… sadly now passed away. My father was an accountant, my mother an antique dealer.

The household I grew up in… was very small, just the three of us. I was an only child.

When I was a child I wanted to be… a writer, from when I was five or six. I loved books even before could read. I liked making up my own childish stories to the pictures.

I have over 100 books published, and I’ve sold millions worldwide.. but I keep on writing. It’s become such a part of my life I can’t imagine not having a novel to think about and develop. Sometimes I think my imaginary characters are just as important to me as my real friends.

I love Hetty Feather… because she’s got such spirit and she never ever gives up.

Tracy Beaker for me is… the character that first became popular, and I’m very grateful to her.

I write about divorce and child abuse and parental neglect… in as careful and sensitive a way as I can manage, not wanting to disturb or frighten my readers. I do think it’s important to try to face these uncomfortable issues, and to comfort any child going through such worrying troubles, but I always try to be reassuring and strive for happy solutions.

I was compelled to write about Clover Moon… because I wanted to portray a Victorian child who manages to stay kind and optimistic and loving, even though she comes from a very challenging background.

Wave me Goodbye is special… because it shows what it was like for British children in the Second World War. Hundreds of thousands were evacuated to safety in the countryside, but had to leave their families. It must have been traumatic for everyone.

If I could change one thing about myself… it would be to calm down and stop worrying!

You wouldn’t know it but… I really enjoy dancing.

You may not know it but I’m no good at… finding my way anywhere. I can get lost even in my own hometown.

My inspiration is… to write books that will entertain, amuse and maybe instruct my readers.

At night I dream of… so many things … my dream life is action packed!

I wish I had never worn… so many rings. I used to have one on every finger, including my thumbs!

When I look in the mirror I see… an older woman who is happy and still having fun.

My house is… quite big and has bookshelves in almost every room. It’s in the country, but near the seaside too. I can see the sea glinting from my bedroom window.

My favourite work of art… is The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke by Richard Dadd. You can look at it forever and still see more things each time you look again. It’s the weirdest depiction of fairyland you could ever imagine.

My favourite building is… St Pancras Railway Station in London, a fantastic Gothic Victorian affair.

My favourite TV show is... The Secret Life of Four-Year-Olds. It’s a fantastic documentaries [series] about small children.

A book that changed me… was Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I first read it when I was 10 or 11 and I was bowled over by the fact that a small, plain, poor girl could be an amazing heroine.

My career highlight… has been getting to a 100 books – and there have been seven or eight more since then.

Movie heaven is… watching something schmaltzy and endearing like Beaches.

The last album I bought… was Petula Clark’s latest From Now On. It’s a total delight.

The last book I read… was Mrs Woolf and her Servants. It’s a revelation.

My greatest regret… was that I didn’t talk more to my grandfather about his time fighting in the First World War.

My five year plan… is to carry on writing two books a year — and yet have time to relax and enjoy life too.

When I write a book… I immerse myself in the story and write whatever occurs to me. Then I go through it carefully, adapting it so that it’s hopefully the sort of story a child will enjoy.

I’m truly grateful for… my lovely family for giving me love and support.

The one lesson I’ve learned in life… is to have a go at something! It doesn’t matter if I fail — just so long as I’ve tried my best.

My life in six words… exciting, challenging, hectic, rewarding, surprising, delightful.

I write every day… generally first thing in the morning. It’s great if I can manage at least a thousand words of my new novel.

I am looking forward to the Emirates Literary Festival… because it’s a brilliant experience, it’s beautifully organised, and I’ve made many special friends in Dubai.

What’s next… I hope there’s all sorts of exciting new adventures!

Suparna Dutt-D’Cunha is a writer based in Pune, India.

Jacqueline Wilson will take part in the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature which will be held at the InterContinental Hotel, Dubai Festival City, from March 1-10.

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