To celebrate the release of Frances Watts’ new series, Sword Girl, and all of Frances’ other amazing books we have cornered her for an exciting interview! Check out what she has to say....
1. What is it like to have someone else illustrate your wonderful ideas? (Are you sick of this question?)
I’m not at all sick of this question because I love having the opportunity to sing the praises of the illustrators I work with! It’s an incredible feeling to see ideas and images that have only ever lived in your head brought to life, and transformed, in pictures. Illustrators always extend my ideas in directions I could never have imagined. Of course, I’ve been extremely lucky with illustrators. One of my great joys is my long-time collaboration with David Legge, which began in 2005 with Kisses for Daddy. We went on to create Parsley Rabbit’s Book about Books and Captain Crabclaw’s Crew, and are now working on our fourth book together, The Fearsome, Frightening, Ferocious Box. Then there’s Judy Watson, who channelled the characters of the Extraordinary Ernie and Marvellous Maud series so miraculously that, even though I had never ‘seen’ them before, I recognised them instantly. Creating a book with David Francis was particularly special, since he is my partner, and our book A Rat in a Stripy Sock was born out of a trip to Paris. Most recently, I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of working with the international award-winning Gregory Rogers, who is illustrating the Sword Girl series with such warmth and charm—and he is a medieval expert to boot! You see, far from being sick of the question I could go on and on and on!
2. You are extremely versatile and prolific...you write picture books, books for developing readers and books for older readers. Does your background in editing encourage you to explore different ways of telling a story?
Being an editor is enormously important to me, but I don’t necessarily set out to consciously try different ways of storytelling; I just follow where the character or story leads. The stories themselves come from somewhere else altogether—from my own childhood as a voracious reader, probably, and from a deep love of stories and storytelling as a way of engaging with the world around me.
3. Do you enjoy writing one more than the other?
I can’t say that I do! I really enjoy writing for a range of different age groups. Picture books bring the excitement of collaborating, the challenge of distilling an idea to its essence and focusing on language—which I love—so that the book works when read aloud. But the more I write, the more I want to write, and the bigger my ideas get, which is why my books keep getting longer. As much as I love writing picture books, I also get a lot of pleasure out of crafting more intricate plots, developing more fully realised characters, and using more sophisticated language and ideas.
4. Any chance of delving into young adult writing?
I’d never say never, but it’s not something I have any immediate plans to do.
5. You are a regular in the shop always talking to the kids and their parents about the joys of reading and writing, and you are always travelling the country working with schools. How important is having that contact with the kids? I know lots of authors that never do events and keep very much to themselves.
Talking to kids (and parents and teachers) is something I love to do—as you well know! One of the best things about writing for kids is that they respond with such energy and enthusiasm, which gives me energy and enthusiasm.
6. You have travelled overseas and around Australia to write. Does this help your writing? Do you prefer to write away from home?
Travel definitely inspires me. The Sword Girl series, which is set in a medieval castle, is definitely drawing on my travels in Europe. I was born in Lausanne, a medieval city in Switzerland, so I’ve always had a love for that period in history. I’ve been doing quite a bit of research for Sword Girl: in Switzerland, in Italy, and later this year I’ll be visiting some castles in Wales. When you travel you can come across the most unexpected details that give life and character to settings and stories, not to mention ideas. And while I don’t necessarily prefer to write away from home, a change of scene can be very refreshing. The Gerander Trilogy was dreamed up on a walking holiday in the Snowy Mountains, and then the second book in the trilogy, The Spies of Gerander, was written in New York. Stepping out of my regular routine and its everyday distractions and responsibilities enabled me to focus much more on my writing.
7. In an interview with author John Green, he said each book takes him about 4 years to write. How do you manage to be so wonderfully busy?
I don’t know quite how to answer that! I think everyone works differently, writes differently. I love to be busy, and I’m also very disciplined. And let’s face it—John’s (beautiful) books are much longer than mine!
8. Your new series, Sword Girl, is very exciting, with a magnificent female character, Tommy. What was the inspiration for this series?
I’m so glad you like Tommy! Well, I really wanted to write something with a medieval setting, and I was also keen to create a girl character who was bold and courageous while also being kind and loyal. The setting and the character came together in Tommy (also known as Sword Girl), who lives in a medieval castle and longs to be a knight.
9. Who is your favourite female character?
How to choose! I love Eloise—she’s so bold! And Cassandra Mortmain from I Capture the Castle — that wonderful honest voice.
10. I imagine you are far too busy to be reading anything at the moment...but the off chance you are, what is it?
Reading is as necessary to me as eating and breathing; I’m never not reading. I’m nearing the end of Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love, and I am absolutely loving it.
11. What have you always wished someone would ask you?
I’ve always wished someone would ask me to live in Paris and/or New York! But that’s not what you meant, is it?