Thursday, May 23, 2013

This is your brain on writing: five questions with Fleur Hitchcock

There is currently a major European research project to investigate the furthest reaches of the human brain, involving thousands of researchers and millions of Euros. But I reckon researchers could save oodles of dosh, and do a lot worse than simply seeing Fleur Hitchcock in action:

This week - as part of a book week at St Swithun's School, Kennington - Fleur tried to get schoolchildren to visualise just what it was like inside her brain as she endeavoured to create stories.
The author of The Trouble With Mummies, Dear Scarlett and Shrunk! hauled up lots of volunteers, and lined them up with baskets of eggs, German war helmets, genuine bronze-age axe heads, replica Saxon armour - and she even had children mummifying each other.

The result was not-quite-chaos - and for the children who had already been doing lots of writing exercises, it was a remarkable insight into the writing process.


Fleur has always written, but at school - with undiagnosed dyslexia - she found no-one else could really read what she had written. Inspired by books such as The Silver Sword and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase she has quickly found herself with not one but two publishers in the eight months since her first book Shrunk! was published.

She plots out stories, not with a synopsis, but in storyboards drawn on the back of long rolls of wallpaper. In  response to children's questions, she compared the writing process to turning on the hot tap, and waiting for plenty of cold water to come up before the hot stuff.

(Trouble with mummies: pupil at left learns never to volunteer for a Fleur Hitchcock event)

Fleur signed copies for pupils afterwards...


...and St Swithun's definitely win the prize for 'best coffee offered to bookseller and author' award...

We managed to lure her back to the shop with the lure of more coffee...

...and the chance to find out more about Fleur's approach to writing.


Five Questions with...Fleur Hitchcock's Writing Life

1.    What are you working on at the moment?
So many things *clutches head*. But I am currently working on a book for Hot Key which involves time travel and yoghurt pots...

2.    What is the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?
Mmm. Difficult. I think it has to be 'Read as much as you can'. This one really counts. You cannot be a writer if you don't read.

3.    What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a children’s writer?
The best thing is meeting the children: that lack of reverence, sometimes you find yourself sitting in primary schools, eating school dinners, talking about your book with children - who wouldn't love that, being asked all kinds of random questions! The worst thing is sometimes you have to modify your stories to get them past the gatekeepers. For example in 'Dear Scarlett' the gangsters are very tame, and believe me I wanted them to be much more scary than that but wasn't allowed to get away with it. Neil Gaiman gets away with it, but not me!

4.    Do you have a writer’s survival kit, eg a place, thing, thing or snack essential before you can start work?
I have to have a hot drink. I have to have the phone unplugged. I have to have the Internet turned off - definitely. Honestly, if you take all the tweets I've done it probably adds up to several books...

5.    What was your biggest breakthrough?
Being picked as the Sunday Times 'book of the week' five days before publication of SHRUNK!  I think it made the biggest difference, and it made me go prickly all over. 

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