Today I’m pleased to welcome Anna Branford to Kids’ Book Capers. Anna is the author of the highly acclaimed, Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot. This beautiful book, written by Anna and illustrated by Sarah Davis was an Honour Book in this year’s CBCA awards.
How did you become a writer?
I suppose I’ve always been writing something or other ever since I first learned to write, but I started writing children’s stories right after I finished my Ph.D thesis. Maybe doing all that disciplined, analytical writing made me crave the opportunity to write something more creative and colourful. Also, as part of my Ph.D research I read lots and lots of children’s books, so my mind was brimming with stories and ideas.
What do you enjoy most about being a writer?
One of the most exciting parts is seeing the illustrations. There is something really magical about dreaming up characters and places in the privacy of your own imagination and then getting to see what they look in the imagination of another person – especially if that other person is someone like Sarah Davis, who is already a bit magical to begin with, I think.
What is the hardest thing about being a writer?
For me the hardest thing about being a writer is trying to be other things at the same time. As well as being a writer I am also a full-time lecturer at a university. So sometimes I’m right with Violet, figuring out one of her theories, and then the phone rings and I need to snap out of her world and into the world my students are in, of tricky questions and lost essays. At other times I’m in the middle of explaining a complex idea in a lecture and suddenly a good idea pops into my head for a story I’m working on. I love both of my jobs, but I don’t always love trying to do them at the same time.
What were you in a past life (if anything) before you became a writer?
For two very long weeks I was a truly dreadful waitress. Then for a little while I worked in an aged care facility, mainly delivering people’s lunches and making them cups of tea and cleaning, which I was a bit better at. Then for many years I worked in crèches and childcare centres and as a nanny, which I loved. And for the last few years, as well as my university job, I have been a maker of dolls and other things.
What is your greatest writing achievement?
Well, it was very, very exciting to be nominated in the CBCA awards and even better to find out that Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot was an honour book. But I have also had two kind messages from people saying that the book was the first story their child read independently and that they had made it all the way through and enjoyed it. I vividly remember the satisfaction of the first book I read independently and I am very honoured that someone experienced something similar with Violet. I think that might be the achievement I’m most excited about so far.
What are you working on at the moment?
I have a few different projects I’m working on. One is a fairy book, which is a brand new genre for me, and another is a new installment in the Violet Mackerel series.
Do you have any tips for new writers?
Yes –read, read, read absolutely everything in the genre you’re working in. I think its good to read a balance of your own childhood favourites but also brand new books, to keep you in touch both with what you love in a story but also what others are loving.
Do your books have any consistent themes/symbols/locations. If so, what are they?
I didn’t notice while I was writing them, but I think in retrospect that all my main characters share quite an important characteristic. They’re all people who think very hard and very resourcefully about the problems they need to solve and are brave enough to put their plans into action. Those sorts of people (whether child or adult) are my own favourite sort, so I suppose it’s natural enough that they should find their way into my books!
How many books have you had published?
So far I’ve had four books published – Sophie’s Salon, Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot, Violet Mackerel’s Remarkable Recovery and Neville No-Phone. The next book in the Violet Mackerel series, Violet Mackerel’s Natural Habitat, will be out in October.
Anything else of interest you might like to tell our blog readers?
Perhaps just that I have a blog of my own at http://annabranford.com which, in addition to all sorts of random thoughts and ideas and updates, has a few detailed posts on how I came to have my stories published that I hope other new writers might find helpful.
VIOLET MACKEREL’S BRILLIANT PLOT
What inspired you to write Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot?
I first had the idea of the Mackerel family when I was at an early morning market selling dolls I make. It’s quite a special market just beside the Yarra Ranges in Victoria called St Andrews, and it feels particularly magical there very early in the morning when it’s still dark and everyone is unpacking and setting up. Some families who work there have children with them who I got to meet and chat to a little bit. They were lovely and they gave me all the ideas I needed for the characters in the book.
What’s it about?
The book is about a girl called Violet whose family works at a morning market. She has spotted something there that she really wants. It’s a blue china bird, just the right size to fit in the palm of her hand. But it costs ten dollars and she doesn’t have any money, so she goes about devising a plot.
What age groups is it for?
I wrote it with seven-year-olds I knew in mind, but it could certainly be read aloud to smaller children and I’ve been lucky enough to have lovely emails from adults who enjoyed it too.
Why will kids like it?
I think children will like it because Violet is the sort of character who helps you to think differently about things, because she has an interesting sort of family who are fun to meet, because her plot takes all kinds of unexpected twists and turns and because Sarah’s illustrations are so utterly exquisite.
Can you tell me about the main character and what you like/dislike about him/her?
I don’t think there is anything I dislike about Violet! She is exactly my favourite sort of person – a deep thinker, a noticer of small things, someone who acts bravely even when she is nervous or disappointed and someone who has excellent ideas.
Is there something that sets this book apart from others?
In some ways I hope not. I would love it to slip in among the sorts of books I read as a child and carry children some of the way along the same journey I was lucky enough to travel. But I do think the Mackerels are quite a unique family and that Violet in particular has an unusual and special way of viewing the world. So I hope perhaps the book might offer something new in that respect.
What did you enjoy most about writing Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot?
I especially enjoyed sharing it with my Granny who lives in England and is nearly a hundred years old. Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot is dedicated to her. Sending her new drafts as I wrote them, then copies of new illustrations as Sarah drew them, then a copy I bound together myself and finally the real thing – perhaps that was the best part of all.
What was the hardest thing about writing Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot?
I think it was just that I kept having to stop – to go to work, to feed the cat, to make the dinner, to answer the phone. There was nothing hard about the project itself. I loved every part of it.