Spotlight on: Vivian French
'Spotlight On' gives you the chance to learn more about the work of authors, publishers and illustrators connected to the Bookbug programme. This month, Vivian French, author of Yucky Worms, Oliver's Vegetables and The Tales of the Five Kingdoms series, answers some questions about her work.
Tell us a little bit more about your work.
Oh... where do I start? I write books for children of all ages, and I also teach at the Edinburgh College of Art in the Illustration Department. I’m passionate about picture books, illustration and design! I visit schools to share ideas about pictures and writing, and I also talk at conferences and festivals.
I love rhyme and rhythm and the sound of the spoken word; I was an actor and storyteller, so I always read my work out loud to make sure it works off the page as well as on. I adore rhyming texts, or texts that have a wonderful cadence, or a hidden rhythm, and over the years I’ve learned lots of rhymes and poems by heart. (Ask my daughters! They’re on permanent groan alert if I even LOOK like reciting something I’m fond of.)
What is your earliest reading memory?
My very earliest memory is of looking at my father’s newspaper, and realising I could actually understand some of the words!
Who or what is your biggest influence?
I’m not entirely sure; I think it must have been my father. He used to take me for long walks, and I wasn’t a very good walker (big head, small feet) so to keep me going he’d make up rhyming stories. I had to provide the last line.
Are there any contemporary picture books you wish you’d written or illustrated?
No. I’m a HUGE admirer of many authors and illustrators, but I write what I write, and they do what they do.
Aside from the wonderful world of picture books, which genres or authors do you like to read?
I’ll have a go at reading almost anything, but I reserve the right to put a book down unfinished if I don’t enjoy it. (I might try again another time, especially if encouraged.) I do love humour, and a clear-eyed perception of the human condition. Terry Pratchett, Charles Dickens, Matthew Crow, Hilary Mantel, Philip Reeve, Barbara Pym, Patricia MacLachlan, Morris Gleitzman and Penelope Fitzgerald are favourites.
Briefly describe your typical working day.
Eeeek! I don’t really have a typical day. I might be tutoring at the Edinburgh College of Art, or visiting a school, or going to a meeting - I’m involved in lots of projects and festivals. Probably too many - I never seem to have enough time! But I’ll try and get at least a couple of hours of writing in one way or another, even if it’s on the bus. (iPads are wonderful things!)
How do you get out of a creative rut?
Go for a walk. It sounds horribly obvious, and I resisted for years, but it really does help. It also helps reduce my Writer's Bottom.
What is your top tip for budding authors or illustrators?
Show, don’t tell! Someone told me that years ago, and it’s so important.
Can you give us an insight into what you’re currently working on?
A new series about a boy with a Doodlebird who wants to be a knight, a non-fiction picture book about horses, a longer story called Ed the Eighth and the Ogre’s Daughter (although that may change!) and a rhyming text about Egyptian mummies.
Finally, tell us a random or surprising fact about yourself.
Erm... I’m quite good at walking on stilts!