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Created: 12th October, 2021

What inspired you to write the Fairy Tales Gone Bad series?

  • I’ve always enjoyed fairy tales but was a little annoyed by how sanitized they have become over the centuries. When I first started working in schools, I found that young people would always want to talk about monsters – zombies, vampires and werewolves – but there weren’t many things available for their age range that had real bite. Reinventing some of our well-loved fairy tales with a monster element seemed like the perfect way of putting the teeth back into the fairy tales and giving young people a series that spoke to their desire for a little bit of horror.

 

How would you suggest primary school teachers use these books?

  • Carefully – the books should arrive caged and never be left unattended; they should be fed well and regularly, and often checked for lice! If an “incident” does occur with a book, contact your nearest librarian. With all of these precautions in place, I would suggest that primary school teachers use the stories as jumping-off points to encourage their students’ own writing. Reimagining a fairy tale can be a lovely exercise for primary-aged children, who can have the security of a well-known story structure with the delight of making it their own – however disgusting, foul or nasty that may be. I also hope that the books are used as a means to widen the vocabulary of primary-aged children. I make it a point to never shy away from new and interesting words when writing for this age range, ensuring that meanings can be derived from the context, and gently encouraging the reader to enquire and ask questions of the text.

 

What motivated you to begin a career in writing poetry?

  • I can trace the desire back to a school visit from the great Jean “Binta” Breeze. She performed in my drama class and read a poem. I believe that was the first time I realized that poetry could be a job, could be something I could do. Around about that time I started writing my own poems and gingerly showing them to classmates to read in some of our drama exercises (they never took me up on the offer). Poetry remained very much a hobby until I came across a leaflet for a poetry course at Battersea Arts Centre, run by the incredible performance poetry organization Apples and Snakes. I signed up and committed to ten weeks of writing sessions with poet Aoife Mannix, ending in a showcase performance – I was hooked. I started to attend poetry gigs in and around London and slowly built up the confidence to perform myself. It would be another twelve years of writing and performing before I found a way into the publishing world via a chance meeting with the wonderful Janetta Otter-Barry. Werewolf Club Rules published in 2014 and since then I have published twenty books.

 

What are the major influences in your work and how do you decide on your subjects?

  • My upbringing in Roehampton on the Alton Estate has been a huge influence. It was the eighties and me and my friends would regularly play out and make believe and have adventures, so I got to explore a lot, probably far more than kids get to do nowadays. There are settings in Roehampton that I return to in my work because they hold a certain fascination, a sense that magic could have been real there. I am also greatly influenced by family life and the realization that families like my own (single parent, working class) were so often left out of stories. I always wanted to visit Narnia, but bemoaned the fact I didn’t have a big house or a huge wooden wardrobe… Narnia felt closed to me.
  • I decided to write about the subjects that appeal to me. I tend to get very obsessed with new things on a regular basis: I’ll do a deep dive into foraging (for example), finding out how to identify edible plants; or photography – learning the best way to take the coolest photos. These obsessions fade after a while but they always pop up again in a character trait or a thematic approach to a story or poem – nothing is wasted.

 

Which books had a lasting impact on you as a child and why?

  • The lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is definitely up there for its enviable portrayal of entry into other worlds (if you had the right background). Dr Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat was a joy because of the word play and all those anapaests! I think my main takeaway from that story was that a little anarchy every now and then does no harm, and can be a huge amount of fun.

 

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