Q&A with author Victoria Williamson

1. What inspired you to start writing?

I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I was five years old! My parents took my brothers and me to the library every week when we were young, and stories were a huge part of my childhood. My mother used to read to us every night, putting on voices for all of the characters, from Bilbo Baggins and Winnie the Pooh, to Mr Toad from Wind in the Willows and Miss Trunchbull from Matilda. It was like going to the theatre every night, and it made sure there were never any arguments about bedtime, as we were always keen to get to bed to hear the next chapter! Although my father wasn’t keen on reading aloud, he played another important role in my love of books, which was reading a huge amount himself, and talking to me about books all the time. I learned from him that books weren’t just for children, and that reading could be an adult hobby and a lifelong passion.

2. How long have you been writing? When did you first start?

I suppose that depends on what you define as ‘writing’. As soon as I learned how to hold a crayon I was making my first stories – little pieces of paper filled with drawings with some badly spelled words which were stapled together to make up ‘books’. I still have some of these! I’ve noticed that a lot of this early work consists of retellings of my favourite books, cartoons and films, and later, they became fan-fiction narratives where I used existing characters and settings to imagine new scenes. Fan fiction is a great way to get children and teens interested in writing, and it’s something I encourage them to do when I run creative writing workshops – it’s a technique that even works well in masterclasses for adults!

3. Please could you tell us a little bit about your new book The Pawnshop of Stolen Dreams?

It’s an allegory of what happens when capitalism goes wrong and business owners get too greedy! In this strange little fantasy world, the Gobbelino family have created a market monopoly. Their factories pollute the rivers, forcing poisoned people to rent or buy children from far away as they can no longer have children of their own. The Gobbelinos capitalise on this by churning out cheap ‘sack babies’ to sell to poor people, using the sack children’s dream-filled stuffing in their Daydream Delicatessen to hook people on their products. Soon, the villagers of Witchetty Hollow have no money left and are forced to trade their goods in the sinister pawnshop, where all sorts of weird and spooky things happen to unwary customers..! Florizel – a brave girl who is rented from Storkhouse Services by a kindly old woman she thinks of as her grandmother – has to team up with sack-boy Burble to find a way to stop the Gobbelino family before Witchetty Hollow suffers a terrible fate.

4. Can you describe the book using only three words?

Magical. Mysterious. Allegorical.

5. Where did your idea come from to start writing this book?

It was one of those books that popped into my head almost fully formed. I’d spent a lot of time thinking about fantasy books and looking at images on the internet of magical cakes, spooky scenes and Halloween imagery – probably when I should have been working! I’ve always loved fairytales and their hidden layers of meaning, and wanted to create a fantasy book that was fun and full of exciting imagery on the surface, but had hidden depths. I was reading a lot of non-fiction at the time too, and worrying about market monopolies and what happens to our economy and culture when big corporations take over and small businesses are pushed out. I liked the idea of creating an allegory of the modern world where people are given the ‘choice’ to use attractive things like mobile phones, the internet and the non-stop media that we think are good for us, but are actually really bad for us if we get hooked on them.

6. How does it feel being a published author knowing readers are really enjoying your stories?

It’s wonderful to have the career you dreamed of when you were five! One of the best parts of being a children’s author is going to schools and seeing pupils engaging with your books as novel studies. I’ve seen wonderful wall displays, book posters and reviews, book trailers, and drama scenes made by pupils based on my novels, and I’ve even had children send me fan fiction of my books with extra scenes they’ve written!

7. What is the most difficult part of your writing process?

I used to think it was starting a new novel (always a bit nerve-wracking – what if it’s terrible?!) or the days when I struggle to get a single word down on the page. But these days, the biggest challenge is finding uninterrupted writing time. There’s so much else to be done as an author – replying to schools and readers, organising and going on school visits and running creative writing classes, writing blog posts and articles, liaising with publishers on edits, book covers and marketing details, just to list a few things – that it can be hard to fit actual writing in! I really enjoy the summer holiday period when schools are off and things tend to wind down a bit. That’s when I finally get a few uninterrupted weeks where I can focus solely on writing every day – the only problem is that I’m an autumn person, so I much prefer to write when it’s cloudy and rainy outside, not blazing with sunshine!

8. What advice would you give to those who are writing their first book?

Don’t write in a vacuum. Writing doesn’t have to be a lonely experience, and you’ll be in a much better position to submit your finished work to agents and publishers if you join a writing group and network with other writers. It’ll also give you the chance to read your work to other people and get feedback, as well as support and encouragement to help you deal with the enormous amount of inevitable rejection that you’ll face as a writer.

9. Where is your favourite place to write?

I like to write indoors on a cold, rainy day in autumn, with a warm fire and a comfy chair and a cup of hot chocolate. Ninety-nine percent of my writing time isn’t like that (I write where I can when I can in between busy school engagements and other marketing work), but when I do get a day like that, it’s bliss!

10. Which authors do you most admire and why?

While I’m tempted to list lots of famous authors whose work I love, I think the writers who are most admirable are the unpublished ones who are still chasing the dream, and who still keep going despite the crushing weight of endless rejection. There’s true bravery in that, and it says something inspirational about the human spirit and the importance of following your passion even if the world doesn’t reward you for it.

11. Which has been your favourite book to write to date and why?

My favourite book always tends to be the one I’m currently working on. I pour so much of myself into all of them that I have a deep fondness for each and every one long after they’re finished, but my passion is always for the story that’s currently uppermost in my thoughts. I love the process of getting lost in a new book – thinking up the characters, the setting, and plotting out the action. The wonderful thing about writing, is that no matter how much planning you do, the characters often take over and start doing and saying unexpected things as you’re working on a story. It’s almost as though you’re the director of a film with the script in front of you, but when you shout ‘Action!’, the cast all start improvising in weird and wonderful ways. Those are the times when writing really ‘flows’ – you lose track of time, and you come away energised by the creative process. Writing can be very hard work, but experiencing those ‘flow’ moments are what makes it so worthwhile.

12. What risks you have taken with your writing that have paid off?

Writing in multiple genres has probably been a bit of a risk. Most publishers like their authors to have an identifiable and consistent ‘brand’ – i.e. for them to be a middle grade fantasy author, or a YA contemporary-issue author. I write what I love, though, and I love every genre from fantasy and science fiction, to contemporary issue, mystery and horror. I’ve been very lucky that I’ve found publishers who love my work and are happy to let me experiment, and it’s meant that I’ve been able to reach readers with certain types of books who might not be interested in reading my books in a different genre.

13. If you could spend the day with another author who would you choose and why?

Definitely Jane Austen. Not only would she be fascinating to talk to, it would also mean that I’d have invented a time machine, that that would be totally awesome.

14. Who do you trust for objective and constructive criticism about your writing?

My brother, Martin. He’d been my editor since we were old enough to read and write, so he isn’t afraid to tell me when I’m writing total rubbish. He’s also hugely supportive of my work, and that’s really helped me get through the early periods of endless rejection before I became a published author.

15. What were your favourite books growing up?

I was a big fan of adventure stories – I devoured all of The Famous Five and Secret Seven books before moving on to The Three Investigators and The Hardy Boys. I loved the sense of agency that the children and teenagers had in these books, solving adventures on their own without the help of adults. A big fantasy and science fiction fan, I read everything from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, to Watership Down, The Tripopds, and pretty much everything by John Wyndham and Isaac Asimov. I was a big fan of world-building, and would spend hours creating new worlds in my own head when I should have been concentrating on my school homework! I also really enjoyed reading graphic novels as a child, especially Tintin and Asterix, and my love of comics meant there were always piles of The Beano, The Dandy, Bunty, Mandy and Judy to trip over. My experiments in fiction writing when I was in primary school soon spilled over into creating comics of my own which I passed round my family and friends, pestering them to enter the many competitions I ran or post letters and suggestions to the magazine’s address (my bedroom!).

16. Are you writing anything else at the moment? If so, are you able to give us any clues?

My next contemporary-issue middle-grade book is coming out at the end of summer. It’s another dual narrative about two children from different walks of life who come to realise they have more in common than they think, so for any readers who’ve enjoyed The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle, and The Boy with the Butterfly Mind, then look out for Norah’s Ark coming out with Neem Tree Press this August.

I want to say a huge thank you to Victoria for taking the time to answer my questions and feature on my blog. You can buy Victoria’s books from booksellers, online and of course using any independent bookshops.

You can follow Victoria on social media. Twitter: @strangelymagic


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