Wednesday 19 October 2011

Author Interview - Abi Burlingham

This week, I’m thrilled to be doing my first ever author interview with my lovely writing friend and fellow Hound minion Abi Burlingham. Abi is the author of the RUBY AND GRUB picture books - RUBY AND GRUB, GRUB IN LOVE and the forthcoming GRUB’S PUPS, out next week! Gorgeously illustrated by Sarah Warburton, they're published by Piccadilly Press, who are also publishing her BUTTERCUP MAGIC series for 6-9-year-olds, with the first book, A MYSTERY FOR MEGAN, out next spring.

So, Abi, tell us a bit about yourself. (Ooh, that sounds proper interviewer-y, doesn't it? *Adjusts microphone*)

 Well Emma (ha ha! you see I can do it too), I live in Derbyshire and teach adults literacy, but mostly, I write. I'm a huge animal lover - all of them, and regularly cry at nature programmes. I love trees and woods and growing things, especially potatoes - there's something so satisfying about planting a spud and then digging out a whole load with your hands. I love the sea, and am a compulsive picker upper of bits of wood and pebbles. I like to draw and paint too, but have less time for this than I'd like. Mostly, I love to write, just love it. It feeds my soul and if I can't do it I am a total and utter misery guts!

When did you start writing, and why?

My first memories of writing were from when I was around nine I guess.  I used to make up rhymes and 'odes' all the time. My mum liked poetry and would buy me funny poetry books, which I loved. I used to pore over her Cecily M Barker 'Flower Fairies' book, and 'The Butterfly Ball'. Then I asked for a portable typewriter for Christmas. I was lucky - I got one. It was in a gorgeous dark green zip up case and I adored it. I would sit and type letters from people who didn't exist to people who didn't exist - often very funny and very quirky. They make me howl when I read them now. After that, I wrote poem after poem, often accompanied by drawings and sketches. I think the 'why' bit is harder. It always felt right.  Also, I was painfully shy as a child and would clam up in front of people. The words were all inside and writing was their way out. 

What made you decide to write for children?

I didn't have a compulsion to write for children at any point, until I'd had my son. I had left my job - I worked in admin for a long time - and moved to Yorkshire with the sole purpose of writing, then I had my son. I was surrounded by baby stuff, mushy food being flicked onto walls, nappies thrown into a corner of the room in haste, the constant drone of Teletubbies and Postman Pat. I also had two dogs at the time - a whappy cairn terrier and our lovely springer spaniel pup, so I was suddenly in a very crazy place, not at all conducive to writing poetry. I am very quick at making decisions and tend to stick to them, so I decided to write some stories for young children and to research the whole process. Unlike many writers, apart from having to write at school, I had never even attempted a story. I had only ever written these whacky letters and poetry. All Grown Up, my first picture book to be published, was one of the very first stories I ever wrote.

How long did it take you to get published?

Between the first stories being written and the first book being published, it took four years. I wasn't working regularly at it because by then I'd had my daughter too, but I had received some really good feedback from a handful of publishers, so kept working away at ideas and trying things out. One particular commissioning editor for a big children's book publisher would spend half an hour or more talking me through ideas and ways of trying things, on regular occasions. She gave me the bit of self-belief that I needed in order to carry on.

What is your favourite book?

Ooh, I love this question. It would be hard to say an absolute favourite, but if push comes to shove, 'The Book Thief', by Markus Zusak. I love his writing with a passion, and this book has it all for me. This is the book I would love to have written.

What about your favourite film?

Philadelphia Story, starring Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant and James Stewart, to name but a few. I love the old black and whites, and the old actors, the way they spoke, the chivalry, the wit. It must have been 'grand' to be a teenager then.

Your favourite music?

Ah! I used to be a punk - secret's out now. I had the back-combed hair and the weird clothes. In fact, I used to make quite a lot of my clothes from charity shop stuff that I butchered until they resembled something I quite liked. My favourite bands then were people like The Cocteau Twins, The Comsat Angels, The Cure, The Chameleons (I seemed to like bands beginning with C for some reason). But I was also brought up on Roxy Music and David Bowie, Simon and Garfunkel, 10cc, Elton John and The Who. All of these I still love to listen to. At the moment, I have The Horrors 'Skying' on constant replay on my car CD player. I like Arcade Fire, Editors and am a huge fan of Elbow. I also love Sigur Ross and one of my new discoveries, The Black Atlantic, who are from The Netherlands. As you can probably tell, I am a big music fan - music wins over tv for me any day.

And (because I’m nosy and I just have to know!) your favourite joke?

I am rubbish at remembering jokes. I have two - one isn't repeatable here, the other is: What's brown and sticky? A stick. The only reason this is one of my faves is because it's the only one I remember that I can repeat. Mostly, I just like it when people say random funny things that make me laugh.

Describe your perfect writing day…

This is a very good question, because my perfect writing day hasn't happened yet. My perfect writing day would be among the trees in a favourite part of Clumber Park, where no-one else seems to go, or in a wood, just me, a notepad and pen, a big bag of crisps and some water. Otherwise, I guess a day at home where all the words come and I have few other things to do, is fairly close to perfect.

…and your actual writing day.

My actual writing day is punctuated by doing the school runs and walking my greyhound, washing up, and of course, The Evil Menace of Distraction... commonly known as Twitter. Not to mention, answering emails, doing publicity stuff etc etc. I imagine it's much like most writer's days really when we do a bit of writing in the gaps between other things. I am lucky though as I only work 3 half days a week, so at least I can settle down for longish spells and get quite a lot done in that time.

If you could tell your teenage self one thing, what would it be?

This is a bit uncanny actually as I had a conversation with someone today about this very thing. I did tell my teenage self something, and would tell myself the same again. I was painfully shy, and I realised that I'd never get anywhere being like this, so I remember telling myself that it was about time I got a grip and pulled myself together. I can't say it was easy, but I was determined that I wasn't going to end up doing nothing with my life and I knew that my shyness would hold me back. I was bullied quite a lot at school but it gave me a steely determination which has stayed with me and always makes me come up fighting.

And finally, what are you up to next?

At some point I would like to sleep and have tea and toast in bed... but before that, I have Grub's Pups coming out on 27th October and am having my first ever book launch for that, which is really exciting (and a tad scary!).  I've written the first of a series of books for 6-9yrs, Buttercup Magic, and the first of these, A Mystery for Megan, is out in April 2012. This means I have two more to write. I'm also working on a couple of picture book stories, another 6-9yrs novel about a rescue greyhound, a 9-11yrs novel about about a girl who aspires to be someone special, and my first YA book. I have also started a novel. Oh, and a poem or two inbetween. I've two poems due to be published in magazines soon, which I am ecstatic about. Hopefully all of this will be punctuated with feasts of cheesecake and fish-finger and fried egg sandwiches... hopefully!

And can I just say, thank you so much for interviewing me. This is my first ever interview, and these have been lovely thought provoking questions. I've really enjoyed thinking about them and I hope people enjoy reading my answers.

Thank YOU, Abi - it’s been great to interview you and I'm sure they will!

Abi has a fantastic website, and a blog which she updates every Friday - you can find both of them here.

If you are in the Chesterfield area on Saturday 29th October, Abi will be at Waterstones on Vicar Lane at 11am to launch Grub’s Pups. She'll be reading from and signing her books, and there'll be refreshments, colouring, lollies and free Ruby and Grub bookmarks for the children (I might have to pretend to be a child so I can get one!).


  1. Thank you for this lovely interview - lovely on several fronts. First, fab questions! Second, great interviewee - Abi, it's so nice, having 'met' you on Twitter to find out more about you! (Emma, please do this for all the people I'm keen to know more about!) And third, a pointer towards some great-sounding books. My 8 year-old daughter sounds very like Abi in her love of nature & animals... which makes me think that these 6-9-age books you're working on will be right up her street.

  2. P.S. Love that you had a typewriter, Abi. My parents did too and I loved it. My 5 yr-old thinks typewriters were used in medieval times (literally - she has mentioned this). Ach, well.

  3. I LOVE this interview!! (and not just because you're two of my favorite Tweeps to chat with!) Such an interesting start to writing. I love the letters you wrote as a child, so cool! And I can't wait to read your Grub books. It's interesting that you were so shy as a child/teen (curious, are you still? you seem so unshy on Twitter -- of course so do I and I'm a diehard introvert). And p.s. Philadelphia Story is one of my all-time favorite movies too, of course. Now I NEED to read The Book Thief!

  4. Oh, I wish I was nearer Chesterfield. I'd come along to get my free lolly and bookmarks ;)

  5. Hi lovelies - glad you liked the interview. That Emma Pass asks some good questions doesn't she? Harriet - yes, typewriters... so long ago that the memory is but a cloudy outline. But honestly, I'm not THAT old :) Julia - I'm not really shy now because I decided not to be... but, sometimes it's still there, if you know what I mean. Dan - I will keep a lolly and a bookmark to one side for you - I care little about your dental health :)

  6. Just want to say I adore the illustrations on your Grub's books! And I now have an insatiable desire to disappear with a notebook and a large bag of crisps....
    Google map tells me your book launch is 122 miles away, so sorry to miss the lollies and bookmarks. Enjoy the moment!

  7. My oldest is going to *love* your new series - right up her street!

  8. Hi Teri, thank you on behalf of Sarah Warburton - her pics are lovely aren't they? Ah! 122 miles away is perhaps pushing it a bit. I shall tweet some pics after so you can see my little girl dressed up as 'Ruby'!

  9. What a lovely interview, Emma, and of course a great extrovert interviewee! That photo : 0 The last thing I would EVER have pictured Abi as. WO re the Flower Fairy books: as a 5 yo I was so besotted with them at school that I stole one. Crikey! I cut out all the pictures and hid them in my room. Am really glad you mentioned that you only started dabbling properly in writing as a grown-up because just before I read this I was thinking that so far, all you authors have said they've been writing from the cradle. So I thought perhaps I should have been, too. And I am at that frustrating time you mentioned with your little ones - not really able to fully commit as much as one would like to without being a bad mother! And another WO moment - snap on the joke. I kid you not. How weird when you consider all the jokes in the world. I can't remember jokes for the life of me so this one's perfect isn't it! I only told it a few days ago. Re your being so shy - I don't know how you've overcome it, Abi. It's absolutely true that it ruins your life - I let it affect me. And I often panic in case I ever get published. How rubbish would I be?! Not yet bought your R&G yet for 3yo as we live miles from civilisation but when I next go shopping it's on my list. Thank you both. Wendyfreckles

  10. Great interview & interviewee Emma and Abi.

    Good luck with the book launch Abi.

  11. Really enjoyed the interview - bit of a Cure fan myself! I live 45 mins from Chesterfield so will try to make the launch. No kids, but I enjoy colouring and lollies!

  12. dklwriter (Denise)19 October 2011 at 21:29

    'The Book Thief' is one of my top books too. The other for me is 'The Shadow of the Wind' by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.

    Well done, Emma. Your new blog is doing very well isn't it? And thank you for prying a little information out about Abi. I love the punk picture :). Sadly my kids are too old for your books, but I might have a reader for them soon enough :).

    Good luck with all your new ventures. You have so much going on, how do you keep up with it all?

  13. Thanks for all your comments! And another big thanks to Abi for letting me interview her - your answers were fascinating, Abi, and I'm so pleased you let me use your awesome punk picture. :)

  14. MC -(I don't know your name :( ) glad you enjoyed it. Yay, fellow Cure fan - super duper! Would be lovely to see you at launch if you can make it, and you can have a colouring AS WELL as a lolly!
    Denise - Yes, isn't it a lovely blog? Glad you like the pic. Thank you, and I agree, I have no idea how I keep up with it all either :)

  15. Ha, just realised my comment is really to you Emma and Abi (as though I was speaker to her) - sorry if it was a bit confusing!!!

    I am not used to blogging or commenting on blogs. Do you think it shows? lol

  16. Lol! Thank you, Denise - glad you liked the interview!

    As for how I keep up with it all, err, I'll get back to you on that one…

  17. Great interview Abi and Emma - two pretty fab ladies!