I’m very excited to host this week’s interview with the sweet and multi-talented children’s author and illustrator Claire Barker. We met online through a mutual friend and she amazes me with her numerous talents and abilities while maintaining a down-to-earth attitude and lovely personality. Here she discusses her upcoming children’s book and her work as an illustrator and painter.
Please introduce yourself to my readers and give us a brief overview of your career.
Hello! I’m the author of Knitbone Pepper –Ghost Dog. I live on a small farm in North Devon with my husband, daughters and an assortment of animals. In the past I’ve lived in cities, on boats and in townhouses, but I always gravitate back to the countryside. I’ve done lots of different jobs including being an illustrator and a teaching assistant. I suspect my most important writing influence has been being a parent, because it has taught me so much about what children like to hear about. The natural extension of this was to pick up a pen and start writing.
Tell us a little bit about Knitbone Pepper and the books you have coming out shortly in this series. How did they come about?
Knitbone Pepper is a result of pondering the close friendship between my youngest daughter and our old dog. I started to wonder why I hadn’t seen more stories about animal ghosts. If they are mentioned they are either terrifying (Hound of the Baskervilles) or incidental (the steeds of headless horsemen) and this seemed out of step and rather unfair when I find most animals to be delightful. I’d noticed dogs that waited patiently outside shops, or even at bus stops, for their owners. I imagined that a loyal animal spirit would be far too busy pining for their person to worry about being scary. Animals don’t have an ego like humans so their motivation would be rather different to a human ghost, which is when I came up with the idea of a Beloved, a special type of animal ghost. Then Knitbone Pepper arrived in my head: an unusual dog with an unusual name who has to make the best of an unusual situation. Throw in a bunch of crazy animal spirits from different centuries, a 904 year old tumbledown house and a sparky little girl and I had the makings of the Starcross world.
The first book comes out on the 1st August 2015. The next one is due out in the spring of 2016 and is to be called Knitbone Pepper and the Last Circus Tiger. Another will follow in the autumn. I’ve seen the artwork and they are just beautiful! I’m beyond thrilled about the whole thing.
What are you most excited about?
I’m really excited about visiting schools and talking to children about the book. The Knitbone series will be coming out as audiobooks and the idea of someone voicing the characters is thrilling. It’s been bought by various countries around the world and the idea of children in China or Spain reading a story that I thought up at my kitchen table in Devon is incredible. It’s beyond my wildest dreams really.
When you decided to start writing, what made you decide to write children’s fiction?
I think it chose me, particularly as I entered this world through the door of illustration. It never really occurred to me to write for adults. I have an English Literature and History degree, so I’ve read some wonderful, rather serious books over the years, but the stories that really stick with me are from my childhood. I had a particularly treasured copy of Illustrated Tales from Shakespeare that I loved. I still have it in fact. Children’s books are powerful signposts that can point the way for the rest of your life. I can remember what it felt like to be a child quite clearly.
How do you become a successful children’s writer?
I’ll let you know when I’ve become one! I think having confidence in your instinctive writer’s voice, a dollop of persistence and a great ladle of luck goes a long way.
What do you need to know or understand in order to write effectively for children?
In my experience children are extraordinarily wise and clear-sighted. They have an excellent sense of humour and their minds are full of possibility. Listening very carefully to children’s views on the world is always time well-spent.
You now live in Devon. How does living in such a place help you with your writing?
Devon is a landscape humming with its own stories. I’ve lived here for over 20 years and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. Whilst the countryside is associated with peace and calm it’s actually quite a busy place. The mornings here are full of loud birdsong and the inky nights are stuffed with stars. Not a day goes by when I don’t see a deer or a hare or buzzard. Once, I was woken up by the terrifying clatter of owls fighting outside the bedroom window. As I can’t help but give them all back-stories it’s quite a daily workout.
Did you have any say about who illustrates your books?
Yes, my publishers always ask for my thoughts. I was initially a bit nervous as the characters are so distinctive in my head, but when Usborne showed me Ross’s sketches I knew straightaway he was the perfect choice.
Why is it important for you to have an illustrator who understands your books?
Knitbone Pepper is a story with a bitter-sweet edge. It takes a special illustrative talent to convey both sadness and wild humour. I think Ross and I have a similarly quirky view of the world and I think we compliment each other’s styles. It feels like he’s been rummaging around in my head which has been a fascinating experience. The wonderful thing about this entire series is that everybody involved, from my agent to my publisher, has ‘got it’ from the outset. I’m overjoyed by the results.
Characters arrive on the doorstep of my head like unannounced visitors.
You are also a very talented painter and illustrator. How do you find the time to paint, and draw, and write, and be a mother?
That’s very kind of you to say so. I do this by being a terrible slacker on the housework front. I will drop all domestic duties with the slightest encouragement to do something more interesting.
On your website you say that in the past you’ve drawn and painted the characters you’re writing. How vividly can you picture your characters as you’re writing them?
Very vividly. They arrive on the doorstep of my head like unannounced visitors. Sometimes they need a bit of tweaking, but only a bit. I always start with a cast of characters and then I need to build them a world in which to live. I’m one of those very visual people with pitiful maths skills.
And finally, do get any time to read? If so, what book recently have you loved?
I love Kate Atkinson’s writing. I thought Life after Life was brilliant and I’m about to read her new one. I was mightily impressed by Mal Peet’s Murdstone Trilogy. There are certain books I read again and again for comfort, like Cider With Rosie. Most of the time though, as soon as my head hits the pillow I’m asleep. Unless I’m woken up by fighting owls of course.
You can follow Claire Barker on Twitter here.
Her instagram account can be found here.
Read more about Claire Barker the author on this site.
Learn more about Claire as an illustrator and check out her work here!
Have a question for Claire? Post it below and I will get it answered for you!
And of course you can find her on Facebook here.