Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Interview #6: Gillian Rogerson


Gillian Rogerson
Gillian Rogerson loves being a writer. Her passion is infectious and inspiring. She's also extremely modest.

While she might not shout from the rooftops about her achievements, let me do so on her behalf.

She has published three picture books in the past seven years, Happy Birthday Santa, The Teddy Bear Scare and The Smallest Hero, a non-fiction title, Children's History of Leeds, and two titles in a series of Scholastic children's books about Princess Spaghetti,  You Can't Eat a Princess and You Can't Scare A Princess.
TV and film people are circling Princess Spaghetti, perhaps sensing the next big thing. The character is already a runaway success with young readers.

She always wanted to be a writer - Enid Blyton's Faraway Tree books were her favourite as a child.

Yet it took Gillian a long time to believe she could be a writer. She thought it was something other people did.

Her attitude began to change after a chance encounter.

Gillian, who works as a teaching assistant and lives in Leeds with teenage daughters Rosie and Eve, said: "I once saw Terry Pratchett from afar in a Leeds bookshop about 20 years ago and I thought, he looks just like an ordinary person. If he can write a book, then so can I.

So, when IS Santa's birthday?
"I'd always imagined famous authors to be superhuman and ten feet tall."

She always wanted to write, but because she believed it was an "impossible dream" she didn't pursue it. She forgot about it and went to work in insurance and sold children's shoes.

It was only when she became a mother that she began to think that, yes, she could try to write a book. This was 15 years ago, when her elder daughter was two and she loved sharing picture books with her.

She had a go herself and found that she absolutely loved it. She found she had a gift for storytelling. Her mind proved adept at sparking idea after idea, triggered by the famous writing provocation - 'what if?'.

Over the next five years she wrote and sent off picture book ideas to publishers, without success.

But she was learning her craft and wrote more than 200 in the process.

She would take a simple thought like 'when is Santa's birthday?' and explore it logically until she had fleshed out the idea into a picture book. That particular one became Happy Birthday, Santa!

Her other method of working (and which she still uses) was to deploy a 'story bag'. She would pull out a random character type - a princess, say - along with a random setting - outer space - and put the two together to, hopefully, come up with something fresh. That particular combination resulted in the first Princess Spaghetti book.

"I met Curtis Jobling at a Leeds comic festival last year. And he told me that he uses story dice. Each face of the dice has a different word, like 'volcano', to help you come up with ideas for your story," she said.
Let's hope Princess Spaghetti is soon a major TV series

After toiling hard at her craft, Gillian was signed up for two picture books by Gullane Books. "Like buses, you wait for one for ages then two come along at once!" she laughed.
It was on the strength of this that Gillian was taken on by agent Eve White.

"It was the same time that Eve was considering signing up Andy Stanton, author of the Mr Gum books. Lucky that she decided to go ahead, isn't it?" she laughed.

Gillian can't speak highly enough of the support Eve has shown her. Indeed, she is thrilled with all her collaborators in the publishing industry. She's been lucky enough to have her picture books illustrated by such great artists as Sarah McIntyre and Ingela Peterson.

She harbours ambitions to illustrate her own work. Indeed, she has turned some of her rejected picture book ideas into Kindle e-books, accompanied by her own drawings.

So, with so much going on at the moment, does Gillian have any other writing ambitions?

"I'd love to write a murder mystery. Not a gory one, something more like Agatha Christie," she confides.

I suspect that whatever Gillian Rogerson turns her hand to will be a success.

* Thanks to Gillian for being such a lovely interviewee (and fellow Laurel and Hardy fan, too - it's always great to meet a kindred spirit).

Her website is here. Her page on Eve White's website is here.

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