Friday, 3 February 2017

Getting To Know... Peta Rainford

Peta and Archie (Photo Credit: Kelly Murdoch)

Today on Getting To Know... I am happy to welcome children's author and illustrator Peta Rainford. 

You write children's books, what is it that draws you to this genre?

I suspect like a lot of authors who write for children, I started when my own daughter was small, because I wanted to write for her and, to some extent, about her. I relate to kids, particularly their humour (that’s a sensible way of saying I like daft jokes) and I feel very comfortable writing in this genre. I find I have plenty to say!

When you're writing do you have a set routine or schedule that you like to follow?

I wish! Like most writers, I have to fit my writing around the Rest of Life, including other book-related activities such as marketing and school visits. I tend to sit down on a Monday and plan my week on a sheet of A4 (I am incurably low-tech!). Although my scheduling is pretty chaotic, I do try to have some writing and/or illustration time every weekday, depending what phase of a book I’m on – if I’m lucky it’s a whole day, but it may be just an hour. And I don’t always manage it.

Do you have a favourite character that you have created so far?

I suppose it has to be Fizzy in Hairy Fairy. The fairy who is very much her own little person, who ‘doesn’t think like others think, prefers blue wings to standard pink’, bears a more than passing resemblance to my own daughter (though I wouldn’t dare admit that to her face!)

To be honest, my other three books aren’t so character-driven. The leading characters are more cyphers for the plot – though I do have a sneaking regard for the evil cat Blot in the two Isabella books and I am quite fond of the exuberant Billy Bonkers in Jamie and the Joke Factory.

Do you remember your favourite book as a child?

I don’t really remember one favourite book. I loved the Paddington stories which my Dad used to read to me, because they were funny and we laughed at them together. I liked a bit of drama too: I can remember loving Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden and When Marnie Was There by Joan G Robinson.

When you're not writing and illustrating what would we find you doing?

Apart from family stuff? I have been a school governor for nearly four years which is a fascinating (unpaid) job that takes up much more of my time than I ever imagined when I took it on. Otherwise, you might find me on the tennis court, or on the beach, walking my hairy Jack Russell Terrier (and muse), Archie.

As you both illustrate and write your stories, which comes first when you're creating a new character, the image or the writing?

Although each of my books has evolved slightly differently, I generally concentrate on the words first. That said, I never work on the words in isolation; I am always planning the illustrations as I write, in my head, if not always on paper. This was particularly important when I was writing Isabelle Rotten Speller as I was creating a world and people made out of letters, so I had to have a pretty good idea how that would look in order to be able to describe it.

The words and pictures feed off each other. Quite often I will be illustrating a section of text and the way the picture develops will prompt me to go back and rewrite the words.

In Isabella there are things that only adults will pick up on - the Alice In Wonderland theme for example - is this a conscious decision to include things for parents?

Yes and no. Going back to your first question, another of the inspirations for me to write my own children’s books were the books I was reading with my daughter. Some of them were inspirational in their own right (step forward Lauren Child, Judith Kerr, Oliver Jeffers, Julia Donaldson and Axel Sheffler), but others were just SO BORING! I do think it is important that if you are writing books for adults and children to share, there should be something in there for those doing the reading, as well as those being read to.

I want my stories to have lots of layers – hidden jokes and narratives – in the words and the pictures. But I don’t put some bits in for adults and some bits in for kids. They are just extra details and ideas for anyone to find.

The Alice In Wonderland theme just evolved naturally as part of the story: I knew I wanted to reintroduce the character of the cat Blot, who had featured in Isabella Rotten Speller, and I had the idea of having glimpses of him appearing in the pictures long before he was mentioned in the text. It occurred to me he would be a bit like the Cheshire Cat and the Alice In Wonderland theme grew from there.

Funnily enough, as soon as my eight-year-old saw the picture of the White Rabbit, she said it was like Alice In Wonderland – she hasn’t read the book, but she has seen the Disney film!

If you could give younger you any advice about your writing journey, what would it be?

Probably: ‘Just get on with it’. Though, actually, I don’t think I could have started writing children’s books much sooner than I did. I think I needed to be a parent.

Do you have a favourite author?

I don’t think I do. I like lots of different books and lots of different authors. If you narrowed the question down to my favourite author of children’s picture books though, I would probably come back to Julia Donaldson. I love the cleverness of her best books and the precision of her rhyme.

What can we look forward to from you next?

Well, I’m currently working on a longer chapter book for children, probably between the ages of 8 and 12. This one’s much more about the words – around 30,000 of them, compared with my usual 800 – although it will have some black and white illustrations. I hope to finish the first draft of that in the next month or so and then, while I’m tidying that up, I plan to start on my next rhyming picture book. So 2017 is shaping up to be pretty busy!

Thank you so much for inviting me to take part in your Getting To Know… feature. I really liked your questions. As an author, I think it’s really useful to be asked why you do what you do; I think it helps develop the writing process – and you’re sometime surprised by your own answers!

Thank you so much to Peta for joining me today and answering my questions.

To Connect With Peta Rainford

Twitter - @PetaRainford

Check out my review of Isabella here

Isabella's Adventures In Numberland

Isabella is back for her second adventure! In this colourful, rhyming picture book, the accident-prone little witch falls through a hole in the ground and lands in Numberland – a place where nothing quite adds up (because all the numbers have disappeared!) 
She makes new friends, encounters an old enemy and, though the odds are against her, finally saves the day. YOU CAN COUNT ON ISABELLA!

Readers of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland will see some parallels between Isabella’s Adventures in Numberland and that wonderful, crazy children’s classic.

Fans of Isabella’s first adventure, Isabella, Rotten Speller, published by Peta Rainford in 2014, will also love Isabella’s Adventures in Numberland. Peta Rainford has created a book that buzzes with vibrant, amusing pictures and interesting, funny, rhyming words. 

This book will encourage young children to think about the importance of numbers and how numbers are used in our everyday lives, while at the same time being very, very silly! 

A useful tool for parents and teachers and a fun story for early readers and younger children who enjoy being read to.

(Photo Credit: Kelly Murdoch)

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