Tell us about your most recent publication.
Oswald Messweather is my latest publication, a picture book that acknowledges the presence of OCD in young children. Published by Wombat Books and stunningly illustrated by, Siobhan McVey, Oswald Dorian Constantine Messweather is a character who is easily overwhelmed by mess and disorder. Even the complexity of his own name is enough to set his legs jiggling and his palms itching with anxiety. To combat his unease, Oswald obsessively counts his take-everywhere pocket pals – his crayons. It is a compulsion he finds comforting but also extremely exhausting.
Oswald’s obsessive preoccupations distract him from everything and everyone else around him, until one day Oswald is encouraged to use his penchant for perfection and eye for detail in a class project. With the help of his crayons, Oswald’s classmates create something spectacular, which helps Oswald realise just how valuable he is in spite of his anxieties.
Oswald’s story is less of a cure for OCD rather more of a window of hope that despite debilitating mental conditions, fears and anxieties can be managed when their source is recognised and then employed with purpose to magnify ones strengths.
What do you enjoy most about being a writer?
The freedom to be who you want to be and go wherever you wish to go, even if that place does not exist and you’re doing it through a made up character. I love the challenge of crafting unreal situations into believable adventures and moments in time that kids find more real than real life. That is the unqualified magic of storytelling: transporting readers into that magical plane of suspended belief. It’s what I adored about reading as a child and hope to continue to perpetuate for children.
How much research goes into your writing?No matter how brief the story, be it a 32 page picture book, short story or novel with more grunt, I spend a massive amount of time researching bits and pieces. My more issued orientated picture book tales demand a certain amount of factual credence to ensure the characters and their stories ring true. I also love exploring the symbolism of names, numbers and colours each of which can add more depth to the layers or nuances of a story.
It’s my firm belief that authors are the most fortunate people in the world. I may not be able to actually perform brain surgery but I can talk you through some of the technicalities. I may never have actually travelled to the moon, but I can tell you what to expect. I’ve never actually flown on the back of a dragon (yet) but I can direct you to the best site to order your own dragon! Researching ones story opens up a world of understanding and knowledge that I would not have been exposed to in a ‘normal’ same everyday job. If I can learn something new every day, it’s been a good day and possibly a slow writing one – I can get a bit carried away.
Writers are sometimes influenced by things that happen in their own lives. Are you?Most definitely! I think this is one of most important aspects to remember when penning your characters’ stories; draw from that amazing treasure chest of memories and experiences you’ve encountered throughout your life. Never underestimate the potency of past experiences even if you think they were the most boring things you’ve ever done. Chances are the emotions you felt at the time along with a myriad of other details such as smells and even peculiarities of the weather can be distilled into your story which will ultimately enhance its authenticity and believability. I love that I’m able to ‘cameo’ my own experiences and situations into fresh storylines. Many of my anthology short stories were born this way.
Top tip/s for writers?Oh I have a gazillion but the one I preach most loudly to scribes young and old is to READ! You’d be amazed how many picture book writers for example have never even stepped into a modern day library and picked up a picture book but want to write a publishable one first go. Reading allows a certain amount of information to osmose into your creative comprehension. You’ll gain a sense of what works well and what doesn’t, what is popular and what is lacking in the market. You don’t necessarily have to write what’s out there but you should understand who your audience is and what they are reading. Plus it’s fun and informative!
My other top tip is to be consistent. Write often, enquire frequently, and regularly connect to your tribe and your passion. Then keep on reading and writing and rewriting. One of my favourite quotes of all time is by Robin Williams: It took him 20 years to be an overnight success. It does well to remember this; that patience, tenacity and perseverance is just as important as talent. Don’t rush your writing just to see your name in print. Concentrate on writing the best story you can possibly write and be true and committed to your characters. The rest will follow.
Have you ever had a fan moment and met somebody famous? Tell us about it.I have a background in hospitality management and have worked in various hotel properties and resorts around the world including a stint in the luxury motor yachting industry so it’s fair to say I’ve met my fair share of famous people. I’m not that fazed by any of them and tend to go more google-eyed over Kid Lit royalty. However deep down, we’re all the same animals and when I’ve had the opportunity and good fortune to work or present alongside some of the most revered creators in the Kids’ Lit industry, I feel more of a deep respect and camaraderie as opposed to wobbly kneed swoon. I confess though that I still go a bit crae crae for A-ha; you know the best thing to come out of Norway in the 80s since anything! I first met them in 1986 and attended their concert again in 2020 just before the world shut down. Ahhhh….they can take on me any day…
Do you have a favourite character from your stories? Spill the beans and tell us about them.Oooh another tricky question because like all good mums, I don’t really have favourites although I do have a deep fondness for the little girl from The Fix-It Man. She was my first picture book character and although she has no name, she represents such hope and resilience and bravery during one of the most devastating times of her life, I can’t help but admire and love her and want to scoop her up in my arms. Her demeanour and affection towards her father and indeed life, is infectious and heart-warming.
I am rather fond of Pippa too, that plucky little pigeon who wouldn’t take no for an answer. I’d love to be her and fly away unheeded for a day or two.
There is a girl who appears in one of my award winning Short and Twisted short stories, Concrete Boots, who again is nameless but shows a complex combination of responses as she navigates her way through the grief of losing her baby sister. I admire her comical candour and frustrations because she reminds me a little bit of myself.
And finally mention must be made of Ozzie from Oswald Messweather, who has already found his way into the hearts of many young people. They seem to find powerful solace in Ozzie, recognising themselves in his struggle with anxiety and having to cope in uncomfortable overwhelming situations. Their interpretations of his story and ways of managing his distress have been unbelievably intuitive and heartening. When a character of mine imparts those kinds of reactions, it makes him all the more special to me, as well.
How can we learn more about you?