Author Interview: Elli Woollard

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Elli Woollard writes picture books for young children, poems for the young at heart, and other things, most of them silly. I first discovered her work when I chanced across a poem about cheese on her blog. Finding her in this way was quite ironic as, apparently, she dislikes cheese.

She does, however, like words and is very clever in the way she uses them. Her blog is aptly named Taking Words for a Stroll, and on it she publishes her original poems. Although a great many of these are just for fun, sometimes she will be inspired to write about a serious subject. Her light touch can convey a message with a hefty impact.

She uses her words deftly and they invariably make me smile. I cheered when I read that she is having her first book published later this year as more people will now read her work. In our far too serious lives, getting people to smile and cheer has got to be a good thing.

Please welcome to neverimitate, Elli Woollard.

Oo, thank you! This is my first ever author interview, so it’s all very exciting!

Where do you typically write?

That depends what you mean by ‘writing’. I do most of my actual typing on my computer, which sits on my kitchen table, along with lots of other mess (at the moment I can see a jar of mayonnaise, a bottle of ketchup, a toy train, a newspaper, a clothes peg, some candles, and lots and lots of crumbs). But most of my ideas I ‘write’ in my head before setting down. The inside of my head is just as messy as my table, but without quite so much ketchup. I get ideas at all times and in all places, but they have an annoying habit of popping into my head really late at night when I should be fast asleep. It’s very inconsiderate of them.

Tell us about your writing process.

A lot of my stories and poems begin with a certain phrase appearing in my head out of nowhere. On my blog I describe my work as ‘taking words for a stroll’ (after the artist Paul Klee’s idea of ‘taking lines for a walk’), as what I often do is start with a phrase and then see where it takes me. It’s a bit like having a dog though; I’m not always sure whether I’m taking the words for a walk, or if they’re taking me. At least they don’t leave hairs on the sofa.

I love words and the way they sound, so as well as walking with the words I play with them. I juggle them, try to fit them together like jigsaw puzzles. There’s something about writing in verse that’s immensely satisfying in this respect (especially as I’m extremely clumsy and can’t do actual juggling for toffee).

Tell us about your publishing experience.

I actually wrote my first picture book aged four, and still have a copy. It’s a tragic little tale of how I was trying to teach my best friend to ride a tricycle, but she fell off and cracked her head open. I think I probably wrote it because my friend could ride a tricycle and I couldn’t, and I was very, very jealous!

Beyond that I’ve been hugely lucky. I started off writing just poems, around two years ago, but soon realised that it’s very difficult to break into the market as an unknown children’s poet; there’s not a big demand for children’s poetry, and publishing companies don’t want to take the risk. I’ve also noticed that most established children’s poets seem to have beards, which sort of rules me out.

So that’s when I started writing picture books in verse too. My first attempts were fairly dire, but I received some brilliant advice from a couple of published authors, and eventually started submitting to publishers. One of my stories caught the attention of a publisher, and on the back of that I was able to get an agent. I didn’t know much about Eve White when I signed with her, but I did know that she represented Andy Stanton (author of the Mr Gum books, possibly among the most snortle-inducing books in the universe) so I knew I was in good hands. Eve and her assistant are not only brilliant as agents but are also two of the loveliest people I know, so I’ve really struck gold there.

I don’t think I’m allowed to reveal all my publishing news yet, but what I can say is that I’ve got three books coming out with Faber, about a rather hapless old wizard called Woozy whose spells keep going wrong (aimed at the 4+ age group) and a picture book coming out with Nosy Crow. The first Woozy book is out in October this year; the others come out in 2015. None of them feature children falling off their tricycles and smashing their heads in, although there are some in which children very nearly get eaten.

In what ways do you promote your work?

When I first started writing poems I just kept them on my computer for my own private consumption, and didn’t mean to share them at all. But then my youngest son spilled water all over my laptop, the computer suffered a fast but painful death, and suddenly all my hard work was gone. That’s when I started putting the poems up on a blog, so even if one of my children (I’ve got four) trained a hosepipe on my computer at least my work would still be there.

For me my blog is a little bit like an artist’s sketchbook; it shows what I’m working on, rather than anything particularly polished. According to my daughter my website is rubbish, so I will get a more professional-looking one for my published books.

I post links to my blog on Twitter, otherwise known as the Bane of My Life, because messing about on Twitter is an endless source of distraoo, that was an interesting tweet! I really am terrible. I guess my publishers will have publicity plans too. I hate blowing my own trumpet (my metaphorical trumpet just makes farty noises at the moment), but I think it’s something all authors have to get used to.

What are some of your current projects?

At the moment I’m just having fun scribbling poems, but I’ve also got a couple of story ideas in my head, waiting to be committed to my computer.

Where can my readers find you?

Follow Elli on Twitter (@Elli_fant)

Follow her blog on WordPress Taking Words for a Stroll | Original poems for the young at heart.

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Elli Woollard grew up in London, where she attended a large comprehensive school and wrote silly poems when she was supposed to be learning about Wordsworth. She spent half of her childhood playing the piano and the other half reading anything she could lay her hands on (in particular she loved reading the dictionary, she was possibly a little weird), and these twin interests in music and literature inspired her love of verse. She even came eventually to almost appreciate Wordsworth.

After degrees in social anthropology from Cambridge and SOAS her itchy feet got the better of her and she moved out to Thailand, where she lived for six years. She has worked variously as a teacher of English as a foreign language, a translator (from Thai), a copywriter and an editorial assistant for an academic publisher. She now lives back in London with her four children, her husband and various pets, including a cat that doesn’t seem to realise that it officially belongs to someone two blocks away.

When she is not writing, reading or herding children she plays the piano and sings. The neighbours haven’t yet complained.

Her first book, Woozy the Wizard: A Spell to Get Well, is published by Faber in October 2014.

 

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