Sally Rippin is a prolific author, with the highly popular Billie B Brown series and several novels to her name. In celebration of her upcoming workshop, we're re-publishing some of the insights she shared with Sharona Lin about children’s writing.
How do you work out what young children want to read, and how to write to interest them? Do you have to have kids, or do you need to read copious amounts of children’s books?
I find the most effective way of engaging children is by remembering yourself as a child. Remembering who you were in the world and the effect it had upon you, without trivialising what might seem unimportant now. You don’t necessarily need to have contact with children, or even read other children’s books, but both these things can also be great sources of inspiration and help you understand what might have changed since you were a child and what remains the same.
What first sparked your interest in children’s books, and how did you start writing them?
I have always written and I have have always drawn. I have been making books since I was a child and just never stopped. Over time I have found my natural audience to be children, but I didn’t set out that way. I began writing my first novel at nineteen and had no idea who the readership would be – only that I wanted to write. It was published a few years later as YA, most likely because the protagonist was adolescent as was my understanding of the world so far. At the same time I was studying Fine Art so illustration seemed a natural progression. My skills just seemed to meet somewhere in the middle – and so I write for children. I think many people set out dreaming of the writer they want to be rather than looking at the writer they are. I genuinely like children. I find them infinitely wise and honest and fascinating, and I think that comes out in my work.
Is the process of publishing a children’s book different from publishing a book for adults? How difficult is it to move from writing for adult audiences to writing for children?
I imagine it is fairly similar though I have never published a book for adults so don’t really feel equipped to answer this knowledgeably.
You’ve written both stand-alone books and series. How different is the process for each of them?
Writing a series is completely different to writing a stand-alone novel. When you are writing the first book in a series you are very aware that you are creating a prototype that the rest of the series will be built from. You need to make decisions about the characters and the world you are creating that you know you will be happy to keep working with over several more books, as well as similar decisions about style, word length and chapter breakdowns. When you set out to write a stand-alone novel you have very few restrictions at all.
Many believe that books for younger audiences are inherently more simplistic and less deserving of merit – what would you say to those people?
People have a right to form their own opinions about what they read and nothing I say will influence that. There are readers who see genre-writing as inferior and others who fully appreciate the skill it takes to work within a set of guidelines. To each their own, I guess. I wouldn’t say all children’s books are brilliant just I wouldn’t say all adult books are brilliant but what I might find moving or fascinating or inspiring could very likely be completely different to what rocks another person’s world. Fortunately there are enough books out there to meet everyone’s taste in reading.
About Sally Rippin
Sally Rippin has over sixty books published, many of them award-winning, including the best-selling 'Billie B Brown' series, which has sold more than three million copies since first published. In 2017, Sally will launch the first book in a new series called 'Polly and Buster - The Wayward Witch and The Feelings Monster' and a new imprint with Bonnier Publishing called Sally Rippin Presents.