It’s an absolute honour to welcome Pippa Goodhart, prolific writer of picture books (including the fabulous You Choose series) and novels, to My Book Corner today. She gives us the highlights from her career (so far) and shares some invaluable writing tips too. Grab a cuppa, and have a read…
Tell us about you in 25 words or less.
Writer of picture books, young readers, novels. Middle-aged mum of grown-up daughters, wife, chicken, dog and cat keeper. Knows she’s a lucky woman!
The Great Sea Dragon Discovery, your latest middle-grade adventure novel, is about to hit the shelves, how did it come to be?
I grew up in the village of Grantchester just outside Cambridge, and six years ago we moved back to the village. As a child, I was told that strange marks in the fields were from coprolite diggings, but it was only on returning as an adult that I began to look into that history. Coprolites are, to child joy, ‘fossilised dinosaur poo’, and were mined in the mid-C19th as a source of phosphate for fertilizer. But they also dug up fossils of creatures, and local Cambridge academics were interested in them as they discussed Darwin’s recent theories about evolution. I wanted to write about a child living through those times, discovering an ichthyosaur fossil himself, but I didn’t want it to be a dull sort of historical novel. So I added a thriller element with a mystery that must be urgently solved as the clock ticks towards a possible death sentence for the wrong person. There’s also Bill’s own family story unfolding as the story progresses.
Where is your favourite place to write?
Having started writing books when I had small children at home I’m happy to snatch any time or place in which to work. But I’m lucky enough now to have a proper workroom, and I’ve inherited my father’s desk, which I love.
What’s on your TBR pile at the moment?
I’ve just bought ‘Secrets of a Sun King’ by Emma Carroll which I’m looking forward to. I’m halfway through a book group read, ‘The improbability of Love’ by Hannah Rothschild. And I’m off to the library today to find Jenny Uglow’s biography of Mrs Gaskell as a bit of urgent research for my next novel.
What’s your worst habit?
The strangest question you’ve ever been asked?
‘My Auntie Lily has new fridge freezer.’ I know that’s not a question, but it’s what a five-year-old told me when offered the chance to ask questions on a recent school visit!
Your favourite word(s)?
Either ‘plum’ because it’s such a pleasingly plump sort of sound, or ‘Mum’ because I love having that label.
What are your top tips for budding children’s writers?
-Read lots of books for the age of audience you want to write for, and read those books critically. You learn a lot from others’ triumphs and mistakes.
-Realise that writing is work, and it’s very rare to get it right first time. Be glad that, unlike brain surgery or carving marble, you can go back and make changes!
-Share your work with others, critiquing them kindly and generously in return. You won’t agree with what everyone says, but you will probably find that they are pointing to weaknesses even when you don’t agree with their solutions.
-Consider the potential for illustration. Do you want your writing to share the job of story creation with pictures, or stand alone? Different skills are required, depending on your decision about that.
-Just do it. Stop putting it off. Keep going when you ‘know its rubbish’. Fight on to the end. Then see what you’ve created. Good luck!
You are a prolific writer of both novels and picture books – what’s been the highlight of your career so far?
Definitely my picture book ‘You Choose’ with its mass of wonderful illustrations by Nick Sharratt. I had to fight to get that book published (in fact I left my agent over it). Nine publishers turned it down for not telling a story. It’s a catalogue of a book, and I just knew that children would enjoy choosing and chatting over the pictures. Now it’s the book I see in the tattiest condition (always a compliment for a book!), and the one people tell me wonderful stories about.
Can you give us a glimpse/hint at your current WIP? (I can bribe you with cake!)
I’ve been asked for another historical novel, and this time it’s going to be set in a Victorian cotton mill and has a girl called Ivy as my main character.
Did we forget anything?
If you want to see ichthyosaur fossils like the one that Bill finds in ‘The Great Sea Dragon Discovery’, you can see them in Cambridge’s Sedgwick Museum or in The Natural History Museum in London.
Just for fun
Tea or coffee?
Seaside or countryside?
Again my instinct is to be greedy and say ‘both’!
Paper books or e-books?
Cake or chocolate?
Chocolate, nice and dark.
Write or type?
Poetry or prose?
Hot or cold?