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An interview with John Townsend – new books coming soon!

by Jeannie Brown

With the release of his new books coming out soon, such as:

How The Bear Lost His Tail and Other Stories of the Forest, illustrated by Martina Peluso

Why Monkeys Live in Trees and Other Stories of the Great Outdoors, illustrated by Martina Peluso

Mr Chug and the Red Tractor, illustrated by Isobel Lundie

Mrs Zoom and the Blue Rocket, illustrated by Isobel Lundie

Hello Dragon, illustrated by Serena Lombardo

Hello Unicorn, illustrated by Serena Lombardo

We thought it would be the perfect time to interview the hugely talented children’s author, John Townsend, to get an insight into the way he works and how he creates his wonderful characters!

There are lots of fun and interesting characters in How The Bear Lost His Tail and Other Stories of the Forest and Why Monkeys Live in Trees and Other Stories of the Great Outdoors. How do you make sure that each character in an ensemble like this has a distinctive voice and personality? 

Ah, funny you should ask as these books were a bit different in how they came about. What else was there in endless lockdowns than to have all sorts of email conversations exploring a range of suggestions? Things kicked off with something like ‘How about an illustrated book of true animal heroes from history – suitable for bedtime reading (for primary school age)?’ 

The end product is nothing like that first concept. I collected accounts of famous animals from the past, with details of where we can visit them today in paintings or museums (often stuffed in display cases). Inspiring though heroic animals can be, we felt that too many had rather sad endings – which may not be the best for comforting bedtime tales! So that idea went on hold for the time being and I turned to something more amusing and uplifting – like those wonderful animal fables of Aesop and others. That set me looking at folktales from around the world, where animal characters are used to explain ‘how things came to be’. I whittled down the wide range of stories from different cultures to a small selection that I felt able to tell in an original, entertaining style. As these are bedtime stories (likely to be read aloud by a babysitter, parent, grandparent or whoever), I wrote them very much with ‘performance’ in mind, with rhythms and sounds, playful language, repetition and different voices, as in the great tradition of oral storytelling.

I give each animal a human characteristic, by bearing a real person in mind, to drive that ‘distinctive voice and personality’. With a few jokes in the mix, these stories should hopefully deliver some chuckles as well as the occasional moral or point to ponder. With Martina’s fabulous illustrations, I’m really hoping these books will delight readers and listeners – so much so that they can’t wait for bedtime!

What do you enjoy the most about writing children’s books?

Wow – where can I begin? Because I write both fiction and nonfiction, I enjoy researching all manner of topics and shaping them in fresh ways in the hope of engaging readers. When I receive messages from children, parents or schools telling me one of my books has ‘hit the spot’, I am always delighted. Doing author visits in schools is especially enjoyable when pupils can tell me what they think of my efforts. Book signings are great for feedback as I get to meet readers individually and talk to them about what they enjoy reading – they frequently give me suggestions for other books and I always confess I’m happy to steal ideas for a spot of creative recycling!

Just occasionally I get to hear that someone who had never read a book before enjoyed reading one of mine for the first time. That inevitably brings a delighted glow and maybe the occasional skip of joy. 

Seeing a published book for the first time can be exciting, particularly if it’s visually stunning. It’s great to hold the finished product – the result of everyone’s hard work.

How has your process for writing a book and generating ideas changed from when you first became a writer to now? (perhaps you’ve always used the same methods?)

Well, here’s the thing – my process for writing a book has remained much the same; research, drafting, writing, polishing and re-polishing. But generating ideas can often be something of a mystery. I guess most writers have their own tried and tested methods but I think it’s all about keeping the creative antennae twitching and being constantly on the lookout for interesting things. Then again, I find Radox often helps (other bath products are available). Yes, if inspiration needs a boost, a soak in the bath often does the trick – with pen & paper close at hand (also by the bed, of course). I also find a good walk is just the job for sorting out ideas and untangling the next chapter. No doubt all writers vary in their ways of working but I’ve always kept to strict hours at the desk, as writing does demand a fair amount of self-discipline, I find.

One of the differences in my writing process now from when I first started is that I tend to get more commissions these days, with editors throwing ideas my way – rather than me pitching material all the time. I still like to suggest ideas now and again, as there’s nothing like rejection to sharpen the mind! 

Funnily enough, the process for writing some current books has been completely different from anything else, as I was asked to write a series of bedtime stories (one a night through a month) based on delightful pictures already completed for other projects. Bizarrely, this topsy-turvy way of doing things was quite fun as being straitjacketed in coming up with plots and characters to fit existing visuals was a new kind of challenge. You can let me know what you think of the results when the books publish later in the year. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to tell you some more about these and other forthcoming titles soon – so do watch this space. There are all sorts on the way so I eagerly await seeing the fruits of lockdowns as the world opens up again. 

To learn more about John’s upcoming books, click on this link: here

Pre-order How the Bear Lost His Tail and Other Stories of the Forest: here

Pre-order Why Monkeys Live in Trees and Other Stories of the Great Outdoorshere

Pre-order: Mr Chug and the Red Tractor: here

Pre-order: Mrs Zoom and the Blue Rocket: here

Pre-order Hello Unicorn: here

Pre-order Hello Dragon: here

About the author:

After many years writing books for struggling readers while Head of Special Needs in a secondary school, John became a full-time children’s writer and a storyteller/writer in residence in a primary school treehouse. Meanwhile, as editor of plays for an educational publisher, John began writing children’s nonfiction for several publishers. He has so far published over 300 titles; from little books for little people, all sorts of quick reads for reading schemes – to plays, information books, poetry and children’s novels. Many of John’s books are designed to tempt even the most reluctant reader and to ‘switch on the switched-off.’ With hundreds of visits to schools and libraries around the UK, John has been involved with literacy projects to engage children with reading and inFUNmation books.

When he isn’t writing or on the road, John may be found rehearsing plays at the local repertory theatre or hiking the cliffs of Devon where he lives by the sea. He also writes and records radio broadcasts for the local Talking Newspaper service for the visually impaired – which means writing for grown-ups, as well as for theatre and community drama projects. As for ambitions – simply to meet the next deadline!

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