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Interview with Tim Collins, author of the Long-Lost Secret Diary of the World’s Worst… series

Salariya publishes many different books for children, and one of their most successful series is The Long-Lost Secret Diary of the World’s Worst…, featuring children caught up in humorous adventures in various historical settings. The two latest titles in the series are The Long-Lost Secret Diary of the World’s Worst Viking and The Long-Lost Secret Diary of the World’s Worst Engineers, both by Tim Collins.

I asked Tim a few questions about the series, and found out more about the forthcoming books.

First of all, I wanted to find out how Tim had become a children’s fiction author. Tim explained: ‘I wrote a book called Diary of a Wimpy Vampire over ten years ago. I enjoyed the diary format, and wondered what other kinds of stories I could tell in it.’ Tim has written many other books over the years, including The Cosmic Colin Series and Adventures of a Wimpy Werewolf.

I also asked Tim how he found out about the Salariya Book Company. ‘I read some of their books about ancient Egypt and Greece when I was researching a series called Dorkius Maximus. Even as an adult reader, I enjoy reading books like the You Wouldn’t Want to be… series. They cover a very wide range of subjects, and are great for filling in gaps in your knowledge.’

I also wanted to find out how Tim planned his books. ‘I read non-fiction books covering the subject matter and make a note of things that would make good scenes. Then I plot out a storyline, which is usually about three pages long.’ I feel that this research helps Tim’s stories remain factually grounded, and allows the historical settings to feel more believable.

I asked Tim where the ideas for The Long-Lost Secret Diary of the World’s Worst… series came from. He revealed ‘We wanted to do a series that could cover lots of different eras and places. The historical series I did before this was set in one particular time, and it got difficult to come up with fresh angles. With this series, we can cover any subject matter or historical period.’ This allows Tim’s series more variety than many other children’s novels. He even did a book set in a future setting, The Long-Lost Secret Diary of the World’s Worst Astronaut, about a girl on a mission to Mars.

So how did Tim make his books appealing to his target audience? ‘The characters in this series make a lot of mistakes at first, and I think young readers appreciate the message that it’s fine to get things wrong. You just have to keep trying.’ They’re not called World’s Worst for nothing!  

And how does Tim go about making sure the language level is right for the intended audience? ‘The historical nature of the series means that sometimes you’ll have to use words the readers are unfamiliar with. I try to make things clear from context, but there is also a glossary in each book.’ I think it is really wonderful that Tim included a glossary to help his young audience quickly and easily understand any new terms that may come up.

I wondered how Tim used the diary structure to engage his young readers. ‘The diary format means the text can be presented in approachable chunks which are much shorter than traditional chapters. The narrators can also share their feelings in a very direct way.’ This allows the readers to understand the characters more than many other kinds of writing.

I also asked Tim what research he had to do for the Long-Lost Secret Diary of the World’s Worst Viking book. ‘I wish I could have gone to Iceland and Greenland, but sadly I was restricted to reading books about them!’

Things were a little easier for the Long-Lost Secret Diary of the World’s Worst Engineers, though, as Tim’s experience with Paris gave him an advantage in writing a story that was set there. ‘I would definitely have gone to Paris for this if it weren’t for lockdown. Fortunately, I know it pretty well, so I could work out the locations from memory and Google Maps. There’s obviously a lot more surviving evidence from the late Victorian era than the Viking one, so research is very different.’

I wanted to find out why Tim had chosen to have two narrators in the Long-Lost Secret Diary of the World’s Worst Engineers. ‘The idea of twins sharing the same diary seemed interesting to me. It gave me the opportunity to use an unreliable narrator, a technique that is very popular in adult fiction, but could be confusing for young readers. In this case, the other narrator can point out what actually happened.’ It is clear that this allowed Tim to experiment with the diary format and introduce younger readers to a literary technique they may not have seen before. So which book in the series so far is Tim’s favourite and why? ‘I like The Long-Lost Secret Diary of the World’s Worst Hollywood Director. I was surprised to learn how little fiction, either for children or adults, had been set around the birth of Hollywood in the middle of the 1910s. It was a huge moment for popular culture.’ The birth of Hollywood in the 1910s led to the massive film industry we see today.

I asked Tim about what he enjoyed most about writing for children. ‘You can hop between genres in a way that’s harder if you write for adults. I’ve written humour, horror and historical. Anything beginning with a “h”, basically.’ Knowing what is appropriate for the audience allows Tim to experiment with genre.

Finally, I wanted to find what Tim’s advice was on writing for children. ‘It would be the same as for any other type of writing. Turn off the critical voice inside your head while you’re getting the first draft done. You can turn it back on for redrafting, but you won’t get the book finished in the first place if you’re constantly having a go at yourself.’

Tim’s top tips on writing novels for children:

That all sounds like wonderful advice from Tim if you want to try writing yourself. I hope this interview has inspired you to read Tim’s new publications and use them to create your own stories.

Written by Carlos Almonacid

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