It is extremely hard to not completely fall in love with the work of Anna Branford – it is whimsical and warm and full of beauty and light. Her newly re-packaged ‘Violet Mackerel’ books can be seen here, and I am so very pleased to have her joining us here today. I love a woman that can complete a PhD and then have the effervescent Violet Mackerel just pop out of her head. She is also a master crafter and creative, who heads up the ‘Creating a Welcome’ market, where all proceeds go to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre’.
Thank you so much Anna – lovely to have you here!
- Tell us about your latest book.
My latest book is Lily the Elf, The Jumble Sale. It is about the tricky time when elves sometimes need to get rid of old things, even though they want to keep absolutely everything – and especially things with special memories attached. Lily and her family have some good ideas about how to make it all a bit easier, and the story also has a mermaid’s tail in it, which is something I have always secretly wanted myself.
- How did you get started as a writer?
I had just finished a very big piece of research, my PhD, and after that I thought I would like to try writing something just for fun. I had an idea in my mind of a girl waking up very early to go to a market with her family and wanting to keep her pajama bottoms on under her skirt. So I called her Violet Mackerel and started to write stories about her and that became my first series of books.
- What does a typical day look like for you?
I wake up when it’s still dark, walk out to the train station and catch my train into the city while the sun is rising. When I get to my office (another train trip away) I make a cup of tea and the first hour or two is my own special time for my writing. After that I do my other work, which is mainly university teaching. Often I’m not back home until the sun has gone down again! But I squeeze lots and lots in between.
- Can you describe your workspace for us?
I keep pictures of people on my wall whose work I admire, so that if I feel a bit discouraged or uninspired I can look up and remember how wonderful human beings can be when they really try. Looking up now I can see Rosa Parks, CS Lewis, Simone de Beauvoir, Vivian Malo, Enid Blyton, Frida Kahlo, Sophie Scholl and Ai Weiwei. I also have some succulent plants on my desk and far too many books.
- Any words of advice for young readers and writers?
For young readers I would say, the books that end up being important to you may not always be the ones that grab you in the first sentence or two. It can be so important to let books settle with you for a while, and become friends.
And for young writers, don’t wait until you’re grown up to be an author! Plenty of very young people have written books – just ask your librarian to help you find them if you’re not sure. And look out for writing competitions and other opportunities that are especially for young writers. Lots of people would love to read your work. I know, because I’m one of them!
- Do you have a favourite book or character (your own or somebody else’s)?
I will always have a soft spot for Badger in Wind in the Willows. He seemed gruff and grumpy but you could just tell that underneath he was an especially lovely being. Some of the best people are a bit like that, I think.
- If you were not a creator of books for young people what would you be?
If being a doll maker was a job I would love to do that. I love the way dolls’ personalities form as they’re being created and it is so much fun trying to think of interesting and unusual things to make them out of.
- What is your favourite food to eat and/or your favourite music to listen to whilst you are working on your books?
I love music but I can never have it playing while I’m writing. I get too distracted – maybe precisely because I love it! But I do drink tea constantly and I find nothing goes better with tea than biscuits.
- How much of yourself or people you know is in your books?
Lots I think. I can’t imagine ever writing much about a character who was very outgoing or confident, because I can’t quite understand what that would feel like. So all my characters have part of them that needs to be alone some of the time, just mulling things over.
- If you could have one wish for the world what would it be?