Friday 1 April 2011

The Big Break with Liz Kessler

 The Big Break is over the moon to be interviewing Liz Kessler, author of  two very successful children's books series, Emily Windsnap and Phillipa Fisher. Her new book 'A Year Without Autum' will be released on the 7th April by Orion Childrens Books.

 Firstly, can I thank you for joining me today on my blog.

Thank you very much for having me. It’s great to be here!

What career did you have before you began writing for a living?

I worked as a teacher (English and Media Studies) and as a journalist.

How long had you been dreaming of being published before you got that life changing phone call?

Well it started when I was about eight. I had my first poem published in the local newspaper and I was pretty sure that I was going to be a famous poet when I grew up. I kind of forgot about the dream for a couple of decades, but when I came back to it, it was as if I’d remembered that that was what I’d always wanted to be, and I didn’t waste any more time. I got straight on with it.

How long did it take you to write your first book?

About a year. Then a bit longer for the editing, once I’d got the book deal.

What was your first reaction when you found out that your debut novel ‘The Tail of Emily Windsnap’ was to be published?

I couldn’t believe it. It was the BEST feeling ever!

What were you doing when you found out?

I was at home on the narrow boat I used to live on, on a canal just outside Manchester.

Who did you tell first?

My best friend, Fiz, who lived on the boat next door to mine. (See the Bookwitch Guest Blog on April 7th for more on this!)

How long did it take for your book to reach publication after the initial agreement?

Eek, I can’t remember! I know it felt like a lifetime! Probably about a year and a half.

What was happening to your manuscript during this time?

Well, firstly it went backwards and forwards about a hundred times between me and my wonderful editor Judith Elliott. Then once that was all done, it was over to Orion to add lovely line drawings to chapter headings, produce the cover and so on. And then off to production I guess!

How did you keep yourself occupied as you waited for publication day?

I had a couple of part time jobs at the time. I was teaching a couple of writing courses and working freelance with an editorial and advisory agency, editing other people’s manuscripts. That was great. Both of these helped me to spot lots of flaws in my own writing.

Where did you see your book on sale first? How did it feel to see your name on the finished book?

The first place I remember seeing it was in Ottakar’s (now Waterstone’s) in Wilmslow. I was with a friend and we couldn’t see it on the shelves. My friend persuaded me to ask them if they had it, and it turned out they were just about to put them out on the shelves. I came out beaming! (And have stayed good friends with that bookshop ever since.)

Your new book ‘A Year Without Autumn’ will be released on the 7th of April. How will you celebrate publication day?

By throwing a party in my favourite café bar in St Ives, overlooking the beach and drinking Prosecco. Why, is there any other way to celebrate publication day?

How does it feel to have people recognise you as an author?

Err...I don’t exactly get recognised a huge amount! Actually, I did once get recognised at my local co-op after there’d been an article in the local paper. And last summer a girl came up to me on the beach and told me she was a fan. That was fantastic! Oh, and while we were on a family holiday in Croatia last year, my nephew spotted a girl reading my book in Swedish! That was very cool!

How would you spend a typical writing day?

I don’t really have a ‘typical’ day. It can range so much, depending on all sorts of things: where I’m up to with the current book, whether we have people staying, how sunny it is, how good the surf is looking etc!

Recently, my work day starts at 7am. I’m at my desk dealing with admin, emails, twitter, facebook etc etc. I try to get all that kind of stuff out of the way to clear my head. Then I’ll do my work. I set targets. If I’m on a first draft, I usually do 1,500 words a day. If that takes all day with lots of faffing in between, then that’s OK. But if I want to go out to play in the afternoon, I’ll work really hard and be done by lunchtime. If I’m editing (which I am at the moment) I try to edit a chapter a day.

Whatever aspect of the job I’m doing, I do spend a lot of hours doing it. But I try to do lots of other stuff in between as well!

What advice would you give to aspiring and unpublished authors?

There is so much I could say here! If you want a long answer to this question then check out my website. (Click on the keyboard on the desk and it’ll open up a page of writing advice!)

But in short, I would say: work hard, write the things that really drive you, and enjoy it! Don’t try to figure out what the market wants – the market is very fickle and by the time you’ve figured out what they want, they’ll have moved on! Just write what’s really in your heart – but also listen to the advice of people who know what they’re talking about.

Remember your mum/best friend/partner will tell you that your book is great – and to them it will be. They probably don’t know anyone else who’s written a book! But telling you that you’re great is part of their job description, so when they say that, be grateful and polite, but then go and show your work to someone else as well, just to be sure! Joining (or starting) a writing group is a great thing to do. Being around others who are passionate about writing and sharing your work with each other is one of the most empowering and useful things you can do.

Carry a notebook around with you for those moments when inspiration strikes. And don’t worry if you have long periods where you feel you have no ideas or you can’t figure out what to do next. It’s all part of the process.

Ooops. Just remembered I said ‘In short’ didn’t I?! Oh well, hope this helps. The main thing above everything else – enjoy it!

Thank you Liz for talking to us today. If you would like to know more about Liz then click on her website here. If you want to know more about 'A Year Without Autum' which comes out next Thursday then click on the Amazon link here.


  1. The notebook to hand seems to be the key to all inspiration doesn't it? Whether it be writing, drawing, crafty stuff... I must get into the habit.

    Loved reading this - thank you both Liz and Viv :)

  2. great post and I like her advice about writing whats in your heart.

  3. I really love these interviews. I just can't imagine the feeling of seeing your own book in a bookshop. Must be amazing.


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