Jacqueline Wilson on Barnes Children’s Literature Festival

Jacqueline Wilson on Barnes Children’s Literature Festival

The acclaimed children’s author tells us about her 119th novel, writing about the “odd’ and why she loves coming to Barnes.

Image: Jacqueline Wilson (c) David Spearing

Dame Jacqueline Wilson has written more than 100 books, but it’s clear that despite her extensive portfolio, she is just as excited and proud of her latest, The Girl Who Wasn’t There.

She is full of enthusiasm as she explains the storyline to me. “The Girl Who Wasn’t There is a ghost story but not in the conventional sense,” she says. “It’s not spooky in the way it will keep you up at night. You have to read all the way through to work out whether anything ghostly is actually happening or not –  and the spookiness is implied rather than explicit throughout.”

The story, like most of her work, is aimed at 9-12 year-olds and is narrated by Luna. Luna’s father has been forced to sell his restaurant following the pandemic, and Luna and her family are moving to start a new life at Stark’s Folly, a rural tower, which her father has bought without consulting his family.

“It’s supposed to be the beginning of a fairytale life for Luna and her family, but it doesn’t end up working out quite that simply,” Wilson teases.

You can tell she is fond of this book already, and when I ask her about her favourite works, she says: “If I had to name my favourite books, then this one would definitely be up there. I am so pleased with how it looks, it means so much to produce a physically attractive book, and I am pleased with the storyline.”

Of course, she is also very fond of The Story of Tracy Beaker, her most famous and successful work, Hetty Feather, about a Victorian girl, and The Best Sleep Over In The World, as well as The Illustrated Mum, about an unstable mother.

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Inspiration comes to the author in different forms.

“Sometimes seeing something can trigger an idea. It was when I saw photographs in my local newspaper, of children all needing foster parents, that I had the idea for Tracy Beaker.”

The Girl Who Wasn’t There is her 119th book and there was never any question in Jacqueline’s mind that she would do anything else other than write. “I have been writing from my school days and have always wanted to be a writer. I worked for a year as a junior journalist in Dundee, when I was 17, which helped my writing, and things came from there really.”

She is keen to inspire other budding writers. “I am looking forward to coming to Barnes and talking to children about what it is like to be a writer.”

“I have quite a definite routine, and people always seem to find that interesting. I write regularly every day. I wake up early and go and sort the animals out, and then I go back to bed with a cup of coffee and write in bed. People don’t call you or send you emails at 7am generally, and I love that dreamy, sleepy time, when everything is calm and peaceful – it’s often then when I have my best ideas and when I write most fluently.”

Her books have sold more than 40 million copies in Britain alone, and the heroines of her stories often don’t follow a predictable path. There are strong themes of parental argument, divorce, bullying and other challenging circumstances for her protagonists.

“There are parallels between myself and lots of my characters. I suppose they are never the ones that are top of the class, or the most popular. They are all slightly odd… like me really.”

“As much as I don’t want to make my books too “preachy” I do think by reading about the more vulnerable or marginalised people, then children learn about those less fortunate than them, and in turn they are encouraged to be kinder.”

“I see an awful lot of children, and I really believe that reading about someone who has the same problems or is in a similar predicament to you, can be very comforting and beneficial as well.”

The author was born in Bath but spent most of her childhood in Kingston, attending Latchmere Primary School and Coombe Girls’. She lived in the area for many years but later moved to East Sussex. She is looking forward to her visit back to south west London when she comes to Barnes in June. Barnes Children’s Literature Festival is the UK’s largest dedicated children’s literature festival and this year celebrates its tenth birthday.

Over 100 author events, performances and activities will take on 22nd and 23rd June and Jacqueline is in good company with Michael Rosen, Liz Pichon, and Gruffalo illustrator Axel Scheffler amongst those speaking.

“I like Barnes in particular because it is so beautiful and has such delightful and interesting shops to visit. That’s one thing I don’t get in the countryside, so I am looking forward to the festival, which is a wonderful event… and pottering around the shops.”