Knowledge and skills
- Reading widely
- Discussing books
- Building on others' ideas
Author and poet Brenda Williams talks to us about her writing and how she found inspiration for A Thumping Great Rabbit right on her doorstep.
When did you first start to write?
In 1995, a friend asked me to join her for a short evening course on ‘Writing for Children.’ We were both teachers and it seemed a relevant thing to do. Towards the end of the course, our tutor sent some of our poems to the poet and anthologist, John Foster. To my surprise, he chose my poem ‘The Dares’ for inclusion in the Oxford Reading Tree Friends Poems which was part of the Conkers series. This was published in 1996. After this, John Foster regularly invited me to submit poems for inclusion in his many anthologies.
So when did you begin writing stories as well?
Encouraged by the interest in my poems, I took a 12-month correspondence course in writing for children, which covered both poetry and stories and attended one-day workshops and conferences on writing. On one occasion I met Jackie Andrews, a Reader from Scholastic who was looking for both stories and poems for their Themes series, so by 1998, I was being regularly published in both.
Do you have a special place when you write?
I am fortunate to live in a rural village in Wiltshire, where I have an office in the garden.
Where did you get your inspiration for A Thumping Great Rabbit?
From my desk, I frequently see rabbits contentedly munching grass, or chasing about in the garden. They are such charming and gentle creatures, I felt I must write about one.
Do you plan before you write?
I mentally sketch out the broad outline of a story, but essentially, I let my characters lead me into the content, plot and resolution of the final tale. Poetry is different, in that once I know the theme or topic required by a publisher, I then fill a foolscap page with every word, phrase or idea I can think of relating to that topic. It’s a very scrappy hand-written paper, but from it, I start to develop the first verse. Both stories and poems though are edited and re-written many times. I rarely feel I have ever finished a poem, as I can play with the words, rhythm and rhyme forever.
Out of all of the stories and poems that you have written do you have a favourite?
This is difficult, but Lin Yi’s Lantern, published by Barefoot Books, is probably my favourite story. I so enjoyed researching the Chinese culture, and talking to people who were either Chinese, or had lived there, and I began to realise what a rich and fascinating heritage China has. From photographs people loaned me, I was able to visualise the background scenery to my story, and Benjamin Lacombe delighted me with his beautiful illustrations. For poems, I have two favourites, totally different. One is ‘War Horse’, which was inspired by Michael Murpurgo’s book of the same name, and the other is ‘Following the Flight to the Fantasy Fair.
What do you most enjoy writing about?
I love the constant challenge of being asked to write about any one of a number of different topics for children. However, natural things such as the colours of autumn, or the black and white scenes of winter, always fascinate me.
Were there any teachers at school who encouraged you to write?
Not directly, but I am indebted to one English teacher who introduced us to Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets which she helped us to both interpret and enjoy. She also took us to Stratford Memorial Theatre, to see them performed on stage. I particularly remember being entranced by The Tempest.