The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Alan Durant

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Alan Durant

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Summary: Bookbag fell head over heels in love with Unfortunately by Alan Durant and Simon Rickerty - unfortunately we can't stop reading it, but fortunately it's super. We leapt at the opportunity to ask Alan Durant some questions.
Date: 9 August 2010
Interviewer: Keith Dudhnath
Reviewed by Keith Dudhnath

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Bookbag fell head over heels in love with Unfortunately by Alan Durant and Simon Rickerty - unfortunately we can't stop reading it, but fortunately it's super. We leapt at the opportunity to ask Alan Durant some questions.

  • Bookbag: Unfortunately, we had the idea to ask you questions in the style of your book, but couldn't think of a clever opening one, so will go with our standard: when you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Alan Durant: A class of hubbling bubbling infants - and their teachers.

  • BB: Fortunately, asking positive questions is easier, so we'll ask what gave you the idea for a good news/bad news book?

AD: I've been using Fortunately/Unfortunately as a writing warm-up exercise in schools for a few years now, since a storyteller I met in a school told me about it. One day it suddenly struck me that it would make the basis of an entertaining picture book.

  • BB: Unfortunately, lots of parents are worried about anything less than a happy ending in a book. We loved the way Unfortunately ended, but did you or anyone else ever question it?

AD: Not me, no. The book is called Unfortunately after all! However, I know it worried American publishers which is why probably there isn't a US edition as yet (they suggested an ending in which the children are burped up by the monster). I guess I'm of the Not Now Bernard school!

  • BB: Fortunately, the illustrations marry beautifully with the text in Unfortunately. How did Simon Rickerty and you work together to produce the book?

AD: The truth is, we didn't! I rarely have any contact with the illustrator while the book is being produced (I met Simon at a Christmas party when the book was finished) - it's all done through the publisher (in this case Orchard Books). I talk to an editor, the illustrator talks to a designer and the editor and the designer talk to each other. I was sent roughs to look at and approve, so I was consulted.

  • BB: Unfortunately, not all children's authors and illustrators get the same recognition as adult authors. Do you find this to be a problem?

AD: No, not really. They're different fields. I do a lot of school visits and get plenty of recognition from children. I think a few more children's authors on TV would be a good thing, though. You hardly see any. More visibility would help inspire children to write and most importantly to read.

  • BB: Fortunately, we love finding out how people became authors. Who or what inspired you?

AD: Books. I was an avid reader from a young age (it wasn't until secondary school, though, that I had any interest in writing). I remember vividly reading all the Narnia books in Year 4 and the Famous Five books in Year 5, as well as realistic football stories by Michael Hardcastle, Myths and Legends, Robin Hood and King Arthur. But my favourite book of all was The King of the Castle by Meriol Trevor (sadly long out of print). I first read it when I was ten and absolutely loved it. I have my own copy still and find every bit as magical as I did as a child. That book did more than anything to turn me into a writer.

  • BB: Unfortunately, children's literature isn't perfect. If you could click your fingers and change one thing about it, what would it be?

AD: The end of celebrity authored (or pseudo-authored) rubbish. It's demeaning to children and proper authors alike. Why read tosh by Jordan or Madonna when you can read exciting, inspirational stories by any one of thousands of brilliant children's authors? Unfortunately (see I can use the word too!) the bookshops and supermarkets and media pander to it.

  • BB: Fortunately, hearing about the writing process is always fascinating. Where and how do you write?

AD: Most of my work has been produced in a shed at the bottom of the garden of the house where I used to live. I moved to Brighton from London a few months ago and have had a loft room built so that I can look out far and wide as I write! I write my ideas and jottings by hand in a notebook, but I do all the actual story-writing on a computer. I absolutely hate handwriting and always have!

  • BB: Unfortunately, people don't always know which books to read. Which three books should every child read?

AD: To be honest, there is no should. There are too many prescriptive lists these days. The important thing is to find stories that speak to you - and not to persevere too long with those that don't. I think a lot of children are put off reading by being made to read stories that have no resonance for them, excellent as those stories may be.

  • BB: Fortunately, we like that answer a lot, and it leads on nicely to the question of what are you reading at the moment and how are you finding it?

AD: I'm reading A Swift Pure Cry by Siobhan Dowd (whom I knew briefly at University but never as an adult sadly), an Italian version of Little Red Riding Hood (I don't speak much Italian so it's a challenge!), an old Ladybird Book of Trees (I love the pictures and I'm determined to one day be able to put a name to the trees and flowers I see) and lots of poetry, which is a passion of mine.

  • BB: Unfortunately, we're at the end of the interview, so will ask you what's next for Alan Durant?

AD: I'm off into town to join my local library - and the aquarium for a writing project. I'm working on some new picture books, a collection of horror fairy tales, poetry and a few other things.

  • BB: Fortunately, we've really enjoyed interviewing you, and can't wait to see the new books. Thanks! We're sure our American friends are cringing in embarrassment at the suggested alternative ending from the US publishers!

AD: Fortunately, I've enjoyed the interview too! Thanks.

  • BB: Unfortunately, gulp.

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