The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Annette Hart

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Annette Hart

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Summary: Annette Hart is a teacher, mother of four children and the author of Blood and Allegiance, the first of a series of books. We couldn't resist asking her how she managed to pack so much in to her busy life.
Date: 21 March 2011
Interviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee

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Annette Hart is a teacher, mother of four children and the author of Blood and Allegiance, the first of a series of books. We couldn't resist asking her how she managed to pack so much in to her busy life.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Annette Hart: I suppose I really see myself as a child somewhere between 10 and 14 years old. My books are the kind of stories I enjoyed reading at that age and wanted more of, (the kind of books I still sometimes read).

  • BB: Where did you get the inspiration for Blood and Allegiance? How long did it take you to write this first book in the series?

AH: I've always been a daydreamer - or 'away with the fairies' as some of my friends used to say - and so a lot of my ideas for stories, including Blood and Allegiance, come from these moments. I think they spring from a jumbled mix of stories, histories, pictures, visions and words whizzing around inside my head. I find that being out and about, walking and thinking completely to myself, is a good way for those ideas to come out and announce themselves. I think I wrote Blood and Allegiance quite quickly; with several revisions, it took about a year. However, I drafted all the first three books of the series in one go and before I had submitted the first, Blood and Allegiance, to publishers. I felt I had a story to tell, to create from within me, and that if the first book got rejected I might not carry on with it. Fortunately my worries were unfounded as it was accepted by my current publishers.

  • BB: You chose to write in the fantasy genre, but rather than solving your characters’ problems by magic you combined features of different times and placed them in a fictional setting. Why fantasy and did this create any problems for you when writing?

AH: Fantasy is a genre I’ve always enjoyed reading and I love the idea of creating my own world, how I want the people to be like and how I want it to look. I thought it would be interesting to create an alternate world without magic so that my characters have to solve problems by themselves and, therefore, be more like us. It also means I don’t have to stick rigorously to historical fact. (I love historical fiction and admire the hard work those authors put into researching their period.) However, with fantasy you do have to create rules of your own for your world and keep to them in order for it, and your story, to be believable. Having decided not to have magic, I can’t suddenly introduce it to solve a difficult problem. I have made my imaginary land of Athlandia a little like early medieval England so I have the self imposed rule that food, clothing, etc should fit that period or have been available somewhere in the known world. I allow my characters’ speech to be more modern and give their old style names an up-to-date short version.

  • BB: Now, I know that you’re a supply teacher and I also know that you have four children. How on earth do you find the time to write? And talking of writing, when and how do you do it?

AH: I have always been a ‘night owl’ and make sure that I have some time to myself when everyone else has gone to bed. That is my time to relax and one of my ways to relax is writing. It does make getting up in the morning harder, though! I deliberately only work a couple of days a week in schools so that also leaves me time to write. In the summer holidays when the weather is good and the children are busy in the garden, I will often be found with a note book and pen on the swing seat. But I also have to admit that sometimes, when the ideas have been flowing, the housework has had to wait and dinner has been late to the table!

I begin writing the old fashioned way (hence being able to do it in the garden) with pen and paper. I usually treat myself to a brand new, pretty, spiral-bound, A4 notebook and start making notes on plot and characters at the back. Only when I’ve drafted, re-read and scribbled all over my hand written story do I take to the computer.

  • BB: How would you feel if you could make writing into the day job? Do you enjoy teaching?

AH: I would love for writing to become my day job – I wouldn’t have to feel guilty at ignoring the housework, for starters! I particularly love it when the ideas are flowing and buzzing, you get hit by a sudden jolt of inspiration, or you see your story grow and fill out into something to be proud of. I do enjoy teaching but to teach full time requires a lot of work in the evenings, planning, marking and assessing; at the moment that time is committed to my children. It is great when I get the chance to combine my two jobs and visit a school to talk about writing.

  • BB: Does reading play a big part in your life? What do you like reading most and which books inspired you?

AH: I love reading. I had trouble learning to read and had to have extra lessons at about the age of seven. Once I got going, though, - partly due to my mum’s copies of some Famous Five books - I didn’t stop, eventually reading literature at university. I love reading in lots of different genres: fantasy, historical fiction, thrillers, romance, and classics. I admit that much of my inspiration comes from childhood favourites: Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series, Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, C S Lewis’ Narnia stories, Roger Lancelyn Greene’s retellings of myths and legends, and J R R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I have always loved myths and legends and was fortunate enough to indulge this at university by reading lots of medieval King Arthur stories.

  • BB: I remember those Famous Five books well! Do you still have any of your books from when you were a child? Which three books would you recommend that every child should read?

AH: I have lots of my old books! I am not very good at throwing books away, thinking that I might re-read them, use them in school or that my children might read them. In fact my daughter is currently re-reading the Narnia series and I am reading The Lord of the Rings for the fourth time.

Picking just three books is tough! I will choose three great ‘classics’ that don’t get much of a mention today. Firstly, I would put forward Smith (or anything else) by Leon Garfield. He was a great author, bringing historical periods to life with interesting characters and exciting adventures. Secondly, I would suggest Eight Days of Luke by Diana Wynne Jones, which combines the problems of a modern child with ancient mythology (before Rick Riordan did it). I love the fact that Diana Wynne Jones is still writing and publishing. Thirdly, I would recommend Marianne Dreams which scared me as much as Dr Who when I read it as a child.

  • BB:I understand that you’re something of an artist. Which comes first, the story or the picture? Were you trained as an artist?

AH: The story definitely comes first – although I do tend to ‘play’ it in my head like a film which makes the places and characters quite vivid for me. It can then be frustrating trying to match the faces I ‘see’ with my ability with a pencil! My children have been very patient modelling for me. I am not a trained artist but I did study it to ‘A’ level and keep it up as a hobby.

  • BB: You've got one wish. What's it to be?

AH: It would definitely be that my children will be happy throughout their lives.

  • BB: What’s next for Annette Hart

AH: More reading and writing! I have spotted a few older children and teen books I would like to ostensibly buy for my daughter and then read myself. I like the look of historical books such as The Lady in the Tower by Marie-Louise Jensen and twists on fairy tales such as Beauty by Robin McKinley.

My second book in the Athlandia series, Escape and Betrayal, has already been published and I am currently finishing book three while drafting book four. I have also just finished writing an adult fantasy novel. In the future I plan to write an adult story set in WWII based on anecdotes from my own family and to revisit an idea I had for a children’s ghost story.

  • BB: Good luck with all of that, Annette, and it's been a real pleasure talking to you.

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Alicia Marshall said:

I have just been reading your interview with Annette Hart – rather belatedly! I was thrilled to read that she would recommend both Leon Garfield and Diana Wynne Jones as authors every child should read. My own three children, now all in their 20s, loved them, as did I! In my capacity as librarian on Oxfordshire’s now defunct Schools Library Service I often used to go into primary schools, and recommend books to children, often reading passages from books by these two authors to whet their appetites. I now work in a secondary school library, and find it difficult to persuade kids to read much other than those long series, such as Alex Rider, Darren Shan, Percy Jackson, Skulduggery Pleasant, Cherub, etc. Better than not reading at all, but not a patch on Garfield or Wynne Jones in my opinion!

Alicia Marshall


Annette Hart replied:

I'm glad to hear that others, like me, share our joy of older books with children today. I could have added others to my list like Alan Garner or E Nesbit. I would like to offer some hope to Alicia: my daughter and her friends (14) read a lot and occasionally find it 'cool' to find and share books such as the Narnia stories or Malory Towers. It's nice to know none of us are too old to read a well written childrens' book.