The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Rob Keeley

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Rob Keeley

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Summary: Last year we were delighted by Rob Keeley's first collection of short stories. This year it was a real pleasure to read The (Fairly) Magic Show and Other Stories. We had quite a few questions to ask him when he popped into Bookbag Towers.
Date: 2 October 2012
Interviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy

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Last year we were delighted by Rob Keeley's first collection of short stories. This year it was a real pleasure to read The (Fairly) Magic Show and Other Stories. We had quite a few questions to ask him when he popped into Bookbag Towers.

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

Rob Keeley: A classroom of children, at the end of the school day, waiting to go home but still in need of a story to give them some laughter, excitement or to tell them something about themselves. Or, a young reader at home, discovering the pleasures of a book and the anticipation that comes from turning the page. I’m pleased to say that my books are proving popular in both situations.

  • BB: Why short stories?

RK: Short stories see characters and plots in very sharp focus. You’ve a limited number of words to take the character on their journey and give the story its beginning, middle and end. And that forces you to be very economical, sharp and direct and to make every word count - which is great if the reader has a limited attention span. That doesn’t just mean children, but can mean adult readers as well. There are so many distractions these days from TV, Internet and other media, never mind work and other commitments, that it’s all the more important that authors can tell a story in as concise a way as possible. Short stories are of course the perfect medium for this. From a young person’s point of view, it means they can complete their reading journey before the end of school, teatime or the end of the day.

  • BB: Some of your characters pop up in more than one story. Could a full-length novel about any of them be in the pipeline?

RK: I like to set all my short stories in the same fictional world and have characters wander from one story into another. I do have children’s novels in the pipeline but at the moment, none of the characters come from my short story collections. Perhaps those in a novel require that little extra bit of depth. If any of my short story characters could carry a novel, I think it would be Liam and Justin. But they seem to be at their best when – as usual – nothing ever happens to them!

  • BB: We loved the title story in The (Fairly) Magic Show and we know you enjoy practising magic tricks yourself. What's your best trick? We hope it's not making people disappear!

RK: I have a puppet magician’s rabbit (who makes a brief appearance peeping out of Stuart’s pocket in The (Fairly) Magic Show and I’ve trained him to tell when a spectator is lying about what card they’ve chosen. He can even do it with his eyes covered.

  • BB: Are you a disciplined writer?

RK: Yes, I like to think so. My stories are tightly-structured and that discipline comes from my working style. I work full days, I put the hours in and I meet deadlines. If you’re going to write, as with any other discipline, you’ve got to be organised about it. Otherwise, how will anyone know you’re serious about your art?

  • BB: What made you want to write for children and how is it different from writing for adults?

RK: I’ve always loved children’s books and the imaginative possibilities. Nothing else would allow you to write about finding a dragon alongside your car in a traffic jam, or the treacle pudding that came from outer space. And I think I really decided that children were the best audience in the world when, as a student, I worked as a volunteer classroom assistant and would read the class a story at the end of the day. With all those faces looking up at you, demanding a reason for them to give you their attention, you had to entertain. And that meant funny voices, (over)acting, rephrasing things on the spot occasionally – I’d make bits up if the story was flagging! Then I thought: I could do this.

It’s different from writing for adults in that you have to consider the subject matter and keep the young person’s point of view – and the vocabulary suitable – but in other ways, it’s exactly the same as writing for an older audience. Whoever your readers are, you have to keep them interested, and keep the story and characters real.


  • BB: Which books and writers have influenced you the most?

RK: Like every book-reading child of the Eighties, I grew up with wonderful stories by authors such as Margaret Stuart Barry (who wrote the Simon and the Witch books), Jill Murphy (The Worst Witch – no relation to my reviewer on The Bookbag!), Gillian Cross (The Demon Headmaster) and Roald Dahl. Plus, I read many of the classic children’s stories, including those by Enid Blyton and Richmal Crompton – whose William books I think still stand as a model of what good children’s stories should be.

As I grew a little older Michelle Magorian and Judith Kerr joined the reading list, and I was a big fan of Helen Cresswell and her Bagthorpe Saga. There were then quite a number of diverse short story collections for children – more than there seem to be now. These have been the greatest influence on my own short story writing.

  • BB: Which three books should every child read?

RK: When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr, to learn why we should take nothing for granted and how evil regimes can turn lives upside down. Secrets by Jacqueline Wilson, to learn about the differences between the lives children lead, even today, and how friendship can come out of difference. And Just William by Richmal Crompton, for some of the best laughs you’ll ever have.

  • BB: What advice would you give to a child who dreams of becoming a writer some day?

RK: Write, and write, and write some more. Then re-write and get it perfect. But don’t worry about getting it wrong – make the mistakes, and learn from them. And pitch – take every chance of sending in your writing and getting it published, whether it’s the school magazine or a national competition. Don’t be put off by people saying no, but just keep trying. You’ll get there. The other important things are to listen and take note of what’s going on in the world around you – and to use your imagination. This is where you get your ideas from.

  • BB: What's next for Rob Keeley?

RK: On 10 November 2012 I’m holding the Book Launch for The (Fairly) Magic Show and Other Stories, signing copies at Linghams Booksellers in Heswall, Wirral (see the News page at www.robkeeley.co.uk for details). Meanwhile, I’m working on more short stories for children and also on children’s novels, while studying for my Master’s in Creative Writing from Lancaster University.

  • BB: We wish you luck with all that, Rob - and thanks for talking to us.

You can read more about Rob Keeley here.

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