Nicola Davies interview

Here at Book Events for Children, we first interviewed author Nicola Davies in 2012 and we’ve just caught up with Nicola again to find out more about her upcoming tour of schools in Argyll and Bute with the Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tour.

Nicola Davies has successfully combined a lifelong love of nature with a keen interest in writing and her adventures have taken her around the world.  She was one of the original presenters of The Really Wild Show and has written a range of children’s books, including nature books for younger readers, non-fiction biology books for 8-12 year olds and a number of fiction books.

Is it true that you were one of the original presenters of The Really Wild Show?  Given your love of animals, was this an amazing opportunity for you?
Yes I was, with Terry Nutkins and Chris Packham. I co presented the show for five years from when it began in 1985. We won three BAFTAS for the best kids programme and I’m still incredibly proud of that because as well as being one of the presenters I was also on the production team, coming up with ideas for the show and writing scripts for it. In fact I gave up writing my Phd on bats to join the show- which I’m not so proud of!

In those days RWS was almost all studio based so we brought animals into the studio with an audience of kids…great, great fun and wonderful to be so close to many amazing animals, but also lethal! It was a recipe for disaster sometimes…camels with diarrhoea, rabbits that turned vicious, birds that flew into the lighting gantry never to return. But there were some magical moments…playing football with a a cheetah cub, being wrapped in a 3 m python. The best bits for me though we’re with kids…I found I loved talking to an audience. And through writing bits of script I started to learn my craft.

How did you make the move from presenting to writing children’s books?
Through writing for RWS and then coming up with the idea for and writing three series of another series ‘Superbods’ all about human physiology. It was if anything even more fun than RWS …the producer was TONS TONS nicer and the whole process was relaxed and fun, whereas RWS had been very stressful and sometimes v unhappy.

I started out with Walker Books as a scientific consultant. At the time that seemed to me far more exciting than presenting which always looks glamorous from the outside but is actually rather dull. I was asked to consult on a blue whale book – the author made such a mess of it that Walker gave it to me and my first proper book Big Blue Whale was the result. That was in 1997 and it’s still in print, and published in about ten different languages.

Many authors describe a long and tortuous route to publication. How easy was it for you to get your first book published?
I know! I see very talented students (I teach creative writing from time to time at Bath Spa University on their post grad Masters in Writing for Young People) who struggle to be published but I was incredibly lucky. I also had three adult novels published pretty easily off the back of a newspaper column I started in 1997 in the Independent. No clues on this one, but if you really want to you can track it down.

Could you tell us a little about The Walker Nature Series of books which you have written?
I’m not the only person who writes for this series…two of my buddies Martin Jenkins and Viv French are some of the other fab authors who’ve worked in these. I’ve written eight books in this series now and am just about to do another. The books are aimed at readers from 5 to 8, but I try to make the language in them interesting enough to keep older readers engaged too. The aim is to excite the interest of the readers, to get them wanting to learn more and there are a thousand ways to do this! Although these books are non fiction they can be written like stories or poems, they can be funny or sad. They are a huge challenge and are the most difficult of all the books I write…the amount of time spent per word is enormous compared with longer things. But the pain is worth it…it’s sooo satisfying when you find a way of writing that works…and then there’s the lovely process of collaborating with an artist and designer to get the book looking, reading, feeling just right. Of course the final ingredient is only added when the pages are opened and the words and pictures are read by a child. That’s the moment I like to think about as I’m writing, I imagine I’m talking very quietly to one child.

You’ve published a lovely book called A First Book of Nature’, illustrated by Mark Hearld. Was this a very enjoyable book to write?
I think to say that this book was a revelation to write wouldn’t be an exaggeration!

When I began to think about those early experiences of the natural world, the really simple incredibly pleasurable things like putting your foot in wet sand, or kicking leaves, or pulling an acorn from its little cup, I realised that they were holistic experiences. By that I mean they were things that children experience with their hearts and minds and bodies and spirits all at once, and the only way to write about them was to use poetry. But I wanted the book to be accessible for v small kids as well as making adults remember those things so it was tough to write simply but elegantly. The revelation was that I could do it, that I could let go inside and write in this free way. Also the writing came out of a time when my daughter was dangerously ill, so I lived a double life then, in terrible fear and distress about my daughter but in this inner world of discovery and escape into my four year old self.

What prompted you to write Gaia Warriors? Is climate change an issue close to your heart?
It was so upsetting so painful to write, to confront the terrifying possibilities and certainties of global climate change and in particular the ghastly prospects of mass extinction that we could face. I don’t want the world to be stripped of her diversity I literally cannot bear the idea. For two years after I wrote the book I don’t think I flew anywhere. But the work that I can do, my part of the big mosaic of solutions, is to make people aware of the value of nature and to do that best I have to travel. So my travel now is linked to work, to books to communicating and all of it offset by contributions to the World Land Trust. I know it’s not perfect, but having thought and worried about it, that seems to me the best use of my time and talents.

The frustrating thing about climate change is that we could turn it round, it is possible, and it would create energy security for us, a lower impact economy and a fairer world. There really aren’t any negatives to attacking this problem with the ferocity of warriors in battle.

I understand that your travels have taken you to some far-flung places. Have these adventures been a great inspiration for your writing?
Of course, travelling to see animals was an end in itself when I began in my late teens and twenties! Now, almost all the travel I do is to research a new book - I don’t feel comfortable writing about places that I haven’t seen, even if what I’m writing is fiction, the setting and the culture need to be right. I’m very careful to try to be respectful of the different cultures that feature in my books. Some of the most rewarding things that have been said about my books have been when someone from another country tells me that my story told their story.

A lot of things that happen to me have gone straight into stories. All Michael’s interactions with the whale in ‘Freedom’ were drawn from my experiences with whales in the wild. The coati, Esme, in ‘A Girl Called Dog’ is a real coati called Esme who I got to know in a zoo years ago. And of course all my nonfiction writing comes directly from the real world, from scientific research and from my own experiences.

Could you tell us a little about the Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tour?
The Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tour, organised by Scottish Book Trust, aims to encourage children’s love of reading and writing through inspirational author visits. It has been running for sixteen years, visiting every Scottish local authority on a three year cycle. It has recently started visiting counties in England to spread its reach and to inspire even more pupils across the UK. The tour is sponsored by Scottish Friendly Assurance, who provide fresh content from the tour on their website, including daily blog posts from authors on the road.

Can you give us an idea of what school children can look forward to during your visits?
Fun! I love sharing my stories about wild animals and amazing animal facts and children seem to really enjoy that too. There may be some interactive activities, but I don’t want to spoil any surprises. I’m looking forward to being asked lots of questions too. One thing I really hope is that Scottish children will share their experiences of animals with me. I love the wildlife of the Hebrides and the Highlands and I’d love to hear what it’s like to live in such a fabulous place all the time!

Click on the link if you’d like more information about Nicola’s book tour.
To keep up to date with the latest news follow The Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tour (@BooksOnTour ) and Nicola Davies (@nicolakidsbooks ) on Twitter.


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