Writer Elen Caldecott graduated with an MA in Writing for Young People from Bath Spa University. Her first novel How Kirsty Jenkins Stole the Elephant was shortlisted for the Waterstone’s Children’s Prize and longlisted for the 2010 Carnegie Award. Her debut was followed by How Ali Ferguson Saved Houdini and it has recently been announced that her third novel Operation Eiffel Tower has been shortlisted in the Younger Readers category of the 2013 Red House Children’s Book Award. The prestigious award, owned and coordinated by the Federation of Children’s Book Groups is the only national book award that is voted for entirely by children. It is sponsored by Red House.
Elen spoke to Book Events for Children about her reaction to the announcement and her own predictions as to the eventual winner. Elen’s latest book The Mystery of Wickworth Manor is now available, published by Bloomsbury Publishing.
Firstly Elen, congratulations on being shortlisted for the Red House Children’s Book Award. How does it feel to be nominated for an award which boasts previous winners such as Patrick Ness and Michael Morpurgo?
It’s a real honour. I can’t believe it, actually! Until it was officially announced, I was waiting for the email saying there’d been a terrible mistake…
I know this is a tricky question but which shortlisted book (apart from your own!) would you be voting for this year if you were a child?
I’d vote for Sophie McKenzie’s Medusa Project: Hit Squad. I like thrillers and I really appreciate books that are marketed for boys and girls equally.
It would have to be a Roald Dahl, I think. The Witches was probably my favourite. That or Matilda. In fact, I’ll nominate both!
Was it a childhood dream to write books for children? Or did that decision come later?
No, it wasn’t a childhood dream. I did always enjoy writing, but, to be honest, I didn’t really know that people could become writers. It was in the same sort of league as being a ballerina or an astronaut – I knew that people had those jobs, I just couldn’t imagine how. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I thought a career in writing might be possible.
What inspired you to actually sit down and write your first book?
My first, first novel was never published. It was a terrible practice novel and we all had a lucky escape with that! My first published novel was How Kirsty Jenkins Stole the Elephant and that came out of my MA course. The weekly deadlines were a great motivator!
I believe you’re a tutor on the MA Writing for Young People course at Bath Spa University. How important do you feel it is to nurture aspiring writers?
I really enjoy teaching; I don’t know how nurturing I am though. There’s something very rewarding about helping students see their work clearly. It’s so difficult to get the necessary distance and I try hard to help them achieve that.
Which aspects of the book writing/promoting process do you most enjoy?
Editing is my favourite part by miles. Writing the first draft is a chore, but revision and restructuring are a joy. That’s when you can attempt to persuade the novel to take the shape you’d always envisaged for it.
And which are the least pleasurable?
Writing the last third of the first draft. This is when I have the awful feeling that I’m writing the worst thing that anyone’s ever written in the history of human literacy. I have to force myself to keep going so that I might have a chance to redeem it through editing.
What has been the most valuable piece of advice you’ve been given, in terms of your writing?
Steve Voake once told me that if you write 300 words every day for a year, you’ll have written 100,000 words – which is a hefty novel. Small steps are the key, for me.
Finally, which book would you like to see in your Christmas stocking this year?
I’d like to see Nnedi Okorafor write a sequel to Akata Witch. I don’t know whether she is, but it’s a book I’d queue at midnight outside bookshops to own.
Photo of Elen courtesy of Books for Keeps. To visit the Books for Keeps site, please click here.
To like Elen’s Facebook page, please click here.
If you know a child who would like to vote for The Red House Children’s Book Award, please click here.