I am unashamedly a big fan of Katherine Rundell. Everyone who knows me well knows this. I passionately promote her books to everyone who asks for something to read - reluctant readers, boys & girls, teachers, even grandmothers hunting for the perfect Christmas gift. I’m proud to say that everyone has returned and said… ‘You were right; that was one of the best books I’ve ever read’. My reputation as a good school librarian has, in large part, been built on the back of Katherine’s books. I have a lot to thank her for.
It was a pleasure to interview Katherine a few months ago on behalf of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups and an even greater pleasure to sit and listen to her speak in person at Federation of Children’s Book Group Conference. I must admit I was a little giddy with excitement and might have even shed a tear or two.
I tried to record as much as I could from Katherine’s talk. Here are the best of my notes…
Speaking about Fairy Tales, Katherine said that they had a purity about them almost as through they had been ‘licked clean by time’. She always looks to fairy tales whilst researching her books. In her book, ‘Wolf Wilder’, Katherine looked to an old Russian fairy tale- Tsarevitch Ivan, the Firebird and the Gray Wolf.
Katherine spoke so prosaically about the power of stories, saying that they put ‘the detail into reality’. I have witnessed this myself; having put down a great book I feel enabled to see the world just a little differently. Katherine said that ‘Children need plots that grab them by the ankle and pull them along’.
She is a fan of tightrope walking, just like Sophie in ‘Rooftoppers’. Katherine even has a rope set up in her home. Whenever she needs to clear her head and really focus, she’ll put on her ballet shoes and climb onto her rope. She feels that ‘reading empties the brain and is similar to the process of walking a tight rope’.
A great story must have ‘what if’ moments where everything hangs on a knife's edge. All of Katherine’s books have these wonderful ‘knife edge’ moments.
Her new book, spoiler alert, features a boy as the main protagonist and involves him crash landing in the Amazon rainforest. Katherine, of course, visited the Amazon to truly immerse herself in the setting as she researched her story.
As a writer, she has discovered that ideas can come from the strangest of places.' She said, ‘You never know where ideas will come from, so say yes to things’.
Food is the thing that will root your book. Katherine’s books all contain cooking. She feels ‘if it doesn’t have food in it, it’s not really a book’. Katherine has even cooked all the foods she talks about in her stories.
She offered some advice to young writers…
- Start as close to the end as possible. In other words, start knowing how your story will finish.
- ‘Fail as soon as possible’. This is advice she has taken to heart.
- Tie yourself to your desk. Physically if necessary. This will prevent you from forgetting how important your deadlines are.
- If you are good at something, don’t ever say that you’re bad at it. Don’t be apart of the generation that apologises.
Katherine shared the depth of her gratitude for having the very best of children’s literature to read whilst experiencing some of the most difficult experiences of her life. With emotion, she talked about the passing of her older sister and the importance of having stories to see her through such a difficult time in her life.
Her closing remarks to us were truly inspiring. Speaking of both her sister and the characters in the stories she holds dear, she said… ‘To fight with patience and love is to win!’ Stories and characters with love, patience and courage have the greatest value. These attributes should always shine through in a good story.