Friday, October 19, 2007

[Interview] Caroline Pitcher

Caroline Pitcher has written over 60 books which range from stories for small children to novels for young adults.

She says she started writing because she’s always loved words and stories, especially those about the natural world and its creatures.

“One of my favorite books was The Tailor of Gloucester, a re-telling by Beatrix Potter of a legend. As soon as I was able, I wrote poems and stories of my own and illustrated them (dreadfully).”

Her mother and her primary and high school teachers encouraged her writing.

After high school, she went on to the University of Warwick where she studied English and European Literature. There, her tutors included Professor George Hunter, Germaine Greer, Gaye Clifford, Bernard Bergonzi and Edward Thompson.

One of them told her that she wrote very well and should become a professional writer.

“That meant a lot to me,” she says, in an interview with the English Subject Centre.

After university, Caroline Pitcher worked in places that included a fish factory, an art gallery and as a teacher in an East London primary school.

“I had a variety of jobs after university and wrote whenever I could.”

Her first novel, Diamond (Floris Books, 1988), won the Kathleen Fidler Award in 1985 and was published two years later.

“Now I have between sixty and seventy books published, and various awards and short-listings.”

Other awards she's won include the 1993 Independent Story of the Year Award for Kevin the Blue; the Arts Council Writers' Award for Silkscreen (Heinemann Young Books, 2002) and the East Midlands Arts Award for Cloud Cat (Egmont Books, 2005).

Books which have been short-listed in competitions include Cloud Cat, which was also shortlisted for the Stockton Children's Book Award and was Ottakar's Book of the Month; Ghost in the Glass (Mammoth, 2001), which was short-listed for the Portsmouth Award; Silkscreen, which was also nominated for the Carnegie Medal; The Winter Dragon (Frances Lincoln, 2005), which was nominated for the Greenaway Award; Time of the Lion (Frances Lincoln Childrens Books, 1999), which was nominated for the English Association's 4-11 Award and The Snow Whale (Antique Collectors' Club; New Ed edition, 1999), which was nominated for the Children's Book Award.

She says her immediate concern is to write the story well for herself.

“The second is to engage with my audience, which can be small children through to young adults.

“I worked with children for 12 years in London and often meet them at festivals, writer visits and residencies. I love their fresh, unpredictable responses, and their enthusiasm.”

Her latest novel, The Shaman Boy was published by Egmont Books in July, this year.

“It is 480 pages long and has fantastic illustrations by David Wyatt of the creatures and characters in the `seeing-ball’.

“The story has various sources, such as the conflict in Bosnia, a face full of compassion I have seen in a painting, and an image of a man walking up a hillside wearing a cloak of snow. There is a bakery in the book. Many of my books contain descriptions of food.”

In 11 o’clock Chocolate Cake (Egmont Books, 2002), for example, there are even recipes.

The Shaman Boy tells the story of Luka -- who is blind and who gets through the disasters in his life through the power of his imagination, through friendship and through music -- and his older brother, Jez. The action in the novel takes place in a land that’s being torn open by war.

“The book falls into four parts concerned with the four seasons, four elements and four power animals for Luka’s shape-shifting,” Pitcher explains. “The first part won an East Midlands Arts Award.”

She adds that the story which makes up The Shaman Boy doesn't fall easily into any one genre.

“It has humor, sadness, strong characters, old magic, the superstition of an isolated community, and fear.

“The natural world plays a central part, just as it did when I was a child.”

She reveals that she’s had great feedback from young readers and adults as well as from teachers who’ve read the novel to their classes, some of whom were as young as 7 years old.

The Shaman Boy pre-occupied me for at least four years.

“Now I am writing more stories for picture books, a young adult bodice-ripper set in eighteenth century Derbyshire, and an adult fairytale.”

She explains that she's working in such diverse genres because she finds the exercise inspiring.

“I don’t like to write the same kind of book over and over again because I like variety.

“This is probably a bad career move in today’s market of series books! However, I keep my head down and write what I want,” Caroline Pitcher says.

This article was first published by OhmyNews International.

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