Q and A with Jane Clarke

Jane Clarke has published over 45 books, including Gilbert the Great and Stuck in the Mud. Her latest venture is with Five Quills Publishing, and spins a new angle on fairy tales. Below, she answers some questions about her work.

Five Quills Publishing approached you to write this series. Did you have much say in the development of the stories and characters?

Yes! I was approached by Five Quills early on when they were looking for a writer for a series starring a girl detective cupcake maker in a fairytale world.  I pitched a few story ideas and wrote a sample, adding Snuffle the dog, and was lucky enough to be chosen. From that point onwards, Five Quills has involved me at every stage.  

Was this quite a different way of working compared to previous books you’ve written?

Yes, this was a very collaborative approach. For each story, I write a detailed page by page synopsis. Once the synopsis is approved, I write the story, often making Skype calls with my editor, Natascha, as the pictures come in from the illustrator, Loretta, so that we can streamline the text. I enjoy being part of such a collaborative process – it’s a very different way of working compared with other things I do, which include writing my own ideas in my own name, and also ghost writing to much more detailed briefs where there aren’t so many opportunities for creative input.

How did you develop the character of Sky did she just pop into your head or need shaping and building?

Sky pretty much popped not my head fully formed. In traditional fairy tales, the girls tend to be characters that things happen to, they don’t control the narrative. It was important to me that Sky would be a strong character, as well as being calm and caring, and with a sense of humour.

There are lots of fairy tale references woven together in the Sky Private Eye series which are familiar but different! How did you approach this aspect of the books; the retelling of a familiar story but adding new elements and characteristics?

Twisting the tales is fun, there are so many possibilities! The tricky thing is working out which elements to keep in and which to let go when you only have 1,000 words maximum to tell the story. My first draft of the Cinderella story was much too complicated, and needed re-writing several times, each time ditching one of the elements. Fortunately, the Sky series has a great editor in Natascha!

Sky has loads of cool gadgets to help her solve the mysteries. How did you come up with these? And which is your favourite?

My eldest son loved inventing things when he was young, and we all watched Inspector Gadget, so I remember those times and gadgets pop into my head. I’m especially fond of the Tri-Oculars – wouldn’t it be great to share the view through binoculars with a friend?

Sky is also a master cupcake baker. Whats your favourite type of cake? And are you a good baker?

My favourite cakes are little carrot cake cupcakes with lots of frosting. My Mum was a terrific baker, and one of my sons bakes lots of yummy cakes, too too – but sadly that skill has passed me by!

Whats next for Sky Private Eye (after the first two books)?

Oh, I think I gave it away when I mentioned Cinderella! There are so many fabulous stories that would benefit from Sky’s detective skills. I can’t wait to write them!

Whats your favourite fairy tale or traditional story?

The Three Little Pigs. The version where each pig escapes in turn, and the Big Bad Wolf grumpily gives up when he is outsmarted.  I have a soft spot for talking animals and don’t like any of them to come to a sticky end! As a child, I enjoyed chanting

“Little pig, little pig, let me come in.”
“No, no, not by the hair on my chinny chin chin.” “
Then I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house in!”
I love rhymes, so I’m really happy when I can get one into the Sky stories!

Whats your typical writing day like?

For me, the best time for creative writing is in the morning, so I get a bowl of cereal and sit down at my desk around 8am, with my pyjamas still on and a cup of tea next to me. If the writing’s going well, it’ll be coffee time before I notice I’m still wearing pyjamas. In the afternoon, I go for a walk, often along a pretty canal, then I come back and do emails etc. I’m self-employed, so if any of my friends want to meet me for coffee (and cake!), I drop everything and go – sometimes that means I have to treat weekends as writing days.

You do lots of school visits what are your most and least favourite things about this part of being an author?! What do you hope that children will take away from your events?

My least favourite part is finding the school – I need Sky’s Map Nav! Otherwise, I love school visits and enjoy it all, even the school dinners! The best bit is running creative writing workshops and listening to the children’s ideas.  I hope to pass on my enthusiasm to everyone I see and inspire everyone to read, write – and illustrate!

Sky Private Eye and the Case of the Runaway Biscuit and Sky Private Eye and the Case of the Missing Grandma are both out now, published by Five Quills.

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