Here is another Mr Ripley's festive edition Q&A, but this time by Beth Webb. This interview really made me smile and was very enjoyable to read. I think this was probably due to my personal invite to the New Year literary dinner party which you will see in the great answers below. I would like to give a warm festive mince pie welcome to the author and illustrator of so many great books, Beth Webb. See you in the New Year Beth :)
You have written fourteen or more books for children and teenagers. Which one is your personal favourite?
Sorry, I can’t do ‘one’.
My favourite is always the most recent one, in this case the Fleabag books for MG children, re-vamped and illustrated versions of old favourites.
However, at the moment, I have two other favourites (sorry) – both of which are looking for publishers (I have a fab new agent, so fingers crossed). Both are YA books – one is about a girl who sees crimes before they happen but no one believes her, and the other is a Victorian tale of madness and injustice. I love both of these books and I’d be over the moon to see them in print.
You are an author and illustrator. If you had to choose between them, which one would you choose and why?
That’s a difficult one. I don’t think I could choose. My writing helps me relax from my illustration work and my art de-stresses me when I’m writing.
I do all sorts of artwork, I’ve illustrated about 25 books for teens and adults with learning disabilities, (https://booksbeyondwords.co.uk/) which is a very stylised approach with a very exacting brief – to express difficult life issues without words. That can be very exhausting, and when I’ve finished a book, writing comes as a relief. The ‘Fleabag’ books are easier and fun – light relief from the rigours of writing. I also do storyboarding – my last job was for a music promo video. That is quite a simple style, but has to be done very fast for a tight deadline – usually yesterday! Again, it’s a hoot which cheers me up.
Deep down I think writing is my first love, but if it isn’t going as I’d like, I’m awfully pleased to take a break and just draw for a few weeks. It gives me a chance to step back and see my stories afresh when I return to them.
Why do you think animals make great characters in books?
I love using animals as characters. I’ve used a mouse, a fox, several cats in the Fleabag series, and a horse and a dog that were very important in the Star Dancer books. They aren’t all as rude and loquacious as Fleabag, but they play vital roles.
Primarily, animals love us unconditionally, and we can love them back without complications. If we can’t have our own pets, we can love them in books.
Beyond that, in real life we can relate to animals when we feel that another human can’t or won’t understand (or when we’re alone). This is vitally important – especially for children and young people struggling with life. Children need pets or cuddly toys to talk to, just as homeless people need their dogs; that faithful friend who never lets them down and keeps them going. Children’s literature is an excellent place to explore this relationship.
Most important of all, (especially with books such as Fleabag), the story animal says and does things human characters can’t. Often these reflect what the reader wishes they could say or do – so it’s a sort of vicarious exercise and a release of tension. (cf A Monster Calls – Dowd and Ness use a tree in this case, but it works in the same way!)
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m editing Hebsibah Brown, the Victorian story I mentioned earlier. I’m also working on a book about sight loss for people with learning disabilities.
Which book illustrators/authors would you have at a literary New Year dinner party and why?
That bloke Vincent Ripley – obviously. Not only because he’s been kind enough to talk to me, but bloggers and reviewers bring a vital perspective to any dinner conversation. The illustrator Edward Ardizzone because he inspired me with his visual storytelling as a child, my dad, Stan Webb, because although he was never published, he taught me that stories come out of heads, and Ursula le Guin because she’s so brilliant and wise.
What book would you recommend to readers to get them into the winter/festive spirit?
The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper. The menace built up by the silent, perpetually falling snow is just breath-taking. (Don’t watch the film, it’s a travesty of the book)
The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy Boston. When the statue comes alive I hold my breath and long to be there….
And if I may blow my own trumpet: Fleabag and the Ring’s End (book 3 of my trilogy, but it also stands alone www.bethwebb.co.uk/fleabag-and-the-rings-end
Everyone loves books as gifts which book would you give or receive this Christmas?
I’d like to give and receive Philip Pullman’s Dust please, Santa. Oh, and there’s about a million other books, so another full-wall bookcase. And another wall to put it on…
What's the meaning of Christmas for you and your characters?
Ah. Hum. D’ye know, I’m not going to answer that. I want people to come to their own conclusions and find (and keep) what they need from both the traditional Christmas story and my own Christmas and midwinter tales. Once a tale is told, it is essential that the reader is allowed to use it as they see fit
What do you most like about Christmas?
Midnight Christmas Eve. It’s cold outside, warm and sparkly inside, and everyone’s settled down for the night and waiting in the silence….
(Except in my house; my three grown-up sons will all be glued to Die Hard, drinking beer and eating home made bread. But that’s still fun.)
What superpower would you give to someone for Christmas and why?
I’d want creatives in every medium to have the gift of healing for our poor, grief and anger-torn world.
I don’t think it’s too much to ask.
Merry Christmas folks, and thanks for having me, Vincent Ripley!
(Photo by Vik Martin)
Beth Webb is a British children's author. Her books include the popular Fleabag Trilogy and her novel for young adults Star Dancer, published by Macmillan Publishers. Webb's interests include British folklore, and she visits ancient sites of the UK as part of her research for her books. Though a full-time writer, she also runs creative writing courses for young people, particularly at the Kilve Court Residential Educational Centre (Star Dancer is dedicated to the "Kilvites", a group of young writers who attended there).
Represented by Hannah Sheppard of DHH agency.