Author Interview: Alan Dapré
Alan Dapré is the author of over fifty books for children. He has also written over one hundred television scripts, transmitted home and abroad. His plays have been on BBC Radio 4 and published for use in schools worldwide.
Now, he’s embarking on a new chapter in his journey as an author with his Porridge the Tartan Cat series for young and reluctant readers. We spoke to Alan about how he became a professional writer, including tips and tricks for overcoming writers block, the challenges of writing for children and the joy of seeing your own work on the bookshop shelves.
Hi Alan, thanks for talking to us today. Can you tell us a bit about your career so far?
I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember. My passion for words stems from my childhood. Whilst I loved being outdoors climbing trees, building dens and exploring coastlines I also enjoyed sitting in a corner, chilling out with a book. The stories that captivated me most were full of adventure, humour and resourceful characters. As a teenager I spent hours on my Corona typewriter creating short stories and poems for my own amusement. However, it was only when I was studying on my Creative Arts degree that I began to think seriously about becoming a professional writer. Not long after I graduated, my play Comeback was performed at Nottingham Playhouse. This was followed by a radio play Kenny – broadcast as part of a BBC Young Playwrights’ Festival.
I trained as a primary school teacher, writing more plays and stories in my spare time. I also compiled anthologies, writing a teachers’ handbook for literacy lessons. Things came to a head when I was offered two jobs at the same time: the role of Literacy Consultant for Nottinghamshire and a job writing for children’s television. I chose TV and spent seven busy years as a ‘creative’ – working on shows including Brum & Boohbah. It was a busy time writing to deadlines, with lots of self-editing and having to think fast on my feet…keyboard!
When I got married I left my job to become a full-time dad and writing was put on hold for a while. When my daughter entered nursery school, I had more time to write again. I think living with a young child really helps to spark interesting ideas as before long Pearson were publishing both my playscript, The Finders, and a book of short stories, Mixed-up Myths.
What does your day as an author look like?
It varies a lot. Inevitably there’s the school run and a dog walk on the beach; I often work out my plots and stories while I’m out and about. Back at home, I’ll brew a half-decent coffee and get on with drafting my latest story. I’ll scrawl plot points on sticky notes, placing them in the pages of my notebook until I get the story working nicely. Sometimes I’ll be at my computer, drafting and re-drafting until I get it right. The key is to write the whole story before editing too deeply. Once the story is firmed up, I’ll edit more precisely to set the tone, humour and pace. I like to walk to my daughter’s school and pick her up. We chat en route home and I’ll write some more while Isla chills with her pals. I work well at night and sometimes don’t finish work until late.
How does writing books differ from writing for television?
Not as much as people might think. Television is a visual medium and it benefits from a ‘show don’t tell’ approach. Writing children’s books is the same. Young viewers and readers prefer action and energy. Not too much hanging around. The worst thing a writer can do in either medium is to laboriously describe a plot point.
Illustrations really help children’s authors. They help to reinforce an idea that would otherwise take a lot of words to explain. I enjoy writing books because at the end of the process my creative vision and authorial voice are very much in evidence.
Do you have any tricks in your bag for when you get writer’s block?
The trick is to get yourself writing. Something that will trigger this will often help. Here are some that work for me.
- Write a note for your character – the sort you’d find left on a fridge. Make it funny.
- Pick up a book and read the first line. Write what happens next. Make it completely different to what is already written.
- Think of opposites. If your characters are too dull, then write a short piece where you get them to do incredibly interesting things. Go over the top. Aim for the moon – literally.
- Use rhyme. Think of an object and rhyme something else with it. Cow – Plough – Row. Then write something that joins these new words.
Where did you get the idea for Porridge the Tartan Cat?
I was keen to write a series based on an adventurous family. I wanted each person to ‘star’ in their own book, where their secret would be revealed or a quirky thing happen to them (Gran was once in a groovy band, Dad a…well you’ll have to read Porridge the Tartan Cat and the Loch Ness Mess to find out).
Now I that live in Scotland a Scottish theme felt appropriate. I knew the books needed a narrator to hold them together; a laconic, quirky, all-seeing, barely-doing cataloguer of events. So I came up with Porridge the Tartan Cat. It felt immediately right. He’d toppled into a tin of tartan paint. Then it was a case of finding his voice and turning him into the reluctant hero who saves the day.
Your daughter Isla plays a starring role in the Porridge books – what does she think about being in the series?
Isla is delighted. I’d originally written Isla’s name as a placeholder but had considered retaining it. I tend to give my main characters short names, as they are easy to read and don’t slow the pace. She is easily recognisable in the books (I sent the publisher some photos of her and a brief description – ‘hair bobbed, with glasses and a big smile.’) Yuliya Somina’s illustrations look just like Isla and definitely capture her spirit and energy. My daughter calls herself ‘Real Isla’ to differentiate herself from ‘Drawn Isla’. She can’t wait to read the sixth book in the series all about ‘Invisible Isla’. It’s a lovely feeling for me as an author (and dad) to see my child grinning back at me in my books.
Are there any other authors that inspire you?
Ursula Le Guin who wrote the fantastic Earthsea books, Alf Prøysen of Mrs Pepperpot fame, Norman Hunter, creator of Professor Branestawm. I also find Roald Dahl, Philip Pullman, Babette Cole and Susan Hill inspiring. All of them create credible characters – sometimes incredible. They captivate their readers with imaginative flair, always leaving you wanting more.
More about Alan Dapré
Porridge the Tartan Cat and the Loch Ness Mess, the brand new book from Alan Dapré, is available now!
Other books in Alan Dapré’s Porridge the Tartan Cat series include …the Brawsome Bagpipes, …the Bash-Crash-Ding, and …the Kittycat Kidnap.
Find out the latest Porridge the Tartan Cat news – follow DiscoverKelpies on Twitter!
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