Thank you so much to everyone who over the years has written to say how much they like the Molly Moon series, or wrote to tell me how they’ve been affected by it, or wrote with suggestions of other things Molly get up to. I’ve had brilliant drawings and letters that have made me laugh, that have brightened my day. When I first started writing, very few letters landed on my front door mat. Then when Molly took off, more came. I do always try to write back but sometimes, recently I’ve found it difficult to keep on top of the replying. I’m sorry. I will eventually write back.
Q: What’s your favourite type of book
A: My favourite type of book is one that grabs me, holds me, that engages me. I like it when a book is well written, where the author tells the tale in such a way that I cannot help turning the pages, where the author has a good imagination so that I am surprised by things that happen and by the plot, where an author has a command of description so that I am transported to the world of the book and feel like I’m there. It helps if the dialogue seems real, and I feel like a fly on the wall listening. I like it when the people, the characters are so well drawn that they feel real, and I can care about the good ones and dislike the bad ones, and if possible I like books to be funny, though I have enjoyed many a serious book in my time. I put books down when they bore me or I don’t believe in the people in the books or when the ideas are second rate.
Sydney, Cedar Rapids, USA
Q: Who is your favourite author?
A: I get ideas for the plots of my stories by daydreaming. Not all of the scenarios I think up are good but that doesn’t matter as I am only daydreaming. I put myself in Molly’s head and imagine what she would do. I put myself in other characters’ heads and imagine what they might do. Gradually the plot of the story becomes clear.
I love writing. Sometimes ideas or descriptions feel like they are sitting in a larder in my mind, waiting to be used in some scene recipe, or spices to spice up a character. It feels a waste to me not to use these things up. Perhaps it is also that I feel that if I don’t get them out of my brain and onto the page, they will rot in my brain like old apples rotting in a larder, and eventually if I don’t use them, they will make me go mouldy. Does that make sense?
Mayhuri, Harrow, London, UK
Q: How many books have you written?
A: I have written six long Molly Moon books.
I wrote a short story Molly Moon’s Hypnotic Holiday about Molly in New York.
My first published book, The Sock Monsters, was when I was twenty six. It was a comic strip book. I wrote two other sock monster stories but sadly they remain unpublished.
I wrote Jack’s Tree – another comic strip, but I didn’t do the pictures for this.
The Ramsbottom Rumble was my first published book that wasn’t a comic strip.
I have written many books that have never been published. One called Delicious Picture another called The Glowing Cowboy, another about a basketball team. I have written a few picture books and other comic strips.
I wrote the screenplay for the Molly Moon film and have also written the screenplay for the second Molly Moon film, which is based on Molly Moon Stops the World.
I am writing a book for adults at the moment and may attempt a seventh Molly Moon story but may also just start on a new series instead.
Naomi Rynne, Olympia, USA
Q: What was the first book you ever wrote?
A: The first book I ever wrote was when I was seven. It was called ‘In Some of the Nineties’ And was quite rude. It was based on a poem I’d heard on the school playground.
Lucia Mandarano, Cleveland, OH, USA
Q: At what age did you start writing?
A: I have written poems and songs ever since I was young. Sometimes I kept a diary.
When I was little I would interview the neighbours who lived in the lanes near our house and draw their pictures. I loved the way people would talk and tell me stuff about themselves. I have always been interested in people and what makes them tick.
When I was a teenager I wrote a lot of poems. I always wrote letters. My mother encouraged letter writing – thank you letters for presents from people and letters to grandparents, that sort of thing. At twelve I went to a boarding school that I hated. I wrote home a lot because it felt good to be connected to home (we only got out for a day and a half every three weeks).
I put together an underground magazine at school, with my friend, and wrote some things for that. It was called ‘Don’t Look Now’. I did a bit of a rude picture on the front of the magazine. It was of a flasher.
I didn’t write a book with a story until I was twenty four. It was called The Fridge Book. I never got it published.
Lesley Wollschlager, Austin, MN, USA
Q: What do you like about being an author?
A: I love being an author because it means that I have a place to channel all my crazy thoughts. I have an over-active imagination – a curse sometimes – and it is satisfying to be able to be able to use it to make up stories. It gives me an excuse to daydream.
Also, I like to be able to write down things that I notice in the world, use up the good ones in a story or a character or a description.
Isabella, Cupertino, CA, USA
Q: Where do you write your books?
A: I work wherever I am.
Sometimes if I’m starting a book I write in long hand and so can be on a bus, in a café, or on a park bench. I get ideas from people I see around me.
At other times I sit in my work room at home. This overlooks the garden and I work at my computer from there.
Emma, Mount Vernon, VA, USA
Q: How did you become such a successful author?
A: What is a ‘successful’ author? A long time ago I thought that to be a successful author I had to be selling lots and lots of books. When I wasn’t even getting my books published I felt very unsuccessful.
I was seeing success in the wrong way. And eventually I realised this.
A successful writer, I think, is a writer who feels they have achieved what they want to with a book. Where they feel it is good, that they have got better or are even actually starting to master aspects or all (if they are lucky) of the art form that is writing, they are successful.
Success as a writer is not about what other people think of your writing and whether it is good enough to publish, or whether a book sells lots of copies.
Books have an intrinsic value (that means, a value that is in them), and this intrinsic value is actually more important that what the outside world thinks of them.
For instance, if you were on The Planet Zong and you wrote a book and if the green, reptilian-faced aliens there, who did not understand human emotion decided that your book was valueless, you would not agree with them. You would try to take a judgement yourself and try to decide whether the book was any good and whether you had been successful as a writer.
Sometimes I have written things that I think are useless. Other times I have written things that I am proud of.
Although it is, of course, very flattering to have other people tell you that your writing is good, and to sell books, you need to learn to judge your work yourself.
So now that we have got it straight what being a successful writer is, I can answer your question.
I became a successful writer by working and working and working at it. By writing and writing and editing and reading other people’s work and learning how to be better and then by writing again.
Q: Once you had one book published, was it easier to get more published and are there common places you get stuck at when writing?
A: Yes, it’s always easier to get published once you’ve had your first book published, unless your first book was a disaster, and nobody bought it and everybody hated it!
I actually never get stuck when writing. Creativity is a wonderful thing. You can always think yourself out of corners and holes.
I like to plot my stories by imagining things from start to finish, so that I know before I start that the story works. Then at least I avoid writing a story and discovering half way through that the plot has taken me to a dead end.
To end up with half a book nearly written and then to see that the plot has thrown up a problem that cannot be got around would be very sticky. It might mean starting all over again. But to be half way through a story in my imagination and then to find that the plot has taken me to a dead end is fine. I can rip the story up in my head, and starting again is not so hard. This way, I have not wasted hours writing something that is going to be destroyed.
There are often minor sticky problem when writing. For instance, suddenly a character might be bettered by another character taking their place in which case all the writing with the original character in it has to be changed. This is just a normal part of the writing process.
Amanda Goucher, Wayne, ME, USA
Q: Do you just come up with a story or do you just come up with parts from bits and pieces?
A: I come up with my stories by first of all getting the premise – the idea.
For instance, ‘The boy who eats stones and who can then talk to stones.’
I then think about all aspects of this boy’s life, as much of it as I can, and I daydream about what might happen in this boy’s life.
If the premise was, ‘The boy who becomes the greatest fisherman the world has ever known’, I would think about how he might become this. And as I think, ideas for scenes pop into my head – I jot these down and gradually by thinking about this boy, the stone eater, or the fisherman boy or whoever, I see a story emerging.
The first scene I think of may be at the end of the final story, or the middle but not necessarily at the beginning. It helps to be loose in this way.
Georgia Binetti, Hectorville, Australia
Q: Did you use any books like a thesaurus to use more interesting words?
A: I love the thesaurus. Over the years I have definitely improved my vocabulary by using it. I resist using it though as sometimes I want to find interesting, alternative, less predictable words. Using the thesaurus stops my mind stretching to find these words.
However often, the thesaurus is extremely useful…um… let’s look that one up beneficial, valuable, advantageous, all-purpose, applied, appropriate, brave, commodious, convenient, effective…Hmmm… not all mean useful but that doesn’t matter. The thesaurus has helped me think of the world ‘useful’ in different ways.
Q: Why did you choose the topic of hypnotism?
A: The idea to write a book about hypnotism came to me one day when I was sitting in the kitchen at my mother’s house. Her dog, Paddy was sitting there, I was having a cup of tea and a biscuit and, for some reason, I started to move the biscuit from left, to right. Paddy’s eyes were glued to the biscuit. They moved from left to right as I moved the biscuit. He looked hypnotised.
The first idea that hit me was the idea of a kid who could hypnotise animals. Then it struck me that a kid who could hypnotise animals and humans was more like it. I couldn’t stop thinking about what an amazing time a kid would have if they could hypnotise people. That’s how I came to use hypnotism as the vehicle for the Molly Moon stories.
Julia Totty, Roseville, CA, USA
Q: Are Molly and Petula based on anyone you know?
A: Molly was based on a girl I went to school with once. The girl I knew looked odd and was clumsy and not very good at school work. She was always in trouble. The worst thing was that she was bullied by nasty children and by teachers. I felt so sorry for her. I thought she would have loved a hypnotism book to sort all those horrible people out so I made Molly like her.
Petula is totally made up, though every dog I have ever known has probably helped me write her.
Bianca Camacho, Walnut, CA, USA
Q: How did you figure out the characters’ personalities and traits?
A: I work out characters personalities and traits in different ways. Sometimes it is obvious how they have to be straight away, and at other times characters change as I write a book, depending on how the story needs them to be.
For instance, Molly was always like Molly, from the word go. That was the way I wanted my protagonist to be. Everything else had to move and change for her.
But Petula started out as a bad tempered, mean dog. I wanted her to stay vile, but then when I decided I wanted Molly to hypnotise an animal and Petula was there, I began to think ‘Hey, maybe this dog is horrid for a reason. Maybe she is unhappy about something. Maybe Molly can change her. Maybe she can become Molly’s friend.’
After that I found the reason for Petula’s bad temper. Her tummy aches from eating chocolate biscuits. I then made Molly hypnotise her not to eat the biscuits. Petula’s mood changes. She adores Molly. Petula becomes devoted to her and is the sweetest pug in the world.
– All answers are by Georgia Byng –