Monday, May 16, 2011

Meet the Author: Anna Branford

About Anna

Anna Branford was born on the Isle of Man in 1975 and spent some of her childhood there as well as in Sudan, Papua New Guinea and Australia. She shares on her website that she "...did lots of.. daydreaming in planes, trains and boats...".   She had a pet mouse for a time and loved her piano which she says was the best present her mum and dad ever gave her "...apart from my sister".

She now lives in Melbourne. As well as writing books for children she has a PhD in sociology and teaches this subject at Victoria University. As well as loving writing books for children, her creativity extends making dolls and nests using needle felted wool, fimo and other materials. She has written three books (two have been published) the first of which has been shortlisted in the 'Younger Readers' category of the Children's Book Council of Australia Awards for 2011.

Her Books

'Violet Mackerel's Brilliant Plot'

Violet Mackerel is a girl with lots of theories, ideas and interests. She has a family full of love and difficulties, and a longing for a blue china bird. Violet spots a blue china bird at the Saturday markets that is small enough to fit in the palm of her hand. Her Mum has a stall there to sell knitting. Violet wants the bird, but this will cost her $10 and she doesn't have the money. She knows she will have to come up with 'a plot', a brilliant plot! She gives the matter much thought and settles on archaeology as part of the answer to her problem, with a surprising outcome.

This is a delightful short novel for children aged 6-10 years, and will be loved especially by girls. Anna Branford has created a wonderful character in Violet who should sustain interest in the series of books to follow. Sarah Davis has provided excellent watercolour illustrations that appear on monochrome (or greyscale) throughout the book and add to the story, especially the development of Violet's character.

I asked my granddaughter Rebecca (aged 6) to read the book. She devoured it quickly and met me when next I visited with the words "I loved the book. And look, I've made a 'Box of Small Things' just like in the book." This was inspired by Anna's suggestion at the end of the book that her young readers might take a box, label and decorate it and use it to store precious 'small things' just like Violet.

Violet Mackerel's Brilliant Recovery

After visiting Dr Singh to have a sore throat checked Violet discovers that she will need to have her tonsils out. She has lots of questions. What are tonsils? Will it hurt? What will it be like to have no tonsils? If her voice changes, will she become an opera star? Perhaps if she makes 'remarkable recovery'... But will she? Once again, Sarah Davis has provided wonderful illustrations that support the story.

I read the first chapter of the book to Rebecca, her younger sister (4 years) and her brother (8 years). All three children enjoyed the book and Rebecca couldn't wait to get it off us to finish it herself. She finished the book in bed before lights out and loved it.

Neville No-Phone

Anna's third book will be out in August and tells the story of Neville and his best friend and next-door-neighbour Enzo who desperately want mobile phones. But their parents are not being helpful.  Neville and Enzo make a solemn promise to each other that some way, somehow, they will get a mobile phone.
When two friends put their heads together it’s surprising what they can achieve. But of course, sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for…

An Interview with Anna

1. I can see from your website that you had a number of favourite book series as a child and also loved one of my favourite books, 'Wind in the Willows'. How much of the inspiration for your writing comes from your childhood reading experiences? Are there other inspirations for your writing?

I did read a lot as a child and I’m certain that the excitement and comfort and magic and pleasure I found in books has made me long to write my own books for children. But there are definitely other inspirations too. I have worked with children for most of my life and I am always interested in hearing about the things that they love, fear, long for, find resonant, and think hilarious. Looking after children is also a wonderful excuse to go on reading lots of children’s literature even when you’re grown up!

2. Do you see book series as having a special role for children? What do you see as their great value?

I think there is something special about having a series rather than just a stand-alone title, for some sorts of books. A series gives you a chance to build a sort of relationship with a character, to really understand their world and their life and to see them in all different sorts of situations. When I’m especially enjoying reading a series, I love knowing I don’t have to force myself to read slowly or ration out the last few chapters to make the experience last, since there’s plenty more to look forward to.

3. Judging from your writing and your interest in doll making and music, you are obviously a creative person. To what do you attribute your creativity?

I grew up in a home where creating things was very much a part of everyday life. My father made lots of our furniture. My mother sewed, painted and drew. One Christmas in the Sudan, when I was very small and my sister was just a baby, they made absolutely everything, out of necessity. We had a fully decorated Christmas tree, cloth dolls, a wooden dolls house, a wooden farm, new dresses. Wherever we were, our home was always full of books and there was always something on the record player. So it was a very easy place for my sister and me to be creative too. I also had an aunt who was a truly wonderful children’s writer, Henrietta Branford. As well as being a very inspiring person, knowing her made it possible for me to think of writing books as something that real people, not just faraway and hard-to-imagine people, actually did.

4. Are there any children's authors that you particularly admire? What is it that you admire about their work?

I think there will always be a place in my heart for the authors whose books I grew up with, like Kenneth Graham, Philippa Pearce, Roald Dahl and Beverly Cleary. I think these were writers who taught me to find pleasure in places I might not have thought to look for it myself. Each one, in all different ways, has contributed to making my ordinary world an enchanted place.

But there are plenty of children’s authors I’ve discovered in my adult life who I admire immensely too. When I worked in childcare, that provided me with a wonderful excuse to read contemporary children’s literature. Now that I am writing my own, I can pretend it is ‘research’. But actually I just really, really enjoy it. A few of my great favourites at the moment are Lauren Child, Sally Murphy, Glenda Millard and Sonia Hartnett. Even now, these are the authors who have a knack, for me, of turning the everyday world into a place that can beautiful, interesting and slightly magic.

5. What has been your favourite response to Violet Mackerel so far?

I had a lovely email from a mother who told me that Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot was the first book her seven-year-old had read herself from cover-to-cover. To me that is an amazing honour. I remember the first book I read from cover-to-cover (it was Enid Blyton’s 'The Birthday Kitten') and the tremendous feeling of accomplishment, independence and possibility it represented. It blows me away to think that a child could have had that experience with Violet.

6. Sarah Davis has done a wonderful job illustrating your Violet Mackerel books.  How important do you see the illustrations in your books and how do you judge their success?

I love Sarah’s work and feel incredibly lucky to be working with an illustrator and co-creator who has such a beautiful, resonant vision for these characters I am so fond of. I think illustrations are incredibly important. Good illustrations support and further a reader’s own mental imagery, while less successful pictures can distract and even disrupt what is going on in a child’s imagination. I think Sarah has a knack of supplying just enough details to enrich children’s reading experiences, without crowding out their own ideas of how a character or a place or a thing should be.

7. Congratulations on being short-listed for the Children's Book Council Awards. Is it important to have your work recognised in this way?

Thank you! To be honest, I have no real idea how important it is. My daydream, which felt very far-fetched while I was having it, was really just to have one book published. I can still hardly believe even that has really, truly happened. My understanding, though, is that shortlisted books are more likely to be read in primary schools and I find that a wonderfully exciting thought. At my primary school during book week we read Hating Alison Ashley one year and Playing Beattie Bow another. I absolutely loved both and it is a complete joy to imagine Violet being read and discussed in classrooms.

8. What is your current writing project? What has inspired it?

At the moment I am working on a sequel to 'Neville No-Phone', another book being published by Walker Books Australia, due out in August. Neville No-Phone is about a boy who absolutely longs for a mobile phone but whose parents won’t allow him to have one. Neville, his family and his best friend Enzo are a lovely characters to write about and I have great fun with them.  They are all inspired by people and situations I know.
Other resources

You can visit the Violet Mackerel website where you will find games, competitions, activities and downloads HERE

You can visit Anna Branford's personal site HERE

Other Meet the Author posts HERE

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