talltalesandshortstories.blogspot.com Interview, November 2009

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Interview for Summer Autumn 2009 SCBWI "Words and Pictures" magazine

A Day in the Life of …… Danny Baker Record Breaker’s Steve Hartley



We know about how you were discovered through the Undiscovered Voices competition. What had you been working on before then?


Anything and everything, trying to find my voice, my strengths, and learning to write. I wrote Danny about four or five years ago, sent it off once, and got rejected. Then, because I’m a dope, I did nothing with it until I dug it out of my pile of manuscripts to enter the UV competition. It was like opening Tutankhamen’s tomb: a long-lost treasure was revealed!



Are you working on anything other than Danny Baker at the moment? If so, what?


I’m living entirely in Danny’s wonderful world of silliness at the moment. I’ve just finished the first draft of the eighth and final story, which completes Book 4 (two stories per book). I’m at the “It’s rubbish/I can’t write/Why didn’t I stick to stamp-collecting?” stage. When I’ve thrashed it into a state where I can show my editor without embarrassment, I’ll start the copy-editing of Book 2, and then re-write the two stories for Book 3, based on my editor’s notes, then go through the process again for Book 4. So, no time to plunge into another world at the moment, but I have plans...



Who are you favourite children’s authors at the moment? What do you like about them?


Frank Cottrell Boyce is fantastic, imaginative and funny. There are lots of layers to his humour, and he writes absolutely from a child’s point of view. “Cosmic” won the Steve Hartley Book of the Year Award in 2009; strange that it doesn’t appear on the book’s jacket.


I admire David Almond, Neil Gaiman, and Phillip Reeve, because I wish I could write like they do, and because they make me realise how much I’ve got to learn about story-telling. There’s a short paragraph in Phillip Reeve’s “Here Lies Arthur” where he describes the aftermath of a bloody battle. It’s sparse, tight, economical writing, but vivid, and chilling. I’m not worthy!



What publicity plans do you have in mind for Danny Baker?


Lots of silliness, and hopefully, some record-breaking too. We’ve not finalised the plans yet, but I think false beards, big bogeys, and spotty bottoms may feature heavily.  



Since becoming a published author how has your every day life changed?


I’m not published yet! I still do the day job, and still write every day. I have contractual obligations and a deadline to meet now, so there’s an additional drive to do it, but nothing has really changed. My wife and daughter still don’t treat me with the enormous awe and admiration I am so obviously entitled to; but they will, they will...



Talk me through the editing process of Danny Baker? Has a lot of work been done to the form that appeared in Undiscovered Voices?


The basic concept, structure and humour are the same. Danny is desperate to be the best in the world at something, like his dad. Each story has a framework based on the exchange of letters between Danny and Mr Bibby at the Great Big Book of World Records. These are linked by a narrative plot which sees Danny and his best friend Matthew facing crises and of course, overcoming them.


I hit on an original idea which I think is why it caught the attention of the UV judges. I wrote Danny Baker Record Breaker as a one-off story; what became obvious very quickly was that to make it commercially attractive, I had to prove it had the legs to be a series. Luckily I did that, but since being taken on by Macmillan, I’ve worked with my editor to add layers to the books, by developing the other characters, particularly Danny’s sister Natalie, and Mum and Dad, and adding new ones from time to time to keep it fresh. I also had to develop a story arc for the whole eight stories.


I’ve developed a writing/editing process that works for me: I’m a fan of the “Don’t get it right, get it written” school of writing. My first draft is dire stuff, but gets the basic elements down. Each story goes through four or five drafts, with input from my wife, then my agent, and finally my editor. Fresh, honest, objective eyes are a must!


I always edit on a paper copy: I find it’s far better for spotting repetitions, etc. Each time, I’m tightening up, adding layers, and making the jokes better. I’m getting better at spotting waffle and weaknesses, so the later edits are usually just tweaking. The main fault I still have is not getting the story moving at the start – too much set up, and not enough action!



There is a growing trend of anthologies in the children and young adult market. What are your views on anthologies? Do you think that they appeal to the target audience?


Anything that exposes kids to great, well-written stories, and gives writers the chance to get their work out in the big wide world gets my vote.



How long had you been writing before you had any success?


My early stories are on clay tablets. When I started writing, I had hair on my head, and none in my ears! Really, THAT long.



What advice would you give to other writers out there who are still looking for their first taste of success?


Get off Twitter, get off Facebook, and get writing.