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Penny Harper for Lost in Childhood

by Louisa Klein

1) Why children’s books? Did you choose this genre or were you ‘chosen’ by
I suppose this genre really chose me. I always wanted to write but I went into broadcast journalism instead of print and sort of got side-tracked. After ten years of getting up at 4.30 to work on breakfast radio I decided it was now or never. But where to start? I knew that I wanted to write about my relationship with my Grandpa when I was a little girl. It made sense that the books would be aimed at children who were the same age I was when we were having all of our safari adventures and prehistoric tours around my village! I have no idea if I’ll stay in the world of children’s books, but it is a lovely place to be for the moment.
2) Is there a children’s author, living or dead, who inspired you
I have a wicked sense of humour so I’m going to have to say that Roald Dahl was a huge inspiration. I now do storytelling for The Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden and I get a huge kick from acting out ‘Revolting Rhymes’. I do a good wolf! I also loved Adrian Mole. When I left radio full-time I spent eighteen months working in a secondary school library and I would often use Sue Townsend’s books to get the more reluctant readers interested. When I was little I was obsessed with John Burningham’s ‘Would You Rather…’ We still play that in my family to this day. The options have changed though! I loved Mary Norton’s ‘The Borrowers’ and was desperate to be Arrietty. I liked books with feisty girls in them. My parents are avid readers and by Mum insisted I read all the classics when I was quite young. Now, I love Michael Morpurgo’s work. I was very star-struck the first time I met him and waffled on for ages about Adolphus Tips and how we used to go camping at Slapton Sands. The poor guy!
3) Please, tell us about your last book and, if you can, about your future
‘Lollipop and Grandpa’s Back Garden Safari’ is the first book I’ve ever written. My Grandpa was a very funny and mischievous character who always encouraged my brothers and me to use our imagination. We’d head out into the garden and see what amazing animals were hiding in the undergrowth. I remember running for cover from dinosaurs in the village. We bolted across fields, propelled by an adrenalin-fuelled mixture of fear and absolute joy. Our adventures were nothing short of brilliant. I’m lucky enough that Phoenix Yard Books are publishing the first three in the series this year. The next book, ‘Lollipop and Grandpa Go Swimming’ is coming out in June, quickly followed by the third, ‘Lollipop and Grandpa and the Wobbly Tooth’ which is published in September. Now that the blue touch paper’s been lit, I’m hoping lots of my other ideas for stories will take off.
4) How was your writing journey? Was it difficult to find an agent and get
I am well aware that my route to publishing has been relatively easy compared with others. Unbeknownst to me, a member of my local drama group was a literary agent. Pat Shepherd was the first person to read my manuscript and she sent me the best email I’ve ever received in my life, telling me she loved it. I was blown away as I’d been hoping for some constructive criticism at best. Ten years in the media makes you very accustomed to rejection. Suddenly, there was a ‘yes’. When we approached Phoenix Yard and met my editor Emma Langley, the pieces really started to fall into place. All we needed was to find Cate James to illustrate them…luckily we did! Everyone involved had the same vision and the same affinity with the characters and that has been really important to me.
5) What’s your opinion about this E-book revolution? Would you consider
the indie route?
For me, there is no greater thrill than walking into a bookshop and picking up one of my stories. I have nothing against E-books per se, but you can’t put them on your shelves! If you saw my house you’d know that I am totally obsessed with collecting books. We recently moved and my partner asked if I was getting rid of any (we have hundreds and hundreds) to which I replied ‘just as soon as you get shot of your Superman memorabilia collection’. That was the end of that ridiculous conversation.
6) Nowadays many publishers expect their authors to use social media a lot
to promote their books. Many authors, on the other hand, would prefer to
write only, without being distracted by digital trivialities: what are
your thoughts?
Having worked in the media for many years, I know that there’s absolutely no point in trying to resist change and digital advances. I’ll be the first to admit that social networking/ promotion can be a huge distraction but it’s allowing you to access a wider audience in a way which just never used to exist. It’s another tool that’s at your disposal. The only thing I don’t do is tweet. I don’t know why, I suppose I just haven’t got around to it yet. I’m still working on my opening line.
Info about the author:
Penelope Harper was a breakfast radio show host and news reader in the UK for many years and has also worked in broadcasting in Australia. She now lives in rural Hampshire where she’s currently a freelance journalist, writer and storyteller. The ‘Lollipop and Grandpa’ series is her first foray into children’s fiction, inspired by her own relationship with her grandfather as a child. Penelope dreams of having a house by the sea when she grows up.
To know more, please visit: http://www.phoenixyardbooks.com/view_author_illustrator.php?id=13
To buy her latest book, simply click on the cover below:


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