Scarlet Ibis by Gill Lewis is published by Oxford University Press in paperback on 1st May at £8.99!
Your first novel ‘Sky Hawk’ has been nominated for an amazing fifteen book awards! What was your inspiration for Sky Hawk?
Sky Hawk began as an idea one very cold New Year’s day, when I was standing in our shed collecting wood for the fire. I looked up at the empty swallows’ nests and wondered if children in Africa could see the same swallows my own children had seen in flying above our garden in the summer. I wondered if there could be a way a migrating bird could connect children who lived thousands of miles apart. Swallows are too small to be fitted with satellite tags, but conservationists have been tracking the migration routes of satellite-tagged ospreys for years. I wanted to write a story that could actually happen and I used the osprey to do this. The osprey is also a symbol of conservation success, having been brought back from extinction in Britain. Since the mid 1950s, when one pair returned to Scotland, there are now more than three hundred breeding pairs across the UK thanks to dedicated teams of conservationists and volunteers.
When did you start writing?
I think I have always loved writing and telling stories in one form or other. At primary school, my stories were always highly illustrated and looked more like graphic novels. Even now, drawing is part of my creative process when I am exploring story and characters. However, at secondary school no time was given to the part of the creative process where the imagination is let loose to dream and explore infinite possibilities. Writing focused on spelling, grammar and presentation, the three things I struggled with at the time. I stopped writing stories until I had children of my own when I rediscovered my love of storytelling. After years of telling my children stories, I began to write them down again.
What advice would you give to a young author?
Give yourself time to imagine and dream the story. Write about the things that interest you, and write the story you want to write, not the story you think other people might want to read. Allow yourself to experiment with ideas and styles of writing and don’t be scared about making mistakes. It’s all part of the learning process. Above all, enjoy it. If a story idea fizzles out, it doesn’t matter. You’ll probably use the characters or some of the ideas you discovered, in another story.
Out of all your books do have one book that was most enjoyable to write? If so why?
I’ve enjoyed writing all my books for different reasons. Looking back, I think Sky Hawk was the least pressured book to write because I had written the story before starting to look for a publisher. Since then, my other books have been written to tight deadlines and the expectations of finding another story and writing it from the beginning, all the way to the end. There is always the niggling doubt that the story dreamed up in my head and presented to my publisher as short synopsis, will not have the substance to expand out into a full novel. However, I do love that challenge.
I think the most enjoyable part of writing all of my stories is the initial creative process, the time to imagine and dream, when ideas travel and grow in the infinite space of the mind. The hard part is writing it all down.
How does it feel to be a best-selling children’s author? Did you ever expect your novels to be so popular?
I never expected my books to be popular. In fact, I remember one agent rejecting the manuscript of Sky Hawk because she felt stories about animals were ‘old-fashioned’. However, I love to hear readers say they connect with the animal and human characters and the conservation issues within my stories. It gives me hope for the future that we have a new generation that cares deeply about our planet.
Are you inspired by another author, friend or family member?
Most of the inspiration for my stories comes from other people’s real life stories; from individuals who have made a difference to others’ lives or to the world around us, or from individuals who have struggled against hardship or prejudice.
Do you have any animals at home? If so what are they?
I have a very small pony, a very large dog, one guinea pig and four chickens named Sherlock, Watson, Binky and Jeremy Kyle.
What advice would you give to a young author about to start their first ever novel
Fall in love with your story. Dream it, draw it and write it. Don’t agonise over the beginning, because sometimes it’s only by reaching the end of the story that you discover just how you want it to start. When you reach the end of the story, have a little party, make some cupcakes and celebrate. Then, read it all over again and knock the story into shape. Are the characters strong enough or realistic enough? Where does the plot lag structure? What parts of the story are irrelevant to the plot? Re-write, re-write and rewrite. Remember writing is re-writing. When you have your lovely polished manuscript and brilliant story in front of you, have a look at your spelling, presentation and grammar because a publisher won’t take you seriously if there are glaring mistakes or sloppy presentation.
What are your plans/hopes for the future in your career?
I hope to be able to write for as long as my brain can keep making up stories. Inspirational authors such as Eva Ibbotson and Judith Kerr have written well into their 80s and 90s and I would love to follow them. But I suppose my biggest hope would be that my books could inspire children to develop a real love and understanding of the natural world and a sense that they have power within themselves to make change to happen.