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An Interview with Susie Bower

Firstly congratulations on the publication of School for Nobodies! Are you able to give readers an idea for what’s in store?

Thank you so much! School for Nobodies is about Claudia, who hates her name - it’s the name given to her by her adoptive parents, Claude and Sonia, made by joining their names together. Claudia doesn’t fit in anywhere: at school they call her scab face because of the burn mark running from her eye to her chin; while at home, Claude and Sonia want a quiet, well-behaved daughter – only Claudia can’t keep still, and dreams of being a circus performer. On her 10th birthday, she discovers two huge secrets about herself: her real name; and that she has a twin at a school nearby. She sets off to find her twin and ends up at the School for Nobodies…

What three words would you use to describe School for Nobodies?

Belonging; trust; restoration.

What was the original inspiration behind School for Nobodies? Did you undergo much research during your writing process? I read in your author bio that you’d lived in 8 houses and attended 7 schools all by the time you hit your teens. Did this have a big impact when writing about the Academy and the Cruet Establishment for Lost and Wayward Children?

My inspiration for writing School for Nobodies was that I rarely felt that I fitted in as a child. We moved often because of my father’s job, and I was always walking into new schools where everyone had friends, and feeling like the ‘newbie’, the odd one out. So I wrote School for Nobodies for any child (or adult) who’s had that experience. I didn’t have to do any research – I just raided my memories! But I didn’t set out to do this consciously. It was only when someone described School for Nobodies as being about the beauty of not fitting in that I realised what I’d been writing about!

What was your favourite part about writing School for Nobodies?

Writing for me is like making a sandwich. I love the two bits of bread and hate the filling! So I loved plotting School for Nobodies – that’s the part where inspiration and imagination get free rein. And I loved the editing at the end – once I had something tangible to work with, I could relax a bit and move things around. But writing the first draft is torture! That white screen is terrifying. When I used to paint, I’d feel the same about the empty canvas – I’d quickly cover it with stuff before I began really painting. So when I write a first draft, I have to remind myself constantly that this is ‘just getting words down’ – the craft hopefully comes later!

Did you face any particular challenges during your writing process?

Self doubt, always. Especially since School for Nobodies was my first children’s book. There were times when I wanted to give up, and I think this is true for most writers. And perception is such an odd thing. One day you can read what you’ve written and think it’s the best thing ever. The next day it’s unadulterated garbage. If possible, try not to believe either. Just write. I try to follow Isak Dinesen’s advice: Write a little every day, without hope, without despair.

Flynn is fantastic at acrobatics, Saddo at walking the tightrope, and Feral with his ferocious roar! What would your spectacular circus skill be?

Hah, I’m about as unacrobatic as can be! But since I’m a control freak, I’d probably want to be the Ring Mistress. I’d strut around in my sparkly suit, twirling my (imaginary) moustache and introducing all the amazing acts through a loudspeaker…

If you could spend a day with Flynn, Feral, Rule Boy, Saddo and Custard, what do you think you’d get up to?

We’d get up to no good, probably! 😉 Although we’d probably spend most of our time arguing with Rule Boy!

This is your dazzling debut children’s book! What made you want to write a middle grade children’s book?

I’d written for children while working at the BBC and Channel 4 – but it was only after I signed up for The Novelry – a brilliant online writers’ community – that I realised I wanted to write middle-grade. I did the Classic Course, which was based around children’s literature, and I discovered a freedom that I’d never experienced in writing for adults. To be able to write about magic and monsters and dreams coming true is the best!

Do you have any tips or advice for aspiring children’s writers?

- Read widely - both the classics and contemporary children’s literature.

- Write for the story itself, rather than ‘for children’ – I believe a good story can be enjoyed by both adults and children.

- Above all, never give up! I signed with my agent at the ripe old age of 66…

What’s next for your writing journey? Will there be a second children’s book?!

I’m working on revisions for the next one – also middle grade – which will be published by Pushkin Children’s next year. It’s about a reluctant princess, a snarky mermaid and a haughty winged boy. And Pushkin will also be publishing my first picture book in 2022. It’s called SHOOO!!! and is about a cross woman who dislikes animals – until a bunch of them move in next door!

This question is about your favourite children’s books, what’s a book you loved as a child, a book you love now, and a book you can’t wait to read?

As a child, I loved The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe the idea of discovering a new, parallel world inside a wardrobe lit my imagination. A book I love now is Katherine Rundell’s Rooftoppers: her writing is so glorious and original. A book I can’t wait to read? So many – which is tricky because I don’t read while I’m writing! But H.S. Norup’s The Hungry Ghost and Kereen Getten’s When Life Gives You Mangoes are on my radar…

And finally, my favourite question I always love to ask, if you could invite any five people – past or present, real or fictional – to a dinner party, who would you invite and why?

Vincent Van Gogh: the classic odd-one-out. I would want him to know how famous he’s become, how much his work is loved and valued now.

Author and psychotherapist Clarissa Pinkola Estes (writer of Women Who Run With The Wolves): I could pick her brain about obscure fairy tales and their hidden meanings.

Charles Maxim from Rooftoppers: his wisdom, sense and eccentric view of the world would enrich the evening – and we could all eat our dinner off maps of Hungary!

Jane Austen: although I’d be terrified of her written account of the evening…all our flaws and eccentricities laid bare…

Finally, and not strictly human: Winnie-the-Pooh from The House At Pooh Corner. He’d remind us not to be like his busy friend Rabbit, who’s always off searching, but to sit and dream and let things come to us. (Also, since I’m the world’s worst cook, he’d be perfectly satisfied with a jar of hunny…)

By the time she hit her teens, Susie Bower had lived in 8 houses and attended 7 schools. This theme continued in her working life: she's been a teacher, a tour-guide, a typist, a workshop facilitator, a PA and a painter. She formerly wrote and directed TV programmes for children at the BBC and Channel 4, for which she won a BAFTA Award, and she currently writes audio scripts. School for Nobodies is her debut novel. Susie lives in Bristol.

You can follow Susie on Twitter @susienottbower


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