Page last updated at 11:15 GMT, Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Jacqueline Wilson speaks to School Report

Jacqueline Wilson on what makes her happy

Award-winning children's author Dame Jacqueline Wilson was one of the main attractions of this year's BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival.

Jacqueline, a former magazine journalist, was the most popular author in British libraries over the last decade with more people borrowing her books than those of any other writer.

With her classic children's books like The Story of Tracy Beaker keeping generations of young readers entertained, she was well-qualified for the festival's theme of 'The Pursuit of Happiness'.

School Report took the opportunity to chat with Jacqueline with pupils from Thomas Hepburn School in Gateshead joining forces with students from Chopwell Primary School to interview her and the other authors who were part of the event.

Q: Is Tracy Beaker based on your life?

Lots of people think I have based Tracy either on my childhood or on somebody I know, but actually I made it all up. Certainly if I had a sister like her then I don't think I would have survived! I wasn't anywhere near as cheeky or naughty or bossy as Tracy.

Q: If you were Prime Minister, what would you do to make young people in this country happier?

That's such a clever question and a big question! I think I'd try to make school a bit more interesting - I'd have lots of reading aloud, and lots of things to do with the arts made available to all children.

Q: Who is your favourite author?

School Report at the Free Thinking Festival

My favourite author when I was your age was a woman called Noel Streatfield who wrote a wonderful book called Ballet Shoes, and there was a wonderful TV adaptation a few years ago.

My favourite author now is actually a picture book illustrator as well as an author called Maurice Sendak who did that wonderful book Where The Wild Things Are.

Q: When you were little what made you happy?

What made me happiest was books and reading! And I loved playing imaginary games too, actually until I was quite old! I used to like playing with dolls but I didn't necessarily advertise this to my friends! I loved going dancing and swimming too, so all sorts of things made me happy.

Q: What age were you when you started writing?

I first started making up stories when I was six-years-old but they were probably only a sentence or two. Certainly, by the time I was seven or eight, I did start to write proper little stories and then right through my childhood I was forever writing stories.

Q: Were your books made to make young people happy?

I hope my books make young people happy. Occasionally some of my books make young people sad for a bit because they do deal with quite upsetting and worrying things. But I nearly always have a happy ending and if my books help people enjoy reading, then I am certainly happy.

Q: Who is your favourite character from your books?

Obviously I'm fond of Tracy Beaker because she's made me very well known. But I think my favourite character though is Hetty Feather, who is a Victorian 'foundling'. I loved writing her story and I'm currently writing a new book about Hetty.

Q: When did you start writing?

I started writing throughout my school days, but I had my first short story published when I was 17 and that was so thrilling so I kept on writing stories.

I wanted to write proper novels but I had several goes and I had to wait until I was 23 until I got one published!

Jacqueline Wilson
Jacqueline Wilson was made a dame in 2008

Q: What's your favourite book?

I've been on a lovely radio programme called Desert Island Discs and on that, as well as choosing your eight special pieces of music, you choose your favourite book apart from the Bible and Shakespeare.

I chose a great big book because I wouldn't want to be left with nothing to read on the desert island. So I chose the Collected Short Stories of Katherine Mansfield. Although they're for adults, some of her stories about children can be read by 10 to 12-year-olds.

Q: Why do you write stories about problems in life?

I probably write these type of stories because when I was growing up, people mostly read very jolly, rather bland books by a storyteller called Enid Blyton and when I read them, I used to think: 'life isn't like that for lots of children'.

So I said that if I ever got lucky enough to be a writer I would write about children going through quite hard times.

Q: What inspired you to start writing your books?

I don't think it was any one person, but because I loved reading so much my biggest ambition was to see an actual book with my name on it.

Q: What is it like being awarded for your writing?

It's lovely when you get awards. When you go to award ceremonies, you're not generally told beforehand whether you've won or not, so that if somebody else wins you have to make sure there's a smile pinned on your face even though you might be thinking inside 'oh dear, I wish it was me!'

So it's lovely if you win, but if you don't you can always tell yourself 'never mind, you might win another time'.

Q: When did you come up with the idea of Tracy Beaker, and why?

I've got an amazing number of books - about 15,000 in all!

I'd seen some adverts in the local newspaper for children in children's homes who were desperate to be fostered.

And when I saw these adverts with the photographs, I thought 'I wonder what it's like to be advertised like this' and just got the idea of writing about a child that this had happened to - so Tracy just sprang into my head!

Q: If you weren't a writer, what would you have liked to have been?

I think I would have liked to have been a book seller. I've got an amazing number of books - about 15,000 in all!

So if my books stopped being published and I suddenly needed to raise a lot of money, then I'd have to start selling some of the ones I have in my house!

Q: Why did you choose Nick Sharratt to be your illustrator?

I didn't exactly choose Nick. When I'd written Tracy Beaker, I knew I wanted lots and lots of illustrations and I asked my publishers if that was possible and they suggested that Nick would be the right person and we met and got on splendidly.

Nick has done my last 20 or 25 books now and I'm so lucky.

Q: What is it like to have your own fan club?

It's extraordinary to have a fan club. It somehow doesn't seem quite real.

I do a letter each month and I read all the emails - it makes you feel very pleased and proud.

Q: What is your favourite Jacqueline Wilson book?

I think it might be Hetty Feather, or it might be a book called The Illustrated Mum.

Q: Where do you get your ideas from?

So many people ask writers that and it's so difficult to explain precisely. Sometimes an idea just pops up in my mind, other times I might have heard somebody talking about a situation or seen some particular person who seems interesting.

I remember one time I saw a lady walking past with extraordinary tattoos all over her and it just gives you a tiny little germ of an idea and then you go away and think about it and slowly a story develops.

Q: Which of your characters are you most like?

I think maybe I'm like the twins in Double Act, in that mostly I'm like Garnet who's quite shy, quiet and hardworking, but occasionally I'm like Ruby and I can be a bit bossy and full of myself!

Q: Would you encourage children to be writers as well?

I would encourage anybody to write but it is very hard to get published now so I would suggest that children decided to have a main job and then write in their spare time just in case they can't make a living out of it.

Q: Do you hope to write lots more books in the future?

Lots of children ask that and I always say 'yes, I hope so!'. I've written 90-odd books now and if get to 100 that would be wonderful.


School Reporters from two schools reflect on the opportunity to question the well-known children's author.

Thomas Hepburn School

Bethany: "Interviewing Jacqueline Wilson was a brilliant opportunity and a great way to know about her life and what inspires her to write her books. She answered her questions very carefully and explained them fully.

"I am so happy I met her and I would like to meet her in the future again as she is a lovely person. She has inspired me to write a book - or try to - as it looks a good hobby."

Lewis: "Interviewing Jacqueline Wilson was a sensation. I felt really inspired to meet her and she made us feel relaxed.

"I found out many things about her and she answered all my questions. Preparing for the interview was really exciting and watching how the cameras work was amazing. Thank you Jacqueline!"

Chopwell Primary School

Stephanie: "I enjoyed meeting her and getting my book signed and finding out lots of things about her. She was very nice and I liked her jewellery. I was really nervous at first but she made me feel at ease! Thanks Jacqueline!"

Charlie: "It was exciting asking the questions and interesting finding out all about Jacqueline."

Ewan: "I felt a bit nervous but it was amazing. I wish I could do it again, again and again. Jacqueline was very nice and I enjoyed interviewing her. It was really good when she signed my book. The signed book is something I am going to treasure forever."


School Reporters Lewis and Bethany from Thomas Hepburn School help the pupils from Chopwell Primary - Stephanie, Charlie and Ewan

School Reporters from Thomas Hepburn School reflect on their experience at the BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival.

Bethany: "I enjoyed everything! It was a great experience."

Sam: "Today I met and interviewed my favourite author, Frank Cottrell Boyce."

Louise: "The thing I most enjoyed about the day was interviewing Martin Smith about the event."

Rebecca: "The thing I most enjoyed was all the interviews and the bit where we introduced our broadcast. Thank you for an amazing day!"

In pictures: Free Thinking Festival
09 Nov 10 |  School Report
Children's writer tops UK loans
12 Feb 10 |  Arts & Culture
Grown-up return for Tracy Beaker
26 Mar 09 |  Entertainment
Damehood for Tracy Beaker creator
29 Dec 07 |  Entertainment
Investigating unhappiness
27 Jan 10 |  Teachers' resources


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