Dame Jacqueline Wilson is one of Britain’s most outstanding writers for young readers and is much loved and revered in this house.
Known for her contemporary stories many featuring feisty characters like the enduring Tracy Beaker, she has also used historical settings for many recent books such as Hetty Feather and Clover Moon. Over 40 million copies of her books have been sold in the UK alone and they have been translated into 34 languages. Jacqueline has been honoured with many of the UK’s top awards including the Guardian Children’s Fiction Award, the Smarties Prize and the Children’s Book of the Year. She was the Children’s Laureate from 2005-2007 and is the Chancellor of Roehampton University. She also holds Honorary Doctorates from the Universities of Kingston, Bath, Winchester and Dundee.
It is an honour to interview her here for Wonderful Women.
Describe a typical day for you?
I like to write first thing in the morning. I feed the cat, take the dog into the garden, make a cup of coffee and then go back to bed with my computer. I write for an hour or so before breakfast. Then if I’ve written up to a thousand words I feel great and can crack on with the rest of the day.
I always imagined writers just sat in a study and wrote all day long. I wish! I generally spend time on phone calls and emails and letters in the morning. I do many talks about my work at bookshop events and literary festivals, I sit on several committees, I go to Roehampton University where I’m Chancellor, and I visit various special children.
In the evening I take the dog for a walk, have a glass of wine, and then read or watch a box set.
What do you feel are your biggest achievements?
I’m always so pleased when a child tells me they used to find reading difficult or boring, but since trying one or other of my books they’ve suddenly become a really keen reader.
I was thrilled when I had my first book published so it feels particularly amazing that now I’ve written 106!
What’s in your handbag?
I’ve got a very large handbag – and it’s always crammed with junk! I usually stuff a paperback in there, a big diary/notebook, odd notes and letters and bills, a phone, purse, card holder, keys, powder and lipstick …
What are your ambitions in life?
At my age I just want to carry on writing!
What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career?
I wish I’d had a little more confidence. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a small child but my parents and teachers thought this a silly idea and that I’d never make it as a writer. Perhaps their attitude made me even more determined!
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
I hope I’ll still be happy and healthy and writing two books a year.
What advice would you give a budding children’s author?
I would tell them to read lots of current children’s books, talk to children themselves, and then write straight from the heart. Be prepared to do lots of rewriting, and don’t get cast down if you’re not a success straight away.
What do you wish you’d known about motherhood before having kids?
That the whole process is exhausting, especially when they’re babies, and you’d sell your soul for a good night’s sleep. But in spite of everything it’s the most joyous and rewarding and wonderful experience!
Finally, happiness is …
… cuddling up on the sofa with my loved one, my dog and my cat.
In 2008, Dame Jacqueline Wilson became one of the Museum’s first Foundling Fellows. For her Fellowship, Wilson researched the Hospital’s history and developed her character Hetty Feather, a girl who uses imaginative storytelling or, as she calls it, ‘picturing’ to deal with life’s challenges. Immensely popular with her young audience, Hetty has gone on to feature in five books which have sold millions of copies, the first two of which feature the Foundling Hospital.
Dame Jacqueline Wilson said: ‘I was proud to be made a Fellow of the Foundling Museum, one of my favourite places in London. The Museum asked me if I’d ever thought of writing a novel about a foundling child. I absolutely loved this idea and almost immediately Hetty Feather sprang to life inside my head. There have been five Hetty Feather books so far (watch out for another soon!), a long-running stage play and three television series too. It’s wonderful that Hetty now has her own special exhibition in the very museum that inspired her story.’