Our guest: Michelle Robinson is an author based in the United Kingdom. Her books include the award-winning There’s A Lion in My Cornflakes (Bloomfield, 2014), What to Do if An Elephant Stands On Your Foot (Penguin, 2012) and a series of popular Goodnight Books (…Santa, …Pirate, …Tractor, and …Digger) from Puffin.
The Proust-Esque Questionnaire is based on a set of 36 standardized questions designed by Marcel Proust in the 1890’s to give an overview of the respondent’s personality. Our goals are less lofty, but hopefully will provide some insight into how your favorite authors and illustrators work and what they love.
2. WITH WHICH CHILDREN’S LITERATURE CHARACTER DO YOU MOST IDENTIFY?
The Dormouse from Alice in Wonderland. He naps a lot, talks nonsense and is never far away from a teapot.
3. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK AUTHOR? ILLUSTRATOR?
A.A. Milne (right) and E.H. Shepard (below, left). What a talent it is to make writing and drawing feel so effortless, and what a pairing. Milne has a gorgeous and accessible voice that comes through in everything he writes, and I wish he were someone I knew personally. He understands children and clearly loves them. Shepard’s characters and settings are just beautifully observed, and because of the era in which they were created they just fill me with a longing for simpler times. Check out Buttercup Days, it’s just beautiful.
4. IF YOU WERE THROWING A KINDERLIT PARTY FOR FIVE GUESTS, WHO WOULD YOU INVITE?
Let’s invite A.A. Milne so I can meet him. Likewise Roald Dahl, and he was a fan of chocolate so we’d definitely have plenty of that on the menu. Can I include Flavia de Luce (right)? I’m not sure she strictly counts as children’s literature; she’s Alan Bradley’s eleven year old sleuth and chemistry whiz. I read heaps of Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle books as a child, so I reckon Flavia would fit right in. Then I’d invite a couple of my illustrators whom I’ve yet to meet, Fred Blunt and Peter H. Reynolds.
5. WHICH QUALITY DO YOU THINK IS MOST IMPORTANT IN GOOD CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
Truth. Some kind of fundamental truth that makes a character’s feelings relatable, even if that character happens to be a six-headed dragon from Mars.
6. IF YOUR OWN WORK HAS A DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC, WHAT WHAT IS IT?
Fun, I hope. Having fun is essential, for children and grown ups. Life can be very hard at times, even –and perhaps especially– when we are very young. I place great value on having fun, it sets us up for the more serious stuff.
7. IF YOU WERE TO DIE AND COME BACK AS A CHARACTER FROM CHILDREN’S LITERATURE, WHO WOULD YOU LIKE IT TO BE?
8. IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND REDO ONE THING IN YOUR WORK, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
All of it. I hate looking back. No matter how many times I check work over, I only ever notice areas for improvement once I’m holding a final printed copy. This is the downside to being a perfectionist. The upside is that you work so hard you create something worthy of publication, so I guess I can live with it.
9. WHAT IS THE GREATEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WERE EVER GIVEN?
“Push it out there, you can always reel it back in.” If you want to try and make something truly astonishing you might as well go the whole hog. It’s very easy to tone something down, but it’s almost impossible to add oomph that isn’t there in the first place!
10. DESCRIBE YOUR WORK PROCESS.
Having two small children, I don’t get much time to actually sit and write. So I daydream every spare minute of the day and then, when I actually have a free couple of hours I let everything else slide and write.
I work sitting on my bed and I type straight into my laptop. I sometimes use notebooks to doodle if I’m fishing for an idea, but I get to the nub of things much faster when I type. It’s not unusual for me to crack out a pretty decent first draft in an hour or two if I’ve had a good week of daydreaming beforehand.
I have definite phases, too. I have times when writing comes thick and fast, and stories appear quickly. I have times when I am generating lots of ideas. And I have duff times which don’t bother me any more, I’ve learned to use those periods to do admin, get out more and top up the old Think Tank.