Our guest: Sam Gayton is a London-based author of middle grade fiction whose novels include Lilliput (Peachtree, 2015), The Snow Merchant (Anderson Press, 2011), and Hercufleas (Anderson Press, 2015). His latest, The Adventures of Lettie Peppercorn, is out tomorrow (February 2, 2016) from Margaret K. McElderry Books; it was illustrated by Poly Bernatene, whose Proust Questionnaire can be found HERE.
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.
1. WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST MEMORY OF CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
Dinosaurs And All That Rubbish, by Michael Foreman. It’s one of the first books that really had an impact on me, because narratively it is so utterly bonkers. There’s dinosaurs, and space travel, and industrial disaster, and a bloke with a bowler hat riding piggyback on a brachiosaurus… And somehow it weaves all this into a brilliant story.
2. WITH WHICH CHILDREN’S LITERATURE CHARACTER DO YOU MOST IDENTIFY?
The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I too love to stuff my face with salami and chocolate cake. I’m yet to turn into a beautiful butterfly.
3. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK AUTHOR? ILLUSTRATOR?
M.T. Anderson, whose writing is fearless and brilliant. I really think his book Feed is the best dystopian novel since Animal Farm. I’ve read it three times now.
4. IF YOU WERE TO THROW A KINDERLIT PARTY FOR FIVE GUESTS, WHO WOULD YOU INVITE?
My dinner part would be purely fictional: Aslan, Mad Hatter, Gulliver, The Iron Man, and Arrietty Clock.
Aslan could bring the steak, Gulliver could bring the stories, and the Mad Hatter could bring the games. The Iron Man could eat all the cutlery, so we wouldn’t have to do any washing up. And Arrietty would only eat a tiny morsel of her dinner, which means I could have seconds.
5. WHICH QUALITY DO YOU THINK IS MOST IMPORTANT IN GOOD CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
6. IF YOUR OWN WORK HAS A DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC, WHAT WHAT IS IT?
Every story I’ve ever told has been some sort of fairy tale. I like my characters to go on long journeys. I often write about friendships between boys and girls. I always include an animal as a character in whatever story I write (so far I’ve had a cat called Horatio, a pigeon called Periwinkle and a flea called Hercufleas.) And I always, always like to leave some aspect of the story unresolved. I grew up writing fan-fiction, so the idea of giving the reader a story they can continue is very important to me.
7. IF YOU WERE TO DIE AND COME BACK AS A CHARACTER FROM CHILDREN’S LITERATURE, WHO WOULD YOU LIKE IT TO BE?
Matilda (right), because I’m not getting reincarnated unless I’m a reader. Also, it would be really great to know what it feels like to be good at maths.
8. IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND REDO ONE THING IN YOUR WORK, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Untangle some of my plots, and spend longer with some of my characters.
9. WHAT IS THE GREATEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WERE EVER GIVEN?
Give yourself permission to be pants. Pants here in the UK means underwear, but it can also mean awful, rubbish, hopeless. Sometimes you have to write terrible stuff to get to the good stuff. Give yourself permission to do that. Probably 10% of what I write makes it into a book. The rest of it, I keep hidden in the drawer. Along with my pants.
10. DESCRIBE YOUR WORK PROCESS.
Messy – like my desk. I never do research. I write dialogue first, and fill in descriptions later. I re-draft up to five or six times. I stay up very late, trying to perfect one paragraph. Around two o’clock in the morning is my magic time.
When I’m stuck, I pick up my guitar and sing songs for a bit. It’s a kind of meditation for me… Although I’m not so sure it’s as soothing for anyone else’s ears.
11. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE CHILDREN’S BOOK AND WHY?
The Snowman by Raymond Briggs, which I’ve never read (or seen – there is a great animated version) without crying at the end. Now David Bowie is gone, I may cry at the start too, because he plays the boy during the animation’s introduction.
12. TELL US ABOUT A BOOK THAT, FOR ONE REASON OR ANOTHER, HAS NOT FOUND A WIDER AUDIENCE.
The Stone Book, by Alan Garner, the strange, short, beautiful tale of Mary, who lives in rural England in the 1800s. You can read it and be done with it in a day, but it’ll stay with you all your life: especially the final moments, in which Mary follows her stonemason father into the dark caves beneath the earth…