Webchat with best-selling author Jacqueline Wilson

Her books | Social issues in children's novels | Being a writer | Encouraging children to read | Personal

This is an edited transcript of a live webchat with Jacqueline Wilson on Tues 10 March 2009

Her books

Letter Qahundredtimes: My son ran the gamut of ridicule by reading 'pink, girls' books at school JacquelineWilsonbecause he loved them so, he used to say 'well, who said they were girls books?' ) Actually, that's my question: do you think it's a shame that your books seem to be primarily targeted at girls or is that right, are they written for girls?
Letter AJacqueline: I feel my books are for anyone who wants to read them, male or female. However, my publishers always seem to want my jackets to be bright pink and I agree it's a bit off-putting for boys, and indeed some girls too. I've just published a fourth Tracy Beaker book, for Comic Relief. It's called Tracy Beaker's Thumping Heart, and Comic Relief gets £2 for every book that's sold.

Letter QFrannyandZooey: Jacqueline, I would like to ask several questions. First, is Cam gay? At the end of Clean Break, does the dad really come back? Can the family forgive him? Will it work out, or are they doomed to further troubles? Do any of your characters haunt you? I feel particularly distressed by Mary and her mother in The Diamond Girls In Midnight, it seems to me there are some S+M sexual undertones to Will's games. Was this deliberate? Finally, who is your favourite character from your books? I am quite taken with the saucy, curvy Miranda from Kiss at the moment I also love Beauty - her vulnerability is very charming. And really I would just like to gush about how wonderful I think your books are, I particularly like The Illustrated Mum, and Kiss. Thank you very much.
Letter AJacqueline: Hi FrannyandZooey. Presumably you're a Sallinger fan - me too. Interesting questions. I don't spell things out in my books. I like readers to make up their own minds. However, Cam could be gay: I certainly feel her friends are in The Dare Game. Dad DOES come back at the end of Clean Break - but I'm not entirely sure everything will end happily ever after. Will is a slightly sinister brother, but I'm not sure he's into S&M! My favourite character hasn't been published yet - she's a Victorian Foundling, called Hetty Feather. You'll be able to read about her in October.
FrannyandZooey: Thanks for reply - I like things left for me to make my mind up but then I like to know THE TRUTH!

Letter Qpointydog: Questions from dd2 (10). 1. What is your favourite book that you have written? 2. What was your first ever prize?

Letter AJacqueline: My favourite book is perhaps The Illustrated Mum. I think my first prize was The Children's Book Award organised by the Federation of Children's Book Groups, for The Suitcase Kid.

Letter QSquonk: I have a question from dd1 (15). She would like to know if you are planning to revisit any of your younger characters so we can see how they have grown up, perhaps into early adulthood?
Letter AJacqueline: Dear Squonk, and teenage daughter. I've already thought of doing this, I think it would be fun. I shall ponder...I get a lot of letters on this topic. People are particularly keen to find out what happens next to the Diamond Girls.

Letter QBlondilocks: DD (aged 10) loves your books and was very excited to hear that you would be doing the mumsnet livechat. She wanted to say/ask the following: I loved the Cheltenham literary festival when I heard you talk about the new book Cookie and you said about My Secret Diary and I have been looking forward to reading it and now I can! I am very glad that I got Cookie signed - I will treasure it forever! Are you going to publish more books about when you are growing up or have you already put all of that into the latest book? Do you have any tips for people who want to be an author because I would really like to write books when I am older.
Letter AJacqueline: I'm so glad your daughter liked Cookie. I've been thinking about writing a third volume of autobiography, but it won't be for a while yet.

Letter QSquirrell: We saw a production of Secrets at Polka theatre about 18 months ago, it was fantastic for both children and adults. Are there any plans for any more productions of your work on stage in the near future - please say yes! My daughter can't get enough of your books.
Letter AJacqueline: I was very happy with Vicky Ireland's adaptation of Secrets. I very much hope we will be able to work together in the future. It's exciting for an author to see their work transformed on stage - or on the television - I absolutely loved the TV film of Dustbin Baby shown just before Christmas.

Letter QMayorNaze: Welcome to MN! Will think of a really deep and meaningful question before the chat but until then... I am a huge fan of all the books (am waiting for Beauty -- for me -- for ds on library reservation) but one thing that really bugged me about Midnight is that the dad is such a baddy - and is a Mason? On the whole freemasons are goodies, my dh is anyway! Sorry - couldn't not take the opportunity to say that but apart from that I am a big big fan...honest...
Letter AJacqueline: Hello MayorNaze. The dad in Midnight is certainly a bit of a bully, though not all bad. Of course I don't think all masons, or indeed policemen, are baddies - just this particular fictional one!

Letter Qteafortwo: Hey - You gave a great Woman's Hour interview - it really helped me get through the washing up on Monday and go to work with a smile! Thanks! So my question is:
I know a girl who unlike lots of 'tweenies' does not spend her days shopping, hanging out with mates or msning but her life seems to be an equal balance of delicious daydreaming, sailing away in a good book and writing wonderful stories. Perhaps this sounds familiar to you? I know she found a fellow soul in Jackie Daydreamer and your books mean a huge amount to her. The girl I am telling you about is called Aneeka. Do you have a message I can give, a fellow daydreamer, that will make her gush with delight and be rightfully proud of her thoughtful and careful reading ability, wonderful imagination and most beautiful writing skills? Thank you for your time.
Letter AJacquelineWilson: I'm glad you enjoyed my piece on Woman's Hour. I love the sound of Aneeka - she seems such a special girl. Perhaps I'll try to put an Aneeka in one of my books one day.

Letter Qtwoluvlykids: Hi Jacqueline. My DD is a very grown up 13 almost 14 yo, and feels she has outgrown your books - do you plan to write any for the 'older' reader?

Letter AJacquelineWilson: Your daughter might like to read My Secret Diary, even if it's just to raise an eyebrow at my 14-year-old self. I was very young for my age in lots of ways. But if she feels she's outgrown my books, that's fine - there's a whole wonderful world of adult literature out there.
twoluvlykids: OOOH thank you for replying - dd just looked over my shoulder and said "OH, JW on Mumsnet" and promptly looked up the name of your Grandmother (from Jacky Daydream) so maybe I'll give her My Secret Diary. (You don't look 63.)

Letter QTidey: Did you write some books about a character called Stevie Day?

Letter AJacquelineWilson: I did indeed write four books about a tomboy teenage detective called Stevie Day, though they've been out of print for many years now.
Tidey: Thank you so much for answering my question. I remember reading the Stevie Day books when I was about 12, and loved them but couldn't find any info on them on the internet. I was starting to think I'd imagined them. They should be reprinted, by the way, they were fab!

Letter QAllottwant: In Suitcase Kid, is the main character based on anyone in real life? Also my mum used to visit a children's home just like the one Tracy Beaker lives in as she was a social worker but she really doesn't like Elaine The Pain and says most social workers aren't like this!! Is Elaine based on anyone you know? Thanks, Eleanor (aged 8)
Letter AJacquelineWilson: Dear Eleanor at Allottwant, Andy in The Suitcase Kid is an invented character. However, her little lucky mascot Radish is based an old toy belonging to my daughter, Emma. I'm so sorry Elaine the Pain seems a bit of a caricature - Tracy Beaker isn't very fair to her. I know lots of social workers, and I think they do a wonderful job.

Letter Qnoonki: My stepson loved your books when he was younger but used to only read them in his bedroom because the covers were so girly. Is there anyway that the books could come out a bit more genderless. I know it should matter but unfortuately to kids it can! PS I loved The Illustrated Mum, I thought it was wonderfully insightful as to how children can love and be so angry and let down by a parent all in one.
Letter AJacquelineWilson: I'm so touched your stepson read my books in the privacy of his own room, good for him. The Illustrated Mum is my own personal favourite and I loved the TV film starring Michelle Collins.

Letter QToffeepopple: My six-year-old son just got his first ever chapter book home from school and it is one of yours (Mark Spark in the Dark). He really enjoyed it, any suggestions of which titles of yours he should tackle next? When we go our local bookshops all we seem to see are pink fairy books on all the shelves and he gets a bit disheartened.
Letter AJacquelineWilson: I'm glad your son enjoyed Mark Spark in the Dark. He might also like Mr Cool, and My Brother Bernadette. The Dinosaur's Packed Lunch is another...don't be deterred by the fairies!

Social issues in children's books

Letter QUnicorn: My daughter has read all your books and has always been a fan but finds them depressing. I know you deal with many important 'issues'. But aren't these issues too heavy for children? Does children's literature really have to reflect real life? What about escapism? Fun? You have said that as a society we expose kids to adult ideas before they are ready. Do you accept any responsibility for your part in this?
Letter AJacqueline: I appreciate your concern and I'm sad if your daughter finds my books depressing. I try very hard to make my books reassuring and even uplifting, though I agree several teenage titles could be seen as a little bleak. I have an enormous postbag from children, and over a hundred thousand members of my website send me emails. Many of these children confide their fears and worries, and frequently these are far more troubling than anything I could invent. I try hard to reassure children, and often stay up late writing postcards in response. I also hope I have a light touch in my books for younger readers and try to make the stories as lively and funny as possible. I hope I don't introduce children to 'adult' ideas before they are ready - but I suppose I can't please everybody all of the time.

Letter QSimpleAsABC: Just wanted to say that i've always been a big fan and that one of the reasons I think this may have been is the presence of real life 'issues' in the books. I'm 21 now, but can remember the day we got Vicky Angel into our secondary school library, I was there first to make sure I didn't have to wait a week for it! Well done for tackling sensitive and important issues in a way which is accessible to children and adults alike.
Letter AJacqueline: Your message means so much to me - I'm so pleased that enjoyed reading my books.

SimpleAsABC: Jacqueline, thank you for replying to my post. I was kicking myself for having not asked a direct (or any sort of, for that matter) question when I started reading the early answers. I'm made up!

Letter Qiamnotimpressed: Some of your books tackle fostering and care issues in a very understanding way. Were these issues important to you personally? By the way, our six year old is called Lola Rose!
Letter AJacqueline: I don't have any direct experience of fostering or adopting, but since writing The Story of Tracy Beaker - many years ago - I have become involved with the Fostering Network and similar organisations and met many children in these circumstances. I think Lola Rose is a great name!
iamnotimpressed: Jacqueline, thank you for answering my question about experience of fostering and adoption. As an adopted adult, you have helped me explain these issues in a child friendly way and you are an inspiration.

Letter Qbundle: My eldest daughter who's eight and a half is reading a lot about Anne Frank and I understand you're a big fan too (it's the lovely book with all the family photos and reproductions of pages of her diary in it). Last night my husband read the end of it with her and she was in tears and couldn't sleep, because of Anne's death - so I cuddled her and read the first chapter of What Katy Did (!!) to distract her. Obviously, I'll be doing more careful selection of bedtime reading tonight - but do you think that we expect too much of our children in terms of the subject matter they read about (her peers seem to be reading similar books)? We live in London, so life is a bit more complex than where I grew up in a quietish town in the north west. Other recent favourites have been Tom's Midnight Garden, lots of your books, some Roald Dahl - though I've banned dh from getting a copy of the tearjerker, Froggy's Little Brother.
Letter AJacqueline: It sounds as if you have a very sensitive and lovely daughter - though I think most eight year olds would find Anne Frank's story harrowing. It's difficult to give any guidelines about giving our children truthful information - they vary so in their responses. I think parents know best.

Letter QKingRolo: In Love Lessons you write about a relationship between a teacher and teenage student. It’s written from the girl’s perspective but it is clear that the teacher is tempted by her. As an adult reader I can see that Rax is an emotionally immature guy with a few (ahem) issues but I don't think I'd have seen it like that when I was 13. Do you think you are encouraging impressionable girls to believe that the teachers they have crushes on could really have feelings for them too? And if so, is this a good idea? Thanks! I'm looking forward to reading My Secret Diary. DD is too young for your books at the moment but I love them.
Letter AJacqueline: I appreciate your point about Love Lessons. I try to make it very clear in the book that Prudence is a very vulnerable girl and yes, Rax is in some ways intoxicated by her feelings for him - but I truly don't think it will encourage girls to believe that teachers might reciprocate their feelings. I've talked to lots of girls about Love Lessons and they certainly get engrossed in the story. Some are disappointed that Rax and Prue don't walk off into the sunset together. However, they all shriek with derisive laughter at the idea of falling in love with any of their teachers!

Letter QUnquietDad: I don't have a question, but I just want to say that DD has loved Jacqueline's books for ages, although she was unhappy with the ending of Double Trouble, to the extent that she took the time to write an "extra page" giving it a happy ending...
Letter AJacqueline: I wonder if you mean my book Double Act? I tried to give it a happy and satisfying ending, but obviously your daughter disagrees!

Letter QShitemum: Posted on behalf of: traceycpn: I'm employed by the NHS. I work on the campus on the Isle Of Bute, children (ages 5-18). My role is as a counseller. Another aspect of my job is to prevent mental illness by "normalising" stress. I feel very strongly that the books you write, help these children to normalise the trauma in their life. Nick Sharratt has visited our school in the past, a beautiful wee island, just off the West coast of Scotland. Would you please come and present a book reading of your new book to them? You are inspirational to many of these children, we would pay your expenses, the school role is approx 1,000, a great oppertunity to see a fantastic part of Scotland and be the catalyst for change in a young person's life. Kind regards, Tracey
Letter AJacqueline: Dear Tracey, it sounds as if you're doing a great job on the Isle of Bute. I know how beautiful it is - I once stayed for a week in Kilcartin (?) Bay. I wish I could come again, but I'm afraid my travelling days are largely over as I have heart failure and have to take it as easy as possible now.

Letter QBoco: I was involved with the Scope project Putting Children in the Picture, trying to get illustrators and publishers to include more disabled children in mainstream children's books, and I met you at the exhibition last year when you had some very direct and interesting suggestions from a particularly passionate 12 year old with some ideas on this subject. Do you have any plans to write a main character with a disability? How can this be encouraged in children's fiction?
Letter AJacqueline: I agree it would be great to write a book about a disabled child, and maybe I will do it one day. However, it doesn't quite work like this when you're a novelist - I have to have a character come alive in my head, desperate for me to write their story! I can't seem to write to order even if I want to.

Letter QCarriemumsnet: We're all very excited both at MN towers and in my house so thanks so much for coming to talk to us. I'm just cross I won't be able to be there at 9pm tonight. So.... A couple of questions - the books all look much the same with the great Nick Sharratt drawings but the subject matter varies widely. Have you thought of having ratings - as you might get on DVD's or at least a bit more warning about subject matter ? My daughter always has your latest book on her wishlist, and has read most of them but I wish I'd read Kiss and Love Lessons before she did, and certainly before she started readi