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Frequently Asked Questions - Julia Donaldson

Q When did you decide to be a writer?water stones logo black and white

A For my fifth birthday, my father gave me a very fat book called The Book of a Thousand Poems. I loved it. I read the poems, recited them, learnt them, and then started making up some of my own. Although I wanted to be a poet all those years ago, I later decided I would rather go on the stage. That didn't quite work out, so I did other jobs – teaching and publishing. But somehow I've ended up doing what I wanted to do when I was five years old. I have a theory that this happens to quite a lot of people.

Q When did you start to write books?

A In 1993, when one of my songs, A Squash and a Squeeze, was made into a book. Before that I just wrote songs for children’s television.

Q Where do you get your ideas?

A Anywhere and everywhere: things that happen to my children; memories of my own childhood; things people say; places I go to; old folk tales and fairy stories. The hard part for me is not getting the idea; it is turning it into a story with a beginning, a middle and an end.

Q How long does it take to write a book?

A It can take months or years for the idea to grow in my head and for me to plan the book. This is a very important part. Then, when I am ready it could take anything between a week (for a picture book) and six months (for a chapter book) to write it. For The Gruffalo, the ideas and planning stage lasted a year (obviously I was doing other things, too!) and the actual writing took about two weeks.

Q Do you write with a pencil?

A When I’m writing a rhyming book, I start off with a pencil or pen, writing in a big exercise book and doing lots of doodles along the way. If the book isn't going to rhyme I often write it on the computer.

Q Where do you write?

A In my head when I'm in the bath or out for a walk. (I do have my own study, too, and sometimes I write on trains or in the library.)

Q How do you find an illustrator?

A The publisher knows lots of illustrators and they choose the one which they think would suit my words best. (They usually ask me first if I like the illustrator’s work.)

Q Where did the inspiration for The Gruffalo come from?

A The book was going to be about a tiger but I couldn't get anything to rhyme with tiger. Then I thought up the lines: "Silly old Fox, doesn’t he know/There’s no such thing as a..." and somehow the word "gruffalo" came to mind to fill the gap. The gruffalo looks the way he does because various things that just happened to rhyme (like toes and nose, and black and back)

Q Do you and Axel Scheffler work closely together on your picture books?

A No. I don’t breathe down his neck and he doesn't breathe down mine! (In any case, I live in Glasgow and he's in London!) I write a story and send it to the publisher. Then the publisher sends it to Axel to illustrate. I do get to make comments on his rough sketches but try not to interfere too much – and anyway, I wouldn't want to as they're always so funny and brilliant.

Q Do you like being an author?

A I find the actual writing quite hard work. I often get stuck, or feel that I'm plodding along in an uninspired way. But when I realise that a story is working after all it's a very exciting feeling – and I love doing all the polishing touches at the end (or "tweaking" as publishers call it). It's lovely when the first rough illustrations arrive and I see how my characters are going to look.

Q How many books have you written?

A It's a bit complicated! I have written 146 books, of which 141 have so far been published. Out of those 141, 44 can be bought in the shops, and the other 87 are for schools. (The remaining 5 books will come out during the next two years.)

Q Which one of your books is your favourite?

A It keeps changing. At the moment I have two: The Snail and the Whale for younger children and The Giants and the Joneses for older ones.

Q What is your favourite book (not by you)?

A One of my favourites is Watership Down by Richard Adams, an exciting story about rabbits.

Q What are your hobbies?

A Walking, cycling, playing the piano, singing. I'm also interested in wild flowers and fungi.

Q Do you have any pets?

A I have three cats. Campsie is female, and Gizmo and Goblin are her big tough sons. Their favourite hobby is going in the garden, getting their paws muddy and then walking all over whatever I have just been writing.  

Last updated: over 3 years ago