EAIFL: An Interview with Ian Whybrow – On Writing for ‘Little People.’

Posted on March 12, 2010


Ian Whybrow - a very obliging interviewee

Some might have grown out of the books they used to read as a child, but for others it’s harder to let go.

I managed to catch a quick chat with Ian Whybrow at the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature this evening; best-selling author of over a 100 children’s books, so well-received that they’ve been published in 27 different languages across 28 countries. Recognized as the man responsible for the much-loved The SNIFF series and Harry and the Bucketful of Dinosaurs, Whybrow resonates the youthfulness of the very audience he caters to.

After sharing with me some excerpts (quite dramatically acted out) from a few of his published stories, Whybrow very obligingly agreed to answer a few questions.

Welcome to Dubai Ian. How’s the trip been so far?

Oh, everything’s been brilliant. This is my very first visit to Dubai, and I’ve been spoilt silly. It’s great to see an event of this stature kick off in the region; this city has so much literary potential.

So what is it exactly that got you writing for children?

Here, I definitely have to give credit to Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole. It reads beautifully, and what got me thinking was when I caught the boys in my class (back when I used to teach) reading it under their desks. And boys more than girls, are far more difficult to captivate and get into the habit of reading. I consider that my mission now; to get boys to read.

How do you think, writing for adults differs from writing for children?

The thing about writing for children is that you have to be very conscious of the age group you’re targeting. The 4-6 year olds tend to be more dependent on visuals, the 7-8 year olds are only just learning to read complete books, and from 9 years and onwards they’re capable of launching off on their own.

Having said that, I’ve always claimed that my books are not specific to children alone. When writing for children you have to remember to create something that adults believe in as well; because when grown-ups read to their kids, they need to have a certain level of interest in the title for it to reflect onto their child. So in truth, when writing for children, you’re actually writing with the intention of appealing to the grown-ups as well.

Considering the many alternatives for entertainment in this day and age, would you say that getting children to read is more of a challenge to contemporary children’s authors, than to those of the past?

It definitely is very challenging to lure the young towards a good book what with all these electronic distractions. As an author I do my best, but I do believe though that’s its absolutely crucial for parents to instil in their children that love for reading. By reading to them before they go to bed, or even just giving them access to books around the house, children need to understand that this is something that’s not just restricted to school and schoolwork, but is in fact an activity that falls under the genre of fun.

Do you feel that you need to have more of an imagination when writing for children?

Honestly, I don’t quite know what imagination is really. And I personally am not a fan of ‘fiction.’ As a children’s author I might make the stories up, but at the end of the day you have to expand on something that relates to real life.

Animals for example, are the best to work with in this regard. They’re real, un-imaginary creatures, but the fact that they don’t talk or carry out regular human activities gives you the leeway to make them do just that. So, it’s basically about playing with reality enough to allow the child to make it seem feasible, but not outrageous enough to warp his/her perception of reality.

One of the more energetic of the authors I’ve met so far, but I expect that’s inevitable when you work for children. Looking forward to more one-on-ones tomorrow.

To have a look at the entire schedule or for more information on session reservations, visit the EAIFL official website: www.emirateslitfest.com

For individual reviews of the festival’s sessions, visit www.moneymunot.com,www.shaahima.wordpress.com, www.hishamwyne.wordpress.com, and www.ana-aqra2.blogspot.com