Lewes is one of my favourite places, there are always so many things to do”, says Jacqueline Wilson, when I ring about her upcoming talk at The Lewes Lit (Lewes Literary Society as was) in November. She’s looking forward to coming.
Her talk is billed for over 16s, so I ask what it will be about. Author of 111 children’s novels, Dame Jacqueline has been thinking about “mothers and the lack of a mother”, a powerful theme in her books. She tells me she’s looking forward to answering lots of questions afterwards.
We chat about her character, Tracy Beaker, who grew up in care and who’s now, she says, a lovely mum to a girl called Jess, although she still has anger issues. There’s a new Tracy Beaker story coming out in October, We are the Beaker Girls, and Jacqueline tells me that Tracy is thinking about fostering a child. The question is asked – how will daughter Jess react? While she was writing We are the Beaker Girls, Jacqueline was in touch with many girls in care, through The Fostering Network, for whom she’s an ambassador. The book is dedicated to a group of care leavers Jacqueline met through another organisation, Who Cares Scotland, who told her that they wanted Tracy Beaker to achieve more, they wanted Tracy to be aspirational to care leavers and to help reduce the stigma associated with care. “I try to make the books as realistic as possible, as positive as possible, without turning lives into a fairy tale. I hope they will be pleased with the book”, she says.
Your books don’t shy away from difficulty, I say, and Jacqueline agrees: “Children like to know about the hard stuff; trusted adults might let them down, but things can still work out. This can work positively for children who have had a rough time and for those who, through stories, gain an awareness of what others go through”. Children send her emails and tell her that her books have made them feel better about themselves. “The lovely thing about reading”, she says, “is that through books you can be not so alone in your emotions and that can be comforting”.
Our conversation turns to illustration. Jacqueline’s books are lovingly illustrated by Nick Sharratt. As a child, Jacqueline always loved black-and-white illustrations and grieved that, once past the picture book stage, they disappeared. So, when she started writing the first Tracy Beaker, she asked her editor for illustrations to help break up the text and was introduced to Nick. “He’s the first person I send a finished book to”, she says, and she suspects, “he can see inside my head!” Jacqueline tells me she writes her first drafts in PJs, in bed. 1,000 or so words a day, seven days a week and she can’t stop writing because it is, and has been, her life since she was 17. Generations of children are thankful.
The Lewes Lit, November 12th, 7.30 for 8pm. lewesliterarysociety.co.uk