November’s Writer of the Month is Bridget Blankley who won the 2016 Commonword Diversity Writing for Children Prize. When we interviewed her, she told us about her writing and her winning entry The Ghosts and Jamal.
Can you tell us about yourself as a writer. When did you start?
I only started writing about two years ago when I signed up for a lifelong learning course at the local college. I really enjoyed it so signed up for another, then another. I really enjoyed them and eventually, after a lot of encouragement from one of the tutors, James Cole, applied to Southampton and I started an MA there two weeks ago. I feel that I shouldn’t really be there as most of the other students have degrees in English and I trained as an engineer; also they are much more used to studying; most of them are younger than my children! But they’ve made me very welcome, and this prize has been a great confidence boost.
However I come from a story-telling family. My mother used to tell us bedtime stories, (she left the story reading to my dad) and I used to make up stories with my children when they were young. I guess writing the stories down is just the next step.
The Ghosts and Jamal, won the prize this year. We’d all love to know what inspired it?
It was a mixture of things that all came together. The first line just came to me when I was watching a news report from Syria. The reported was “doing his piece to camera” and in the background was a small boy, and he just looked so confused. I can’t remember the news item but that little boys face stayed in my head, so this story is for him really. At about the same time I was helping my Mum to sort out old photos. We were sitting in her room and she kept handing me pictures and saying “you remember this” and “your Dad had to carry you when we went there” or “your brother wandered off just after we took this” so suddenly I was back in Nigeria. So Jamal just had to live in northern Nigeria, (although I never actually say so) it made it much easier to write because I could picture the places that I was writing about.
You’ve only started writing recently (2 years), how is the process of writing for you?
I like to write with a particular child in mind. I helps me if I can hear their voice in my head and think about what they would say to the characters. Also I like to write the last paragraph straight away. I don’t always keep it but it gives me something to aim for when I am working out the plot.
Where can we find your work?
I’m really new to writing fiction so, other than the smaller children in my family who have all had stories from me. I’m afraid that this is my first real attempt at writing. Maybe if my great nephew will let me share the story that I’m writing for him at the moment I ought to start a blog and get feedback on it. (Although Daniel is very quick to tell me if he wants the story to go in a different direction!)
Do you have any advice for new writers?
This is quite difficult as I feel like a new writer myself. But I would definitely recommend going along to a creative writing group or evening class. The feedback from other learners really helps you to know what works and what doesn’t.
I would also say listen to children, I’m not suggesting that you need to copy their exact words. That can be difficult because language changes so quickly so your work can sound dated. It is more about listening to the sort of things they talk about when they are talking to each other; which is normally very different to what they talk about when they think an adult is about.
Finally just have a go. You can always change it, or re-write it, or even throw it away, but you writing will only get better once you start to write.
Can you sum up what writing means to you?
For me it’s a way to relax (and an excuse to ignore the house-work a couple of hours each day) There’s also the added, very selfish, bonus of seeing one of the children really lost in a story that you’ve made up.