It's not every day that you get to interview an award winning author who has eaten a tarantula! Katherine Rundell has been nominated for the Children's Book of the Year, which is an award hosted by the Federation of the Children's Book Group and sponsored by BookLife Publishing. We wanted to find out what inspired her to write such a compelling book and which authors inspired her to become a writer to begin with.
Why did you choose to become an author?
I can't remember a time when I didn't want to be a writer - it always seemed to me that by writing stories you could live a hundred different lives, and go on a thousand different adventures, all without getting out of your chair. And I loved the idea that you could make a living from dreaming things up (I was a big day dreamer, mostly during geography lessons) and writing them down.
At what age did you start writing? Have you always loved writing stories?
I've been writing stories ever since I could hold a pen - the early ones didn't have much in the way of plot, but what they lacked in story line they made up for in painfully detailed descriptions of horses.
Please give us a brief description of your book which has been shortlisted for this year’s Children’s book awards.
The Explorer is about four children who crash land in the Amazon rain forest, and have to survive on their own - until they find a map, which shows them someone was there before. They follow the map down the river to a ruined city, where they find a man, called The Explorer, who has a pet vulture and a secret.
What inspired you to write this book?
A few years ago I went to the Manaus, in Brazil, and from there took a boat down the tributaries of the Amazon river. I learned how to catch piranhas and tarantulas, and how to find edible grubs, and I swam with pink wild river dolphins - and I wanted to put the huge, wild beauty of the place into a book.
Where do your ideas for new books come from?
From so many places! From journeys, from dreams, from other books, from conversations with people I love, from films - ideas sometimes come at you stealthily, like cats, and sometimes like a man with a loudhailer and a gun.
What does it mean to you to know that your book was voted for by so many children for this year’s award?
It means so immensely much to me. This award is voted for by the people for whom I wrote the book - by children - and the thought that enough children enjoyed it and voted for it to be shortlisted gives me shivers in my fingertips when I think of it.
Which books or authors have inspired you throughout your life and who are your favourite authors now?
I have so many favourite authors that if I listed them we'd all lose the will to live - but some of them are: Diana Wynne Jones, Ursula Le Guinn, Philip Pullman, Roald Dahl, E Nesbit, Eva Ibbotsen, Jacqueline Wilson, and Frank Cottrell Boyce. For adult books, I love Jane Austen and Nabakov and Hilary Mantel and John Donne, who was, I think, the greatest poet ever to live.
Where and when do you choose to write your books?
I travel quite a lot, and recently I've been making a TV documentary, so I've learned how to write in stolen snatches - if I don't have long enough for proper writing, then wrangling a plot problem, even if it means making single-word notes on the inside of my wrist in ballpoint pen.
If you were to offer a child who likes to write stories a piece of advice – what would it be?
I would say, read, which is very obvious advice: but read everything, including things you think you won't enjoy - read things you think are too difficult and things you think are too easy, read picture books and philosophy and novels written hundreds of years ago and novels that are just out today. It will teach you how language has a peculiar life of its own, and teach you how to work with language to make it do what you need it to.
Want to buy The Explorer by Katherine Rundell?
Buy your copy here
Katherine Rundell's The Explorer videos
See Katherine introduce her book The Explorer (published by Bloomsbury) and why she ate a real tarantula!