Fiona Barker – Q&A

Fiona Barker
Fiona Barker
Fiona is positively potty about picturebooks; reading them, writing them and talking about them. When writing, she longs for alliterative loveliness. When reading, she looks for the marriage of words and artwork and she loves anything that is fun to read aloud.

Fiona is especially enthusiastic about encouraging reading habits. In her 40s she studied for a PhD where she was lucky enough to study the theory behind the onset and maintenance of behaviour. This is so applicable to reading and it is lovely now to be able to combine her academic and professional enthusiasms.

She loves the outdoors and support several organisations that seek to encourage children to engage with the natural world including The Wildlife Trusts and the Marine Conservation Society. She spend a lot of time in Devon and loves the sea.

Fiona can be contacted at:
Twitter: @Fi_BGB
Instagram: @fionawritesbooks

Tell me what inspired you to write these two seasonal books?

The BIG Christmas Bake was inspired by wanting to big up twelfth night. When I was growing up my mum wanted us to save all our presents until then because the Christmas story says that’s when the three kings arrived with their gifts. But we never wanted to wait! Our concession was to save one present to open after all the decorations were put away on 6th January. I still do this now I have my own family and it’s actually the present I look forward to the most even though it’s usually something quite small. I think we are bombarded by Christmas and advent from the first of December (if not before!) and it’s easy to forget about the original twelve days of Christmas. Twelve days seemed to fit perfectly with a twelve spread picture book and the idea was born. Pippa Curnick has added so much more joy and humour through the illustrations too.

I Definitely Don’t Like Winter was inspired by a newspaper article about an academic paper showing that people who dread winter have a worse experience than people who look forward to it. My Dad hates winter and I love it but I don’t want him to be sad. He is Hank to my Hoog in the story which is why the book is dedicated to him. I just love how Christine Pym has brought these two little characters to life.

How hard was it to get your first book published?

My first book was self-published after many many rejections. So many rejections! Then I was lucky enough to get picked up by a small publisher who published my next two books (with more to follow!). By that time I had an agent and she was able to get my work seen by bigger publishers like Scholastic and Quarto. As I absolutely love Christmas and Christmas books, I feel incredibly lucky to have two out at once!

How long did it take to write?

With picture books there is usually a lot of thinking time before I put pen to paper and then even more time afterwards editing. I have a fantastic critique group who are wonderful at giving feedback and helping me refine ideas. Although the first draft can be done pretty quickly, we picture book writers tend to spend ages afterwards obsessing over single words. When you have less than 500 to play with, every word counts!

How many publishers turned you down?

I have definitely been turned down, multiple times, by every major publisher and lots of smaller ones. You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince.

What kind of reactions have you had to your book?

I know everyone says you shouldn’t read them but I’ve had some wonderful early reviews on Goodreads. I really want everyone to love these books.

What can you tell us about your next book?

My next book is a follow up to my previous one, Setsuko and the Song of the Sea (Tiny Tree CHildren’s Books, illustrated by Howard Gray). I think I’m allowed to say it’s called A Swift Return.

Would you ever consider writing outside your current genre?

I have written a teen romance and while I loved writing it, apparently nobody loved reading it so I’m sticking to picture books!

What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?

Alongside writing, I work part time as a healthcare scientist. I work with people who are dizzy.

Which author(s) inspire you?

I’m inspired by so many of the fantastic picture book writers and illustrators working today. There is so much variety in this genre. I love lyrical texts but also funny, silly books, rhyming and prose. And the variety of illustration styles is breathtaking.

What will always distract you?

I am hideously distracted by social media, especially twitter. You can see what I’m being distracted by if you follow me @Fi_BGB.

What were your favourite childhood books?

I remember with great fondness the Church Mice books by Graham Oakley, both for the humour in the text and the glorious detail in the illustrations. I still have them all. My other favourites were Whistle For Willy by Jack Ezra Keats and a rather more obscure but lyrical story called Starsound by Yevgenia Margolis. Very 1970s.

Do you have a favourite bookshop? If so, which?

So many! Particular favourites are Fourbears Books (Caversham), The Alligators Mouth (Richmond) and I really wish I lived closer to Bookbugs and Dragon Tales (Norwich) which is a phenomenal bookshop really embedded in its community.

What books can you not resist buying?

I buy A LOT of picture books.

What is your current or latest read?

I’m currently enjoying Wolves In Helicopters by Sarah Tagholm and Paddy Donnelly and The Blue Footed Booby by Rob Biddulph.

What inspired you to write the genre you do?

I’m incredibly privileged to be writing picture books and sharing them with parents and children. Picture books really are for life, not just for childhood. They plant a seed that lasts a lifetime. They’re an affordable way to own spectacular innovative artwork and they’re also unique in that they are books that are meant to be shared. That’s very special.

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