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:
Website: https://fionabarker.co.uk/
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.


If you want to help and support this blog you could become a Patreon which would help pay for my hosting, domain names, streaming services, and the occasional bag of popcorn to eat while watching films.

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The Snow Spider

Jenny Nimmo. HarperCollins. (192p) ISBN 9781405281775

The Snow Spider

The Snow Spider

It is on Gwyn’s ninth birthday when his Grandmother gives him an assortment of strange objects and tells him he could be a magician. It was on Gwyn’s fifth birthday when his sister, Bethan, went missing. For those four years his father has blamed Gwyn for Bethan’s disappearance, but so has Gwyn.

Jenny Nimmo’s classic, The Snow Spider, was re-released on it’s 30th anniversary with a lovely new cover by Daniela Terrazzini, before this edition I hadn’t known of this book, which is a great shame as I could have loved it for over 30 years rather than one.

Jenny’s writing is tight and well paced, her characters are so believable that you emotionally invest in their world from the beginning of the story.

Gwyn is sceptical of his Grandmother’s claims that he could be the descendent of the famous magician; Math, Lord of Gwynedd, Gwydion and Gilfraethwy; well you would be wouldn’t you?

But as the story unfolds, we see what he could become and the dangers that could be involved in this.

Literally magical, Jenny developed a wonderful world with wonderful characters and gave me a book that I love, making it one of the best sellers in our shop.


If you want to help and support this blog you could become a Patreon which would help pay for my hosting, domain names, streaming services, and the occasional bag of popcorn to eat while watching films.

If you can’t support with a monthly subscription a tip at my Ko-Fi is always appreciated, as is buying things from my Ko-Fi Shop.

You can always email me on contact@bigbeardedbookseller.com with any suggestions.

Sky Song

Abi Elphinstone. Simon & Schuster. (288p) ISBN 9781471146077

Sky Song

Sky Song

Sky Song started as if it was a children’s classic, with an evil Ice Queen corrupting what used to be good and fair and after the first chapter I was hooked.

It concerns the quest of Eska and Flint, with various other companions, to fight the Ice Queen and restore balance to the land and free the prisoners of the Ice Queen.

The pace was excellent and helped me keep going through the book, always wanting to know what was going to happen next to these characters.

It was another wonderful touch that all the adults were prisoners and it was up to children to not only save the world but more importantly to keep the world running.

The magic in the world was subtle, but powerful and developed well from a beginning where it isn’t trusted to where it becomes so important and an integral part of the world once more.

There were touches of Philip Pullman in here, and touches of old fairy tales, but overall it is a beautifully described world with an exciting adventure.


If you want to help and support this blog you could become a Patreon which would help pay for my hosting, domain names, streaming services, and the occasional bag of popcorn to eat while watching films.

If you can’t support with a monthly subscription a tip at my Ko-Fi is always appreciated, as is buying things from my Ko-Fi Shop.

You can always email me on contact@bigbeardedbookseller.com with any suggestions.

The Way Past Winter

Kiran Millwood Hargrave. Chicken House. (256p) ISBN 9781912626076

The Way Past Winter

The Way Past Winter

In an everlasting winter, sisters Mila and Pipa set out in search for their brother Oskar. Mila is certain that he didn’t accompany the stranger of his own accord, that he didn’t leave like their father did. Her other sister, Sanna feels that he has abandoned them as their father did.

I loved The Way Past Winter from the start where the beginning of winter is described, the relationships between the siblings clearly set out in chapter 2, the bleakness of the landscape, and the magical feel throughout.

There is a smattering of Norse-flavour throughout, but not the Vikings of the north but the people who lived there and their daily lives.

The story is tight and well-written, as we’ve come to expect from Kiran Millwood Hargrave, and travels at a good pace, not over-fast but keeping you on the edge of your seat making it impossible to put the book down (had to do it once to make dinner – adulting is so boring) until you’ve reached the conclusion.

The illustrations and cover art by Helen Crawford-White make a beautiful enhancement to an already beautiful book, really looking forward to the finished product.

This is such a treat and will be another winter classic along the lines of Snow Spider, The Snow Queen, and Sky Song.


If you want to help and support this blog you could become a Patreon which would help pay for my hosting, domain names, streaming services, and the occasional bag of popcorn to eat while watching films.

If you can’t support with a monthly subscription a tip at my Ko-Fi is always appreciated, as is buying things from my Ko-Fi Shop.

You can always email me on contact@bigbeardedbookseller.com with any suggestions.