An interview with Ronda
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Did you always want to be a writer?
When I was eight, I wanted to be a bare back rider or a cowboy/girl and a few years later I decided I’d be a nurse. It didn’t occur to me that I could be a writer until I was much older and had children. In the years when I went to school we didn’t write stories, we wrote compositions such as ‘How to Boil an Egg’ or ‘How to make a Cup of Tea’.
Sometimes when my cousin Belinda came to stay in the holidays we would write stories together. We’d put a sign on the door saying ‘Authors at Work. Do not Disturb.’ This made my younger sister Tessa very cross because she couldn’t join in.
But I have always loved reading, all sorts of books. My mum says I read my first books while I sat on the potty.
My first job was teaching younger children so together we read lots of picture books. They are some of my favourite books even now. If you visit our local library, you may find me sitting on one of the small chairs reading picture books. When I married David, who is an illustrator and a painter, I had someone who loved drawing. It was he who said, ‘If you write a story I’ll do the illustrations’. So I did.
Do you like writing?
Most of the time I love writing. It is such fun making up stories, playing pretend. But it also makes me cross when I get stuck, when I can’t get the best beginning or a good ending. I do many drafts of my stories because they are usually too long. I spend a lot of time changing sentences or even just words.
What was your first book?
‘The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch’ (1977) was the first book that I wrote and the first book published. David had previously created illustrations for other people’s books.
He used to illustrate all my books, all of which I love, but now I have several other wonderful illustrators and David does more painting.
Where do you get your ideas from?
Ideas come from lots of places: from things you see, places you visit, adventures you’d like to have, people’s conversation, sometimes little bits from other books. There are stories lurking everywhere. Keep listening for them and watching for them. Sometimes they just pop into your head. It’s a good idea to carry a notebook with you so when ideas drop in you can write them down in case they drop out of your head again.
The idea for ‘The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch’ came from a question our son Joss asked, many years ago, probably when your Mums and Dads were at school.
David and I had taken he and Kate down to look at a lighthouse near us. We were standing on the cliffs when Joss noticed a wire running from the cliff down to the lighthouse.
‘What’s that wire for?’ he asked.
It was probably a wire taking electricity down to the lighthouse so the light would shine brightly out to sea every night but David didn’t say that.
‘Joss,’ he said, ‘I expect that’s for the lighthouse keeper’s lunch.’
DAVID TOLD A LIE!! Well, it was a sort of a lie but you could also say he was making up a story. Now that day I was wearing my ‘best listening ears,’ - I’m sure you’ve got some too. I was listening for stories.
‘What a good idea!’ I thought. ‘That’s what I could write a story about, a lighthouse keeper who gets his lunch in a basket down a wire.’
Other ideas? Several years later I wrote a story called ‘The Bossing of Josie.’ It was my daughter Kate who gave me the idea this time. She loved dressing up as a witch just as Josie does in the book.
The idea for ‘A New Home for a Pirate’ popped into my head one day because I was on a boat feeling seasick. I thought how horrible it would be if you were a pirate and you felt seasick every day.
Have you ever lived in a lighthouse?
No. But when I was twelve my parents bought a farm very near the sea. From my bed at night I could see a lighthouse on an island flashing its light. I have visited several lighthouses and I stayed for a night in one called Rua Rheidh in Scotland. It is still a working lighthouse so I was very excited to see the light flashing.
Where did the name Mr. Grinling come from?
Several hundreds of years ago there was a man called Grinling Gibbons who was a wood carver. We liked the sound of ‘Grinling’ so we borrowed his name.
Do you have a cat called Hamish?
We once had a cat called Hamish. He wasn’t with us when we created ’The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch’. He arrived at the back door just after we’d finished the book. Joss and Kate were delighted because we didn’t have any pets but of course we had to make sure he didn’t belong to anyone.
We discovered that he’d lived a mile or so away but one day he had eaten all the cream and icing on a child’s birthday cake. The family were so cross they threw him out. Not a very nice thing to do. He looked exactly like the Hamish in the book so we called him Hamish. We looked after him for about 14 years. He was a fierce cat. He chased all animals out of our garden and he never stopped leaping onto the bench and stealing food. Now we have a cat called Trev who also steals food but he is not as fierce as Hamish.
What was your favourite book when you were a child?
When I was about four my Mum read me ‘Horton the Elephant Hatches an Egg’ by Doctor Seuss. I loved it so much that apparently I knew it off by heart, almost. It’s still in print so you might be able to read it too.
What’s the favourite book you have written?
Whatever book I am writing is my favourite because it fills up my head. Although I can’t draw well enough to be an illustrator, my head is always full of pictures of the characters and places I’m writing about. Of the Lighthouse Keeper books, I probably like ‘The Lighthouse Keeper’s Catastrophe’ best and I am very fond of ‘Small Knight and George’.
I also like my latest book, A Mighty Bitey Creature. It was great fun to write and I think the illustrations by Nikki Dyson fit the story perfectly.
How many books have you written?
About 33 books so far. Most of them have been picture books but I have written several non-fiction books for older students.
Do you have a special place to write?
I have a study in the house. It is long, narrow and painted pink which is not my favourite colour. I write on a computer and out of the window I can see the garden and the woodland full of oak and ash trees. But much of the writing happens in my head. I usually have an idea of what I want to write before I put it down on paper, although quite often the story changes as I write it.
Payment: We do get paid for the books; writing is a job like being a teacher. We are paid royalties twice a year. The money we get depends on how many books have been sold.