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Interview with Sally Gardner

Writers & Artists talk to Sally Gardner about the writing process, finding inspiration and the benefits of short chapters.

Sally on finding inspiration to write

 I think I was always born with a head full of stories and I - my first conscious memory is telling a story and loving a story and being involved in a story. I remember being incredibly disappointed when I was told about the jumble sale and I thought it was a jumbo sale and they were actually going to bring in elephants into the village that we lived in, and that they would all be in the town hall waiting. So I have a sort of rather crazy mind that an really bring a story to fruition in a very real way in my head.

Why short chapters?

Well, when I was really young I couldn't read or write very well and parents have this terrible habit of going 'How many chapters darling?' And you haven't read past the beginning paragraph and you feel really defeated. So I wanted to do a really short book where the child could actually before the mother's even bought it, go 'Yeah I've read 5 chapters,' and she hasn't even paid for it. I really like that idea of that sort of freedom. 

The common denominator to all stories

I think you have to know your audience. When I write for small children, I'm very much a small person writing for small children. When I write for YA, I'm very much on the side of a young adult. I'm rebellious like a young adult, I want to swear for them. I'm not on the side of their parents, I'm on the side of them. I want to give them a view that's safe for them. I want to take their borders as far as they can go, leave doors where they might go further. 

Bad habits 

I'm not very keen on 'likes' or 'as ifs'. I thought that actually what they're doing, it's saying to you on the first sentence - this first person is like. And you're reading that thinking this book is nearly 600 pages long, can I face all the likes they're going to have? Did I think that first like was like a like I would think it was like? I think it takes you out of the story and away from the story. Writing becomes more powerful without them and when you use them, nobody notices because you've hardly used them at all.

Watch the full interview with Sally below. 


Sally Gardner is an award-winning novelist from London. Her books have been translated into 22 languages and have sold more than one million copies in the UK. Her historical novel I, Coriander, won the Smarties Children's Book Prize in 2005 and two thrillers, The Red Necklace and The Silver Blade, were shortlisted for the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize in 2009. Sally Gardner's stories for middle readers include Lucy Willow and the popular Magical Children series of six titles which are also available as audio books. She has also written and illustrated picture books.

Sally Gardner spoke at our Pace & Plot masterclass in association with Book Aid international. Take a look at the rest of our upcoming events here