This week we talk to former BBC journalist, turned author, Bea Davenport
Q: Hi Bea Davenport, how are you doing? How was your lockdown?
Hi everyone! It’s been OK for me, to be honest: I teach journalism and creative writing at universities, so all the teaching went online. It’s been very busy, but I tried to make time to get out for walks rather than being wedged to the computer screen. I am very lucky to live beside the sea.
Q: You were a journalist for many years – what made you switch to becoming an author?
I always loved writing as a child, but I had the impression that you had to be a very special sort of person to become a published author, almost like having royal blood or something! I carried that silly idea around with me for years. So, I became a journalist, telling other people’s stories, but the itch of writing never really went away. I decided to do a creative writing course, which made me realise I could write fiction too. When I had my first book published, it was a wonderful moment.
Q: Why were you drawn to crime fiction?
It’s probably something to do with the journalism background. All writers like to see a situation and then ask: “What if…?” That’s what happened with my first novel. I worked in a small Northumberland town, where they used to hold an annual summer fair at which women put on a re-enactment of a ducking stool. I always thought this was an eccentric thing to do, and I started thinking: “What if it went horribly wrong? And what if that was on purpose?” So, that started me down the crime writing road.
Q: How have you found writing for adults versus writing for children? Is there one you prefer?
I honestly love writing for both age groups. They have very different challenges, and, in many ways, writing for children is harder because of the considerations you have to make about language, tone and content. But I usually have one novel-in-progress for adults and one for children on the go at the same time. It stops me from getting bored or getting ‘writer’s block’.
Q: You also teach journalism and creative writing to adults and young people – has your experience teaching influenced the way you write?
Absolutely! It’s a very poor teacher who doesn’t learn something from their students. And, of course, because I have to critique other people’s writing, I try to be very careful not to make the same mistakes, or students are very quick to point them out.
Q: What advice would you give to someone thinking of making a transition to becoming an author?
I’m afraid I would tell them not to give up the day job – at least at first. Only a handful of writers make enough money to write full time. But there are other reasons to stay working: it keeps you connected to the real world, and that will always be a source of inspiration. My other advice is to get writing if that’s what you want to do and don’t let anyone talk you out of it! Everyone has a story and something to say.
Q: 1 in 8 schools across Britain do not have a library – have you had experience of the educational inequality within the school system or met anyone who has?
Yes, of course. My children all went to schools where the library provision was poor. It doesn’t exactly encourage reading or a love of books, which is such a shame. Fundraising efforts often seem to put sports kit or technology ahead of library provision, and that makes me furious. I’ve done author events in schools where they have a dedicated librarian, which makes a huge difference in how excited the pupils get about reading. If I were in charge of education, all schools would have to have a librarian who would spend time championing reading.
Q: Apart from your own books of course, what book or books do you think all children in schools should be given to read?
This is so hard – because there are so many wonderful books out there. But I would recommend something that would tell any group of young people about a culture different from their own, which recommends a tolerance of others. And of course, Greta Thunberg’s No One is Too Small to Make a Difference.
Q: Ok, so final question, Bea Davenport – if all the libraries in the world were on burning and you could only save three books, what would they be and why?
This is an even harder question, if not impossible! Every writer and every reader will surely feel differently about this. But I would choose Philippa Pearce’s Tom’s Midnight Garden, which is so very wise whether you read it as a child or an adult, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. But I still feel as if I have left a thousand essential reads behind.
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