This week we talk to children’s author, cookery writer and journalist, Joanne O’Connell
Q: Hi, Joanne O’Connell, how are you doing? What are you looking forward to this year?
I’m very well, thanks, and I hope you are too. I think, like most people, I am really looking forward to spending time with family and friends after the lockdowns. I can’t wait to see everyone again! Work-wise, I’ve got lots of projects on, and I’m excited to do some in-real-life events for my debut children’s novel, Beauty and the Bin.
Q: Beauty and the Bin is a story for older readers. It’s about Laurie, who uses her struggles with her eco-warrior family to develop her own ‘green’ identity and improve her relationship with her peers. Would you say the book is primarily a coming-of-age tale?
Yes, I think so. I wanted to write about that tug between family and friends and how awkward it can feel when you’re young and you’re just trying to find out who you are.
Q: Your career is an interesting blend of being a journalist, presenter, copywriter, speaker and author. There appears to be something of you in Laurie’s character, with you both creating your own skincare products. Is this autobiographical device something you would consider again when you write fiction, seeing as you have such varied experience?
Thanks. I do like having different things to do. And I do love making skincare products! When I was a child, I used to shake jam jars of rose petals and water to make perfume and mash strawberries into face packs, and I’ve never really stopped. And because I find it so much fun, it felt natural to write about a girl who loves making cosmetics too. Hmm, there might be something in what you’re saying, now I think about it because, in my next book, Binderella (July 2022), the main character avoids fast fashion, but she absolutely loves clothes, so she finds cool, eco ways to dress, and I try and do that too.
Q: You have been cited as a new Jacqueline Wilson, which is undoubtedly a comparison worth having. Do you see yourself in that vein; as a writer who will continue to focus on issues that affect young people?
Wow! Thanks for saying that. I’m not sure I’ll ever earn that comparison, though – Jacqueline Wilson is a legend! On the subject of issues, I don’t think I will focus on them as such. However, this is such a crucial time for the climate; I’d find it hard not to include it when writing for children and teens.
Q: A lot of your work, both as a journalist and a copywriter, is about living and eating sustainably. Is that just where you found yourself early in your career or was it always your ambition?
It wasn’t always my ambition, but I’m happy that it’s worked out like this. I grew up in a vegetarian, eco-conscious family, so I was aware of climate issues from a young age. It was only really when I was writing a column for The Guardian about not shopping at supermarkets and testing out recipes for my book The Homemade Vegan (molasses flapjack anyone?) I began to think about all of this from a child’s perspective.
As an adult, I believe in finding ways to eat that are better for the climate. But what about when you’re at school? As a healthy eating veggie kid in the 1970s/80s, I remember being the kid with raisins when my friends had wrapped chocolate biscuits! That’s when I had the idea for a girl called Laurie Larksie, the main character in Beauty and the Bin. I loved weaving in what I’d learned from journalism and then letting the story grow.
Q: The Homemade Vegan cookbook of 1970s recipes is certainly a book we would expect from you, Joanne. Is it fair to say that your work empowers people to look after themselves, and that’s the message you take into schools when you teach cookery classes?
I’ve actually not done any classes for a while – that would be good to get back to! But yes, I love cooking and passing on that joy and skill to children. Being able to cook – no matter how simple the meal – is a life super-skill. I wish there were more emphasis on cooking in schools, right up until the end of education.
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?
Absolutely – I was aware of the inequalities as a child, but I feel it’s getting even worse, which is deeply worrying. Not all children can access books at home, which is why libraries and librarians in schools are essential. I’m hoping that initiatives like Cressida Cowell’s Life-changing Libraries campaign and Books2All really change things.
Q: What book or books do you think all children in schools should be given to read?
A brilliant range of inclusive books, with diverse voices, so all children can see themselves and relate to books, is essential. I also really believe in a wide range of reading material – I’d definitely include comic strip books and magazines so everyone can find something they want to read. On a personal level, I love funny books for children. Shelves of comedy would be great!
Q: Ok, so the final question, Joanne O’Connell – if all the libraries in the world were burning and you could only save three books, what would they be and why?
This is a tricky one. It’s totally impossible to say what the three best books would be if I were choosing for everyone (not my place! though I’d probably grab No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg). However, supposing I was only choosing for myself, I’d take Archer’s Goon by Diana Wynne Jones because it’s such a funny, clever way of looking at power. Sense and Sensibility, my favourite Jane Austen. And the last one would probably be a cookbook, so everyone would still be able to eat well!
Thank you for visiting our blog. Our vision here at Books2All is a world where every child finds the books that help them reach their true potential. If you have spare books in good condition at home that you think might be appropriate for school children, please sign up for our app’s pre-release waiting list. If you represent a school, please register to receive books for your students.