Young Citizen reporters: Jilly Cooper Q&A
Citizen Young reporters Annie Whittemore and Catherine Cooper interview author Jilly Cooper:
Q: Did you enjoy visiting libraries as a child?
A: Libraries to me were like Aladdin's Cave or houses of heaven. I will never forget after the war, when we moved back to Yorkshire, at the age of eight going into a library for the first time at Ilkley and seeing these wonderful books rising to a very high ceiling and all kinds of wonderful subjects which would take me on a magic carpet all over the world. The added miracle was I could take them home and devour them and then bring them back and get four more a few days later so I practically read the library dry, it was so wonderful.
Q: What were your favourite books when you were a child and teenager?
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A: I had so many. The Secret Garden, Orlando the Marmalade Cat, The Princess and Curdie and The Princess and the Goblin by George Macdonald, The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. I had a passion for Enid Blyton, she was a wonderful storyteller and I loved the Beatrix Potter books, particularly The Tale of Samuel Whiskers and The Tailor of Gloucester. I particularly liked books with naughty heroes.
My favourite authors when I was a teenager were: Nancy Mitford, Anthony Powell, Barbara Pym, Georgette Heyer, I simply adored her historical novels.
One of my favourite books given me when I went off to boarding school at 11 was The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge.
I read poetry constantly too. That is one of my great pleasures in life.
The Government is planning to make pupils learn more poetry at school and it is something that will sustain you always. It is such a comfort, if you are sad in love, to find Shakespeare or Keats years ago felt exactly the same as you do.
Q: Why do you think is so important to keep Gloucestershire's libraries open?
Q: It is the most important thing in all the world to keep Gloucestershire libraries open. There is a wonderful quote by a poet called Sir Sacheverall Sitwell which goes: "The birds sing on the trees for rich and poor." Our libraries provide comfort, inspiration, excitement and knowledge for rich and poor too.
Q: How do you feel about developing technologies such as e-readers like the 'Kindle' and their effect on libraries?
Q: I feel there is nothing more beautiful than a hard cover book, second best is a paperback but we have about 15-20,000 books in our house and they give me constant pleasure just to look at them and although I have not read them all, I just think they are my friends round me. But I do think ebooks and kindles are a good thing, although I have not acquired one yet but they do enable people to have access to books far more cheaply. On the other hand I hope this will mean enough money to support authors.
Q: When did you discover your talent for creative writing and how old were you when you started writing?
A: When I was young I was mad about horses, I was always writing pony books with names like The Warrens in which I was a rather poor girl who somehow acquired a rather naughty pony in the first chapter and I always ended up in the last chapter by winning every rosette in the local gymkhana and being praised by the Colonel who ran the pony club. I also wrote a play which I sent to Women's Own, I was 14. They wrote a very nice letter back saying they didn't publish plays but they enjoyed reading it.
Q: Do you model any of your characters on people who you know or find inspiring?
A: Every character in every book has been modelled on some aspect of someone. I think writers are like jackdaws. They go around listening for funny or poignant remarks, or studying the way somebody's hair grows so they can put into a book.
Q: What advice would you give to someone hoping to become a novelist?
A: Oh goodness how long have you got? Keep a diary. Get a fat notebook with a hard cover and write down every time anything interesting happens to you. Don't bother to write every day, just when something is important. This is because when you are 14, you won't always remember what it was like to be 13 and certainly when you are 21 you won't remember even more so. When later you want to introduce characters into a book who are 13 or 14 or 21, you can look back in your diary and build a character from that.
Also note the changing seasons, now, for example, that the trees are a very lush green from the rain and elder trees are out in white blossom and roses are coming out in the garden. If you note down things when you write your book and you want to set a chapter in June, you can go back to your diary and check. I find invariably I am writing about a heatwave in the middle of winter, so I just look back to heatwaves in previous years.
Q: How did you get published?
A: I was very lucky. In 1968 I met the editor of The Sunday Times colour magazine at a party and talked to him about being a young wife. He laughed a lot and commissioned a piece in the magazine. It was pretty revolutionary and after that I was offered nine jobs including a column in The Sunday Times. A publisher friend also rang up and asked if I would like to write a book called How to Stay Married. Back in 1969 and I had only been married seven years but I was so thrilled to be asked to write a book I said yes immediately and did. It has just been re-printed. I cringe about some of the things I said, but comfortingly I don't think I have ever been rejected by a publisher. I have been very, very lucky.
Q: What are your most prized possessions? Do they relate to your love of writing?
A: Among my most prized possessions is my lovely black cat Feral. He was a wild cat who lived in the woods and it took me two years to tame him. I also have two divine black greyhounds, Feather and Bluebell.
My other prize possession is a copy of The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter which is the most wonderful story and I would love, if you have a moment, for someone to read it out to you in class because it is an object lesson in good writing.
Q: What, in your opinion is the most important issue facing authors and literature today?
Q: To keep people reading, particularly local newspapers, which are the guardians of our democracy.
â Annie Whittemore, is 15 and at High School for Girls in Gloucester. She enjoys hockey, rehearsing for plays or reading.
Catherine Cooper, 14, is also at High School for Girls and enjoys running, dancing and playing the piano.