Alison Prince
       

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About me

 

How did I become a writer? By accident, I suppose, as a result of being seriously bored at school except in English and Art. But first, a brief look at whatever’s going on at the moment.

  
Alison Prince and grand-daughter
I'm the one on the left!
Forbidden Soldier is now in the shops. It's the story of Hannah, whose father is a fierce Puritan. It's 1647, the time of the second English Civil War, when the country was divided between supporters of  King Charles and those who wanted to see England ruled by a democratic parliament. Hannah never meant to fall in love with  Matthew, whom she found beside her after she'd been knocked out by a bolting horse. The war had seemed a remote thing until then, but when Matthew went away to fight for the King, it reached out long fingers to touch her.

The next publication will be The Lost King on April 24th. It's an entirely new take on Richard III, whose bones were found last year under a Leicester car park. Was he really the villain that Shakespeare painted in his play? There is a lot of evidence to show that for all these years, we have believed the version put about by Henry VII,  who killed Richard at Bosworth Field. Have we been duped by the Tudor spin doctors? After months of very careful research, I believe we have. You'll have to wait until April to see exactly why, but then, seen through the eyes of Lisa, nursemaid to the Princes in the Tower, you will be into one of the most important splits of opinion in the whole of England's history.

Beginnings

I’d always thought I was going to be an artist, due largely to the fact that the Art Room in my very formal Girls’ Grammar School was the only place where any self-expression was permitted. So, ignoring all entreaties to try for Oxford, I won a scholarship to the Slade School, which is the Fine Art department of London University. They taught me to draw, by pointing a stern finger at work in progress and asking, “What is the purpose of that line?” It was a tough approach, but it taught me to see as well as to draw, and that has been immensely useful in writing. I still ‘see’ things happening first, and write about them afterwards.

The Slade did not teach anyone how to get a job. For a couple of years I worked at the Penguin Bar at London Zoo, gilded frames that were afterwards faked up to look antique and sold to famous galleries, and did window displays for a manufacturer of blotting paper. (Yes, people still used ink.) I’d sworn never to set foot in a school again, but teachers earned eight pounds a week and I was only earning four, so I gave in and did a post-graduate teaching course at Goldsmiths College. That went rather well, and I got a job as Head of Art at the newly-formed Elliott Comprehensive School in Putney – and loved it. Teaching still fascinates me, and I’m deeply grieved to see how it has been brought low by the government’s obsession with making the success statistics look right. (More about that on the Talks page.)

Rather recklessly, I married the PE master at the Elliott and had three children in five years, which stopped the teaching career. However, it started a lot of journalism, as I turned my hand to writing art reviews and features, and managed to lever one or two stories into anthologies. We were constantly broke, largely because my husband was having a merry affair with the whisky bottle and various expensive ladies. I needed a miracle.

Then I met Joan Hickson, with two pairs of very young twins, in a park. Joan was an ex-theatre designer whose husband had fled at the sight of the second pair of twins, and we instantly agreed that we needed to do something to make some money. I wrote a story about a small boy who lived in a transport café, and through a weird series of interested people, bankruptcies and luck, it fetched up as a Watch With Mother series called JOE. It’s just been rediscovered after 40 years, and people are excited about it, since it is now a relic of the classic age of children’s TV. There’s more about all that on the Trumpton page, named for the series that came later. JOE plunged me into seven years of writing for children’s comics, and an appearance on Jackanory led to the publication of my first book. I’ve been writing them ever since.

At this point someone usually says, Do you like writing? And since that leads to the other FAQs, here are some of the answers.

Yes, I like writing. ‘Like’ is the wrong word. Writing is my reason for living. I wake up in the morning thinking about what I’m going to tackle in the current book, and go to sleep dreaming about it. Writing is like playing an endless, fascinating game, and I can’t imagine what I’d do without it.

Is it easy?
No! It’s the hardest thing I know. There are times when I’m in a state of desperation when an idea won’t come right. The trick is to have such a lot of work on, if one thing is sticky, you can always turn to another. Stress? Well, yes, but you need a bit of stress to keep things interesting. Because of it, you have to keep fit, and get enough sleep. Writing is mental athletics, and just as demanding as the physical sort.

Where do your ideas come from?
I’m on the lookout for them all the time. Anything can trigger a story – a scrap of conversation overheard, an item in a newspaper, a sudden memory. Most of all, it’s your own daydreams. And don’t tell me daydreams are not work, because they are enormously important and need to be treated with respect. Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge” and he was absolutely right. With the Internet within finger-reach, we have all the data in the world, but what it sparks off in your own mind is down to the quality of your day-dreaming.

Do you work on a computer?
Yes. It’s a wonderfully useful tool – but it can’t help with the early stages. I note down ideas on whatever bit of paper is handy, and keep it all in a folder, together with clippings from newspapers, letters, pictures and things I’ve read. In time, this compost starts to grow ideas, and when they are strong enough, they can be planted out, so to speak, in a computer file. After that, they can be grown on to maturity.

Any tips?
If you are thinking of a story about something in your own experience, turn yourself into someone else. Become a narrator with a different name, maybe a different background and personality. That will free you from the limits of what really happened, and open up all the things that might have happened, which is a lot more interesting. Above all, write, all the time. It doesn’t matter if nobody else ever sees it – you need to be in the habit of writing as directly and naturally as you speak. You’ll have to go over it and scrutinise every word if it’s going to be published (I never think anything is finished until it’s been written seven times), but you need to be easy in the habit of bunging it all down.

Do you ever get bored with it?
Boredom is the big danger signal. If the work gets anything less than absolutely urgent and interesting, there’s something wrong. Take a break, go for a walk, write something else. Boring work is sick work, and must be brought back to health before it pegs out on you. The author has to be healthy, too. I get completely shattered sometimes, and resting can be difficult if the mind keeps galloping on. I do t’ai chi and grow my own vegetables and play the clarinet in a jazz band – all very good for taking the mind off the work.

If there are more things you want to ask, click here to write to me and, and I’ll get back to you.

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