Friday, February 26, 2010

INTERVIEW: Sally Gardner - Award-winning British children author of “I, CORIANDER”

Welcome to “Up Close and Personal.” For every interview I will be introducing a literary personality discussing their views and insights, as well as upcoming literary events around the world.

Today’s interview is with Sally Gardner. She is a British children's writer, illustrator and she lives in London. Her award-winning book, I, Coriander, is set in 17th-century London. It tells the story of Coriander, the unhappy daughter of a silk merchant.

Her books THE RED NECKLACE & THE SILVER BLADES has been option for film and television rights by Dominic West, and his production company White Soup.

Dominic West is a British director and actor, celebrated for his portrayal of ‘Jimmy McNulty’ in THE WIRE, on which he was also a director in its award winning final season.

Sally Gardner is also the author and illustrator of picture books including The Fairy Catalogue, The Glass Heart and The Book of Princesses. She also illustrated the Polly books by Francesca Thomas, and is the creator of the Magical Children series, which feature unconfident children who blossom when they are gifted with magical powers.

Ms. Gardner has been very successfully published by Orion Children's Books, where she is notably the illustrator of the Norwegian author, Jostein Gaarder's novels as well as the creator of beautiful color picture books.

Her work is characterized by her uniquely wonderful and witty imagination and her exquisite illustrations. She was a theatre designer for many years and this is reflected in the collage effect of much of her artwork. She also specialized in costume for fifteen years before moving into children’s books.

E.I. Would you share some early self-reflection to give us a sense of who you were as a teenager? What were you like? Give us three “Good to Know” facts about your first job experience, the inspiration for your writing career, any fun details or anecdotes that would enliven your page. Also tell your readers about Sally Gardner today -- the illustrator and the woman behind the Award-winning British children author.

Sally Gardner: My first job was as a sales assistant at the original Pollock’s Toy Theatre shop in London, aged 16. I was severely dyslexic and school managed to bash all my confidence out of me. When I was a teenager I was chubby and about as confident as a wombat, but I was very determined to do something with my life and prove them all wrong – show them I wasn’t ‘silly sally’. I got a 1st class Honours degree in theatre design and then won an Arts Council scholarship to become a theatre designer, after which I was involved in notable productions around the world, both for Opera and theatre.

E.I. What is it about the art form of illustrations and writing that enchants you, and gives you the enduring passion to continue in such a demanding profession?

Sally Gardner: Basically I’m doing what I absolutely love and there is nothing and I mean nothing I would rather be working in and in that I feel truly blessed. I started with the illustration because I believed I couldn’t be a writer due to the fact that I couldn’t spell my way out of a paper bag. But spelling and grammar don’t make a writer thank goodness - two of my heroes also apparently had problems in that department: Scott Fitzgerald and the boss Hemingway. Writing novels is a bit like being a marathon runner and now I’m past the half way point of my next book and I’m feeling pretty exhausted!

E.I. Please tell your readers about your book “The Red Necklace”? What sparked your interest about this book? What were your favourite aspects?

Sally Gardner: Magic. I am very interested in and believe in magic. I think it’s around us in more ways that we see. I also love periods of history that are like divorcing parents and the French Revolution had all the ingredients that a storyteller might need: a walled city, an Aristocrat in love with a gypsy and the most evil of evil villains who thrives on the bloodshed. I also become fascinated with the plight through the ages of the gypsies and the loss, due to the prejudice and development of our societies, of their rituals and magic.

E.I. In your novel how much of the lives of your characters Yann Margoza, Count Kalliovski and Sido is planned out in your head? How do you know where to go next with your story? How does your creative process work?

Sally Gardner: My poor editor’s hair has turned white over this very question. All I can say is that the beginning of books are a sort of vision, or visually clear, like a film - the first part of the book is so clear and quick to draft, but after that’s written, on the whole my planning goes to pot. I spend much time going up the wrong paths and having to retrace my steps. I find that however much you plot, if a character is not ready to be bumped off by chapter 7, you have to let him live and are horrified to find its not until chapter 12 that meets his demise! I have tried to plan my current novel more tightly, however and for the first time think I've got plotting a bit more sussed!

E.I. How do you imagine audience as you are writing? Do you try to do character development, chapter outlines, various novel-related brainstorming? Do you have sheets of newsprint covered in a story boards all over your walls?

Sally Gardner: I read lots and lots of books, especially those written at the time it’s set in. My current novel is set between wars so I watch old films and footage and documentaries – I also listen to audio books and visit the theatre. I spend a lot of time thinking up my characters from the shoes upwards, once I start them they have their own lives - in ‘I, Coriander’, I wanted Hester to be horrible but she would only be charming no matter how hard I tried - I’m not a control freak about my characters, but I am a perfectionist, and I hope my readers feel too that that characters are very much alive, with wills of their own.

E.I. If you were asked to read a chapter from the book (The Red Necklace), is there one that you would personally select to share with your fans?

Sally Gardner: This is difficult to answer as there are quite a few pivotal chapters, but what springs to mind right now is the drama of the first theatre scene at the Marquis’ Chateau, with Torpalin’s death in front of the Marquis – it shows the duplicity of Kalliovski – he's like a cat with a mouse, and it shows what he’s capable of. It also sets up all the other characters’ personality traits quite well.

E.I. When you finish a novel, it's off to your agent and publisher, then you're on to the next. Do you find letting your manuscripts, especially your characters, as easy to part with when finished?

Sally Gardner: It’s not as simple as that unfortunately. It goes to the editor, the editor comes back, with ‘why’s’ and ‘what if’s’ and you have to go over it again – I rewrote the Silver Blade in six weeks having been dissatisfied with the first draft. A first draft to me is like a lump of clay that needs to be moulded before it dries up completely. All my characters stay with me long after i’ve written them. It took me a very long time to lose Coriander. And Yann and Sido - I still think about them all the time.

E.I. You've created a cast of characters so remarkably captivating that your readers definitely clamor for more; are we to be so fortunate as to see them again?

Sally Gardner: I can’t rule that out and I don’t want to rule that out but I don’t want to plan a series, I want it to be organic, if there is ever a time I feel it’s right then it will be written. At the moment though you may be suprised at the direction im taking my work in - and no, it’s not vampires! But it is rather unusual and exciting...

E.I. The novel is being developed for film, were you involved in the casting process? Had you considered British actors or American actors for the starring roles in the movie? And will you served as production advisor on the film location?

Sally Gardner: At the moment the film has just been bought by Dominic West and I’m not sure what plans they have for it or what role they see me in - it’s up to them but I would like to be involved. I have great faith in Dominic to make an excellent film and the nationality of the actors doesn’t matter, as long as they’re the good at their job and right for the role.

E.I. And, finally, if you could say "thank you" to someone for helping you become a successful writer, who would it be?

Sally Gardner: I would thank the main inspiration in my writing life: Judith Elliott. She was the first editor I ever worked with and she led me to believe in what I thought was an impossible dream.

To learn more about Sally Gardner, please visit her website.

To purchase Sally Gardner’s Books, please visit AMAZON and Barnes &

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am a 17 - year - old girl who has long ago fallen in love with Sally Gardner's I, Corainder, which is one of my favorite books. I have not really had the oppotunity to read other novels by her but I have some idea of the plot. However, I have to say that by reading I, Coriander I have learned more about the atmosphere of 17th century Englad than in all of my history lessons. I could imagine every part of the book, I could clearly see Coriander in front of me, Tycho still seems to be a little bit of a mystery. I am convinced and certain that if the movie was to be made it certainly would be a fantastic story and would have many viewers. As the book does not mainly focus on Tycho and Coriander's relatioinship the movie is more than just a bare 'romance' ... It could be so brilliantly made that you absolutely feel like it really would be true. So, I do beg any regisor - think wisely before taking the very first actor! Think about the settings more than once because it's going to be worth it. Don't make it like a pink romance, give us some magical, dark moments too (alligator scene) AND please do not use computer programms that produce a BAD und UNREALISTIC seting - Thank you.

The interview was a pleasure to read - congrats - and I would say that Sally is the proof that the will and strenght of mind are unique - If you TRULY try you are going to succeed. THANK YOU for giving me the feeling that there is magic out there - just on the other side of a silver mirror.