I am absolutely delighted to welcome A P Pullan to Bookworm Blethers. I’m in the middle of reading A Polar Bear Called Forth right now. It is a brilliant read and I’ll post my review soon. In the meantime have a read of this excellent interview.
- Tell us a little bit about your books: The Crying Wind and A Polar Bear Called Forth
Well, they are both set in Scotland. I often tell folk that Yorkshire drew me, but Scotland coloured me in. I met my wife here and I’ve been nicely settled in a country for nearly twenty years, a country I will forever love to explore. With both books, I am paying back a debt of gratitude.
The books I’ve written are ones I want to read. That may sound as if I’m stating the obvious, but I wonder how many writers are influenced by their agents or publishing houses as to what to write and indeed the content of their writing. I wonder on the would-be-author wanting to get the contract compromising and following regulation story-plot formulas. Take risks, go against the grain, write what you want to write. It’s something I try get across to kids at school. Knickers to the current trends or what is the current genre da jour (get me by the way!)
- What has been your journey to becoming an author?
Well – I had no GPS to start with. Nae Google Maps or indeed any map. My first love was poetry. I managed to get published in a few literary journals such as Gutter, Northwords, Poetry Scotland, and I was really chuffed with that. Poetry taught me to be taut with my words. Gave me an appreciation of what a word, not just words, can do.
I’ve been teaching for a millennium and have immersed myself in children’s stories throughout. So, I feel I’m now playing to my strengths. And coming to this being so very old and yet having this under my belt is delicious.
I also have mental health issues and I’ve got to say the outlet of writing has been, in many ways, a response to this. I’m currently studying for a qualification in CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), and I hope that in a future this journey takes me to new continents and interesting landscapes from giving a creative outlet for those with depression, anxiety etc.
- Where does your inspiration for your stories come from?
Well, being alive is a good place to start. Also setting up a challenge for myself also motivates. All story tellers are liars. We tell the best and most elaborate lies. Thing is, can I lie so elaborately you end up believing me and walking alongside me, sentence by sentence? Can I do that?
Obviously, Scotland has helped. And I’m thankful to her. She still has problems with my accent (by the way, Yorkshire has been independent for thousands of years) – yet she is still very welcoming. The Crying Wind was born out of me trying to understand about the many clearance villages I’d come across. A Polar Bear Called Forth uses one of my favourite places, Queensferry as it’s backdrop.
I’m not a note taker – to flush stories out at later date. Currently I have an idea for a World War 2 story as well as a present day one of finding someone living in a cave. Beyond that I’d like to write a series of books – something supernatural but funny. For now, all these ideas are filed away in my head.
I need to challenge myself to influence my writing: its content and style. Hopefully that will keep the audience turning the pages. So that’s the main inspiration: to challenge myself.
- What is the best part about writing and what are the most challenging parts?
The best parts: starting, planning, seeing it in paperback form, needing cake to get you through, going into schools.
The worst parts: starting, editing, untangling the knots, editing, worrying that you have written something that’s pants, editing, thinking you should have been a gardener or brain surgeon, editing, realising your grammar is akin to a ten-year-old tortoise, editing, your continuity is a mile out, editing, thinking you’ve finished, editing, oh look – he/she has got their third novel out while you’ve been doing your one book, editing.
- What books or authors did you love as a child?
I guess all the obvious: Blyton, Dahl, Tolkein. Alan Garner stood out as he scared the socks off me. Yet I was taken by the real-to-life stories the most: Bill Naughton’s A Goalkeepers Revenge, Keith Waterhouse’s There is a Happy Land and Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines. I connected to these, saw my life in their stories.
- Are there any current children’s books / authors you would recommend?
Emma Carroll – very taut and her consistently high standard of output is to be admired.
Lesley Parr (The Valley of Lost Secrets) has a great future.
Jessica Townsend’s brilliant, Morrigan Crow series of books, which made me laugh out loud. And I adored Dave Shelton’s A Boy and a Bear in a Boat,so I’d love to see more of his work.
My favourite picture book of all time – Where the Wild Things Are closely followed by Shaun Tan’s, The Red Tree.
I love Michael Rosen, particularly his take on children’s literacy but the standout children’s writer for me is David Almond. Reading him you know you are at the hands of a master – assured, taut and again, the quality of his output is phenomenal.
- What subjects did you love at school?
PE. As long as it was football. Funnily enough I didn’t love any subject. I had no passion for any of it. Yes, writing stories was a big love – so OK, possibly my favourite. Yet those occasions we were allowed to were rare. It seemed to be more about the process of writing (grammar) and studying books (literature).
- How important do you think it is for children to have access to books?
Well, you’re asking a teacher – so I have to say, crucial. And for development in so many areas. To be successful in academia means a heavy requirement to have a standard of literacy skills that enables you will have a chance in obtaining those bits of paper that state you’re worthy of entering Higher Education or the world of work. It’s quite a blunt one-dimensional system. It saddens me how many pupils out there have the imagination, have that creative bent but are stifled by a teacher’s red pen. Teachers themselves are under pressure – to deliver results and to show progress – which doesn’t help.
My personal philosophy is a top-down one – stories and their magic first – then we’ll have pupils who want to read and write and spell in order to recreate that magnetism. I certainly find that motivates those who have difficulties in literacy. Teachers are pretty good at getting a balance of top-down, bottom-up. Yet I see so many lessons and piles of resources surrounding phonics. Yet the whole context of this device – to read magical tales, is kept invisible. It’s a bit like saying, ‘I’ve got this brilliant rocket to take you to other planets,’ but all the kids get are the nuts, bolts and washers to make the thing, and so for the duration of the lesson it never leaves the ground! (Right, I’m off my soap box now, I’m away to do writey stuff – whatever that is?)
Thank you so much for joining us! To find out more you can follow A P Pullan on twitter @The_Wee_Pencil and check out the promo video for A Polar Bear Called Forth here, https://t.co/jvE3SHqSVH?amp=1