Chris d’Lacey has published over 20 books for children. He describes his first attempt at writing as “a gentle ‘Christmassy’ story” about polar bears that was aimed at adult readers. He started writing children’s fiction after a friend suggested he enter a competition to write a story for nine-year-olds. That became his first book, A Hole at the Pole — an environmental tale about a boy who wants to mend the hole in the ozone layer and enlists the services of a polar bear to help him. His books have been translated widely and one of his novels for children was highly commended for the Carnegie Medal.
Chris d’Lacey spoke about his writing and his concerns as a writer.
What was your first story called and in what way was it 'Christmassy'?
I was writing about a cuddly polar bear I'd bought my wife as a present! It's the sort of romantic thing I do. Realizing I knew very little about polar bears, I began to read about them and the book just grew out of my continuing fascination. It was called White Fire. I refer to it in the dragon books, but it is still to come out of my ‘bottom drawer’.
Is there a connection between A Hole at the Pole and White Fire?
By then, polar bears were a real love for me, and I've always been concerned about the environment. It was a natural step.
When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
When I was 32. I'd always had a 'creative streak' but it had always been expressed through songwriting. In my early thirties I decided I wanted to try something different and stories seemed the most logical option.
I found it incredibly difficult at first, but stuck at it and eventually, after a few years, I had a short story published in a small press magazine.
Who would you say has influenced you the most?
Hand on heart, no one. My biggest influences were always musical. I had never read very much and still don't, but when I began writing children's stories I enjoyed the output of Roald Dahl, Allan Ahlberg and Michael Bond (Paddington Bear) the most.
What are your main concerns as a writer?
Unlike most writers I know, I don't have an overflowing well of ideas. So I do worry, sometimes, about drying up. But my biggest worry is that now I've become reasonably successful, the writing has become more stressful because it's now my main source of income. Ideally, I'd like to recapture the joy I had when I was starting out, and still be paid for it.
Several of your books have this underlying concern with the environment. Why is this?
Just look around you at the changing climate and the decline of species. Those are my concerns. It amuses me when people say, "We need to protect the planet." Wrong, the planet will ultimately protect itself. What we need to protect are the creatures that inhabit it. We'll be gone long before the planet will.
I do want people to wake up to the idea of what's happening in the Arctic etc. We watch TV programmes week in week out saying, "Polar bears will be extinct within 50 years" and we all go, "Oh dear."
At what point do we go, "Hang on, shouldn't we be trying to do something about this?" Twenty years? Ten years?
How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?
For many years as a children's writer I dabbled in all sorts of styles and genres, but the stories that always brought me the most critical acclaim were those based around true domestic events.
I came very close to winning the biggest prize in children's fiction, the Carnegie Medal, with my first novel Fly, Cherokee, Fly, which was about the time I found an injured pigeon and nursed it back to health.
I often transpose events that have happened to me as a man into the experiences of a fictionalized boy. I'm presently working on a Young Adult book about bullying, set against the backdrop of my parents' divorce. That has been cathartic – but harrowing. It's a story I've always wanted to write. It's very powerful and needs to come out.