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Short, Sharp Sound-bites, Quick Fixes, and Children’s Books: An Interview with Author Jean Ure

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Jean Ure spent her teenage years writing. She published her debut novel, Dance for Two, when she was sixteen years old and dropped out of school to continue with her writing. She subsequently worked as a cleaner, a waiter and a nurse. She also worked at the BBC and as a translator for UNESCO in Paris. Her books include A Proper Little Nooryeff, Sugar and Spice, Boys Beware, and Over the Moon.

Jean spoke about her latest novel and concerns as a writer.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I had my first book published while I was still at school and immediately went rushing into the world declaring that I was an AUTHOR! Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that the proceeds from one book were not enough to live on, and that while I might indeed be AN AUTHOR I needed to earn money just like all those other people who weren’t authors.

Over the next couple of years I hopped like a flea from job to job, rarely staying anywhere longer than a month as they were all so boring. At the same time as hopping like a flea, I was trying to write and sell more books, only nobody seemed to want them, which was rather depressing. In the end I decided that I would go to drama school. I thought it would be fun – which it was. I spent three very happy years there, wrote another book (and had it published) and met my future husband. He became an actor, I become a writer. I have been writing ever since.

We now live in a 300-year old house in South London with our family of seven dogs and four cats.

I knew as young as eight years old that I was going to be a writer.

Who would you say has influenced you the most?

My father probably influenced me the most. He was always enthusiastic and supportive.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My main concern as a writer is, without doubt, to entertain. I see no point in indulging and amusing myself if no children are going to read what I write. I do want to indulge and amuse myself, but I also want readers to identify with my books, to recognize the concerns of the characters as their concerns, to take heart, gain solace, to laugh, to cry and maybe, along the way, to learn a bit about life.

How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

My personal experiences have directly influenced my writing inasmuch as I frequently draw on them for inspiration.

What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face? How do you deal with these?

One of the biggest challenges is to write books that are readily accessible to the children of the 21st century, accustomed as they are to the short, sharp sound-bite and the quick fix, while at the same time giving them some depth and fully formed characters.

I deal with this challenge by writing in the vernacular, in the first person, which means I can move the story along pretty quickly without the need for long, involved “literary” sentence structures. It also means that I can slip in the odd difficult or surprising word along the way.

What is your latest book about? How long did it take you to write it?

My latest book was Over the Moon, about a very pretty girl called Scarlett who discovers the hard way that “looks aren’t everything”. It only took me about three months to write, but probably up to a year to plan. It was published in April 2006 by Harper Collins, in the [United Kingdom] U.K.

Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult? Which did you enjoy most?

I didn’t find any aspects of the book particularly difficult. I always “create” my books in great detail in my head before sitting down to write them, so that any difficulties tend to be solved at an early stage.

I enjoyed all the book! My books have a high level of humour, and it gives me a great sense of satisfaction to choose the exact words and the exact timing, for humour is very largely about pace and precision.

What sets the book apart from the other things you have written?

Nothing really sets this book apart from the others which I have written over the last decade. They are all first person, all somewhat quirky, all character-led, all very firmly set in real life situations.

My next book, on which I am currently working, is about a feisty 13-year old, a would-be rock star, who rises triumphantly above the body fascism of some of her schoolmates, who call her Jelly and jeer at her for being a fat freak.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer? How did you get there?

My only claim to significant achievement is the knowledge that I have, in a small way, enhanced the lives of several generations of children. I got there by my talents as a writer, coupled with sheer hard work.

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