Creating the write stuff

Creating the write stuff

Former book editor Holly Webb showed she knew best when she became a children's author

In the world of publishing, the role of an editor is to check what the author has written. The job is often crucial because an editor can often spot and correct errors in the text or clarify incoherent passages that the writer has been too absorbed to notice in their story.

Sometimes this working relationship between a writer and an editor can be quite a tussle, with both sides wanting to "win" for the benefit of the finished book.

Holly Webb, the British author of young children's stories - including The Snow Bear, My Naughty Little Puppy, A Cat called Penguin and The Frightened Kitten - knows all about such conflicts because she once worked as the editor of children's novels, too.

The mother of three boys, who was a guest speaker at last month's Hong Kong Book Fair, says: "I used to work, for about seven or eight years, as an editor for a children's publisher."

The publisher was looking for writers who could produce a series of stories for young girls.

Webb, part of the team expected to make the final choices, had already thought of some possible characters, and their pets, for some stories. So, without telling anyone, she began to write her own novels.

She was living in Reading, in southern Britain, and commuted to and from London by train each day, so she used her journeys to do her writing.

Webb says she felt very nervous when the decisive moment arrived after finishing her writing - when she needed to reveal her secret by leaving the completed stories on her boss' desk so that they could be read.

"I left a note saying, 'I know it's a bit weird, I totally shouldn't have done this, I hope this is OK'," Webb recalls with a giggle.

Luckily her finished stories were approved for publication, and were popular with young readers. "It would have been really embarrassing if my boss hadn't liked it in the first place."

Webb says having worked first as an editor has helped her writing career a great deal. She says she is able to understand the "pain of having to let go of original work" once she finishes writing. "It's really quite hard to let go and then allow somebody else to work with it," she says.

She also acknowledges the need to use short and simple sentences in children's books - although she does not believe long words should be banned completely.

"I once had this same argument with the editor of one of my animal books," says Webb, who believes the occasional use of long words is acceptable. "Children can pick up new vocabulary from the book - but it's always about balance."

Animals, magicians and little girls have been some of Webb's favourite protagonists.

She says her biggest influence has been C.S. Lewis and his series of seven children's books, The Chronicles of Narnia, featuring a talking lion - which helps explain why so many talking animals appear in her own books.

Webb's first series of books was about triplet sisters who look very similar on the outside, but think totally differently. "I've always been fascinated by twins and triplets," she says.

Her unusual interest took a curious turn when she gave birth to twin sons after the birth of her first son.

Her three boys have become her biggest assets, serving both as her inspiration and her strongest critics, she says.

The most common complaint she receives from her eight-year-old son is that her books are far too focused on girl readers.

"My sons have reached the age where they are starting to tell me things," Webb laughs.

Back in Britain, the family home is being renovated and one of the builders, who has long hair and some ear piercings, has told her sons he's a pirate. "They are convinced that he's a pirate," Webb says.

"And I think my next book is going to be about him."

Win a copy of Holly's new book, The Snow Bear. Click here for more information.

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