Barbara Catchpole was a teacher for over thirty years and spent a lot of time teaching Special Educational Needs and English as an Additional Language, and more or less anything else that was left over at the end of the timetabling!
Whilst spending a lot of time in schools Barbara's main interest is writing books for young people that are set in the real world and presenting characters that could be real teenagers. She tries to make them funny most of the time with just a little sadness thrown in because life's like that. She believes that adults can communicate really well with teenagers if the adult just makes a huge effort.
She has three grown-up sons of whom she is unbearably proud and an amazing grandson.
Q&A with Barbara Catchpole
What inspired you to write for reluctant readers?
I think reading and writing are such fun! It's a great shame for young people to miss out, especially at a time of their lives when there is so much for them to learn and it is so important that they feel able to communicate with others. I became interested in writing for those who experience difficulties when my middle son was born profoundly deaf. Young people can achieve anything if they start to enjoy reading.
What challenges do struggling readers face when they open a book?
I should imagine they feel like I did when faced by a PE lesson – unable to do what is being asked of me and angry at not being able to do it! Why can everyone else do this but I can't? Decoding is definitely easier for some people than others and nearly impossible for some. It's a question of persevering and taking it slow. After all, I did manage to learn to swim before I drowned, although it was a close run thing!
What is your favourite type of character to create?
I like the young male character who is not perfect but is some way 'cool'. I think I started writing about male characters because boys seem to have less interest in reading – it's a challenge to interest some young men in a book.
What features and methods do you use to ensure that your books have that high-interest appeal that really engages young readers?
In terms of horror, I feel a gross-out factor is important, also writing about something we are all a bit scared of. I like my characters to have real character. The character has to be someone with whom the young male reader can identify. Humour is very important. I find it difficult not to include funny lines.
What difference do books like these make to children who are in need of literacy support?
If a young person is interested in a book, he or she will try to read it for themselves, not for the teacher or to please Mum. Reading for pleasure is the real experience. Then they will track down every book by the same author, then similar authors. Then they will be reading much better and for themselves and it will have been painless! A bit optimistic, maybe, but that's the plan!
Can you give us any teasers of what to expect in your upcoming Dark Read title?
Only that I suspect, if the reader wrote another chapter for themselves, the story after the book ends, it would be a dark, dark chapter.
What are the major themes of your work?
I don't have a consistent theme although I try to make my stories positive (except Blood Moon which is very dark). Not a lot positive there!
What controls do you place on the vocabulary you use and how important is this?
Vocabulary is central. Keeping the vocabulary simple but not intellectually restrictive is a bit of a challenge but I really try. I want my stories to be intelligent and make the reader think. It can be done because English has lots of highly descriptive one syllable words. I don't want my books to sound like part of a phonics scheme!
What is your favourite children's book?
So many... I was a real reader when I was little - school books by Enid Blyton, classics like 'Little Women'. I cried when Jo sold her hair! Now I guess I have to confess to loving Harry Potter books.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers/authors?
Authors: find out what is popular and write that! If you don't want to write what is popular – keep on and on (and on) sending your stuff to publishers.
Writers: just enjoy it! Even if reading is difficult, find software that will allow you to write. Make people read your stuff!