Clare studied at the universities of Oxford, York, Northumbria, Sheffield Hallam, Birmingham and Sheffield Hallam (again). Clare enjoys teaching, likes virtually anything to do with people with autism (who she thinks is cool) and of course loves writing. With eight books published so far Clare hopes one day to fill a shelf of her Ikea bookshelf with her own titles. She lives with her very patient husband, two exceptionally wonderful children and an imaginary cat called Jenny.
Q&A with Clare Lawrence
What inspired you to write for reluctant readers?
I've been an English teacher and I've watched many pupils in library lessons morosely choosing books solely by 'looks': the thinner the better, and if it has pictures and the text is broken up a bit, so much the better. I've always felt how important it is to make sure that these readers have access to books that are interesting, exciting and appropriate to their ages – and that they are a genuinely good read.
What challenges do struggling readers face when they open a book?
Some books really do look unfriendly! Lots of small words packed tightly together are enough to put anyone off. I think the look of a book can make a huge difference - space on the page can help, as can good illustrations. I think one of the biggest challenges for struggling readers is getting started. Anything that can help with getting into the story and getting to know the characters has got to help.
What is your favourite type of character to create?
My characters tend to be the quieter ones, not the confident, 'cool' types. I like to put them into challenging situations that they think they can't handle and then watch them come through.
What features and methods do you use to ensure that your books have that high-interest appeal that really engages young readers?
I think that, at the end of the day, it needs to be a good story. Take the story of Jimmy the Donkey, for example: I may have decided how to tell it, even made up some of the characters, but the events are basically true... and it is just such a wonderful story! Telling a story that is worth reading is definitely one of the most important features of High Interest appeal.
What difference do books like these make to children who are in need of literacy support?
It has got to be hugely important that there are books that are right for everyone, with no-one being left out. The best way to support literacy is to make reading worth doing. And since all sorts of different people can find reading a challenge, so there is the need for all sorts of different books for them to enjoy, too!
What controls do you place on the vocabulary you use and how important is this?
I always read my stories out loud. If the words make you stumble when you speak, they are probably clumsy to read. I get my children to read bits out loud too, when I can persuade them! Again, this is a really good way of finding words and phrases that don't flow, or where the meaning isn't completely clear straight away.
Can you give us any teasers of what to expect from Jimmy, Donkey of the Somme?
The setting of the book is the trenches of the First World War. Given that, you'd think there could be no new life beginning, no kindness nor care in so terrible and violent a place. Jimmy, though, shows that these things can exist even in the most dreadful surroundings ...and what's more, because the book is based on a true story, that they do exist in the real world.
What is your favourite children's book?
My all-time favourite children's book is probably a picture book: Ginger by Charlotte Voake. I love the way she gets all the jealousy and misery of humans into the story, and yet it is so absolutely and quintessentially about cats. I love the challenge of telling a story in only a few words – which is another reason why the Reluctant Reader genre appeals to me.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers/authors?
Only my own (daily) advice to myself: keep going and don't let the knock-backs get you down.
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