Jacqueline Rayner is the author of The Sickness from Badger Learning’s bone-chilling series, Papercuts I, and Snow White, Black Heart, from their Teen Reads series. Jac has written loads of books for children, many of them about Doctor Who, including two of the World Book Day 'Quick Reads' titles for reluctant readers. She also has a monthly column in Doctor Who Magazine about life in a family of Doctor Who fans.
She lives in Essex with her husband, twin sons and a large number of pets.
Q&A with Jacqueline Rayner
What inspired you to write for reluctant readers?
I adore reading. I spent most of my childhood living in imaginary worlds, and I'd like to help open a door to those worlds for children who find books daunting.
What challenges do struggling readers face when they open a book?
Despite my love of reading, I'm not keen on books that open with loads of description before getting down to the plot and action, so I imagine that might be off-putting. And books not being in chapters! Let's break a book down into nice chunks.
What is your favourite type of character to create?
Oh, nasty characters are the best. And adventurous girls. I like writing about really adventurous girls. They don't have to be perfect – in fact, it's better if they're not. But they're never passive.
What features and methods do you use to ensure that your books have that High Interest appeal that really engages young readers?
I hope there are things they'll find intriguing – mysteries to solve. Enough clues in the story so the reader might perhaps suspect what's going on, but they'll want to keep reading to see if they're right!
What difference do books like these make to children who are in need of literacy support?
I hope that stories that are exciting but easy to read make the idea of books less scary. But even if the reader doesn't fancy going on to other, maybe more difficult books, then just having enjoyed one of these stories is a good thing in itself.
Can you give us any teasers of what to expect in your upcoming Teen Reads title?
Snow White, Black Heart is a school story where a popular girl suddenly turns into an absolute bitch. Her best friend thinks there's something supernatural going on, but is she right – and can she stop it?
What are the major themes of your work?
The theme I most love to explore is identity – what makes a person who they are. The relationship between someone's character and their appearance is an aspect of this that's touched on in my Teen Read.
What controls do you place on the vocabulary you use and how important is this?
One of the fun things about writing is finding the exact words you want in order to get across the scene you have in your mind. But I've written several books for reluctant readers now, and there's no point in throwing in loads of words that might act as a barrier between you and your audience. It's just as much fun to work out how to tell a story simply without putting in any distractions or difficulties.
What is your favourite children's book?
Just one? That's an impossible question! Breaking it down from early reader to teen books, I'd say (in age order): The Tiger Who Came to Tea (Judith Kerr); Ballet Shoes (Noel Streatfeild); Devil on my Back (Monica Hughes); The Changeover (Margaret Mahy). The last two are long out of print, which is an absolute crime.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers/authors?
The obvious one is read lots of books, but don't stop there – comics, TV, films, they're all telling stories. Work out what you don't like, as well as what you like. See how a book (or TV programme etc.) makes you feel and then try to recapture that feeling inside you as you write – if you can't get caught up in your own story, you can't expect any readers to. And just have fun doing it!
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