A big welcome to author Nicola Davies who is visiting Story Snug as part of The Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tour. The tour arranges for authors and illustrators to visit children around Scotland and the UK in order to inspire them to develop a love of reading, writing and illustration. Nicola’s book tour takes place from the 22nd to the 26th of September.
Nicola is a zoologist and former presenter of The Really Wild Show. She now writes fiction and non fiction from picture books to chapter books for older children. As well as reading for enjoyment I have used several of Nicola’s non fiction picture books in the classroom, I particularly like Just Ducks and White Owl, Barn Owl. A First Book of Nature is also a fantastic first reference book for young children.
We were very excited to be given the opportunity to ask Nicola about her books, the inspirations behind her writing process and her favourite picture book. We are also giving away a copy of Nicola’s non fiction picture book ‘Big Blue Whale‘.
You have written picture books, fiction and non-fiction for children. Do you have any particular favourites from those you have written?
It’s a bit like asking for a favourite child! But my current favourites are The Lion Who Stole My Arm, The Promise and a First book of Nature. I’m really proud of the messages about our relationship with nature that those books deliver and delighted with how much readers seem to love them. Also I find myself using Surprising Sharks again and again when I’m talking to the youngest children I work with.
Which have you found the most enjoyable and interesting to write? Do you take a different approach to writing each?
They all offer very different challenges so I really like the mixture. It’s great to be able to write a book of poems when I’ve been writing a long novel or get started on a picture book. But really my heart belongs in picture books – I’m keen to tell people that they aren’t just for the smallest children and what I’m doing now is writing picture books that work across all ages. The Promise is the first of these stories but I have another coming out next year ‘The King Of The Sky’, set in Wales in the 1920s, that connects human migration with animal journeys. Connecting the big themes of human existence with the natural world through simple poetic language and stunning pictures – I can’t think of a more worthwhile thing for me to do.
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
Ideas all come from nature really – something I’ve seen or felt. Or sometimes from a painting or other visual work of art. As for research I read all the books I can find, talk to experts, read scientific papers. The biggest benefit of the internet is I can track down the people who know the most about a subject and pester them with questions – usually when they know it’s a book for kids they’re happy to answer whatever I ask.
How much wildlife knowledge do the illustrators of your books need? Are there illustrators who specialise in illustrations for wildlife books?
There are specialist wildlife illustrators but we tend not to use them for picture books because it’s a different kind of skill to communicate with an audience through a narrative. Wildlife knowledge is helpful but not essential – what is essential is an interest and a desire to look and notice, learn and understand. I provide illustrators with as much reference material as I can but it’s up to them to really engage with it. I do a lot of work with student illustrators – I find illustrators inspire me to write far more than other writers.
What are your favourite travel destinations? Do you have any particularly special memories of wildlife that you have encountered in particular places?
Well the short answer to that is all the places I’ve never been! But I do adore North Uist ..the space, the colours, the air and the endless beaches. I can’t imagine now, having a summer when I don’t go there. I’m very lucky to have so many memories to choose from but here are just a couple of my favourites all connected with my books: The first was in Colombia about three years ago. I’d gone there to research Manatee Baby, one of the heroes of the wild series. My book, A Girl Called Dog, had been published a year before. It features a blue and gold macaw called Carlos. When I wrote that book I’d never been to the Amazon and on my first night in an Amazonian village I saw a pair of blue and gold macaws flying overhead, catching the sunset. I know I made Carlos up but my heart said ‘there’s Carlos and his wife’. I was recently in Armenia to research ‘A Leopard’s Tale’ another Heroes book. Our week there was packed with fabulous things but seeing white storks nesting on the buildings was incredibly special for me because my father had told me about seeing them when he was in E Europe in the war.
You are taking part in The Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tour this year. How did you become involved?
Lovely Scottish Booktrust asked me to come and it took me about five milliseconds to say “Yes please”!
What will you be doing as part of the Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tour?
Talking to children about animals and stories and how they fit together.
Finally as a picture book blog we would really like to know what your favourite picture book is and why.
Tricky…. Where the Wild Things Are remains my perfect picture book – because of the language really ‘in and out of weeks’ – I love the way that you can play with juxtapositions that give words a new meaning and create quite layered complex meanings with the simplest of words. ‘The wild rumpus’ is fabulous too – that introduction of an unfamiliar word whose meaning becomes apparent and which the children will then never forget. But there are so many picture book author illustrators whose work I love. My friend Jackie Morris’ new book ‘Something About A Bear’ is just fabulous. Alexis Deacon’s ‘Croc and Bird’ is extraordinary – all about friendship. Emily Hughes’ ‘Wild’ is a perfect story about a child who can’t be tamed (I have great fellow feeling with that!) and of course this year’s Greenaway winner ‘This is not my Hat’ is wonderful. I could go on and on…
My daughter, aged six, also had two questions for Nicola.
Do you have any pets?
I wish! I used to have chickens and sheep and the daftest dog in the world but now I live on my own and as I’m away a lot I can’t keep any animals. I would SOOO love a dog. When I’m having a break from writing or working out the next bit of plot I look at puppy websites and work out what my favourite breed mix would be.
Have you ever swum with a dolphin?
I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone because I’m not sure how good it is for dolphins for us to swim with them. Some places where the dolphins are fed to attract them so tourists can swim with them are not very good for the dolphins… having said all that I was on a boat in the middle of the Indian Ocean a LONG time ago and we were surrounded by a big group of spotted dolphins. I hung onto a rope as the boat cruised and the dolphins were cruising alongside. Some of them came within about 2 metres to check me out – and concluded I was really dull and swum off.
Thank you so much to Nicola for answering our questions. We hope you have lots of fun on the Scottish Friendly Children’s Booktrust Tour.