School has never been so full of wonder . . . and magic . . . and unicorns! But then again, school has never been set on the enchanted Unicorn Island. Julie Sykes's six-book series, UNICORN ACADEMY, will take youngsters, newly confident in reading, on some of the greatest school trips ever!
Julie Sykes has written for children of all ages for many years. Her talents range from picture books to mass market series to stand-alone stories. She is a ghostwriter and a writer under her own name. Published by almost every UK publishing house, she has also enjoyed success in the US and been involved in many of the most successful mass-market series. Her latest endeavour, UNICORN ACADEMY, will be published by Nosy Crow in 2018. The first two books, SOPHIA & RAINBOW and SCARLETT & BLAZE, are out in February, followed by AVA & STAR in April.
When and how did you start writing?
When my best friend told me that my dream of becoming a published author wouldn’t happen unless I actually wrote something. It was a fair point! I wrote my first children’s novel, long- hand, in lunch breaks. It was awful and it took me ages to work out why.
Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?
Many books have impacted me and in different ways. The first one to give me goose bumps as I read the opening page was Philip Pullman’s NORTHERN LIGHTS. My first childhood storytelling hero was Enid Blyton. Love her or hate her, she certainly had me hooked. I also loved Barbara Sleigh for CARBONEL and Arthur Ransome for his 'Swallows and Amazons' series. I read the books so many times that the pages fell out! I was also a huge fan of KM Peyton and Daphne Du Maurier.
Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?
The idea for my first published book, a picture story, practically wrote itself. I sent it to a publisher who offered to publish it after I agreed to change the main character from a hedgehog to a squirrel.
Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?
Agent hunting was full of angst. I researched carefully and made a wish list. Polly Nolan was top of that list so I was thrilled when she suggested we met for a chat.
I was at a World Book Day event when I received Polly’s offer to rep me. It was the most exciting WBD ever!
Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?
I’m super organised in a disorganised sort of way. I’m also a morning person so the day starts at 5.45am. I take the dog out and do chores while eating breakfast then I start work around 7am. A good writing day involves smoking keyboards and strong coffee; a bad one, drifting, surfing and cake. Inspiration comes from people, places and books. I have my best ideas when I’m out walking, especially by the sea. The shower is also a great thinking place.
Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?
Read. Read more. Read and reread a great book until you know the things that make it special. Remember that as you write.
Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important, as you've developed as an author?
Distancing, revising and the value of a good editor.
Learning to distance yourself, putting work aside until you can read it again with fresh eyes, is one of the hardest but most valuable lessons I’ve learned. Receiving feedback can be difficult but it’s invaluable. Editors are your best friends.
Which favourite authors would you invite to a dinner party? Which fictional character do you wish you'd invented?
How big is that table? Michael Bond, Barbara Sleigh, K M Peyton, Eva Ibbotson, J K Rowling, Philip Pullman, Daphne Du Maurier, Ally Carter, Sarah Dessen, Linda Chapman . . . more if there’s room.
The fictional characters I wish I'd invented are Hilary McKay’s wonderful Casson family - especially Permanent Rose and Saffy.