Monday, May 24, 2010

Liz Kessler


“This town has everything I've ever wanted, all in one place,” Liz Kessler says, showing me round her lovely house in St Ives that looks incredibly tidy considering she only moved in the previous day. “It's beautiful, and has a real community that I feel we've become part of and been welcomed into.”

Liz is originally from Manchester but moved to St Ives last summer having lived on a narrowboat, then toured round Europe in her campervan with her friend Laura, and her Dalmatian, Poppy. “St Ives is quirky and cool and cute and it's got a very artistic community for artists and writers,” she says. “It just has everything I want to keep my soul happy!”

Which is just as well considering that Liz has a busy year ahead. “I've finished the Emily Windsnap series and the Philippa Fisher series will be finished with the next one out in June,” she says, with a bubbly enthusiasm that is catching. “I've just been offered a contract for the next two, and in America Orion have announced 2m worldwide sales which is great.” Then she looks at me, anguished. “I don't want to boast, but I have to say that, don't I? So in September I'm going to Atlanta Georgia and Nashville for a book tour. And I'm doing St Ives Festival in May and September, and various other ones. So a busy year but all really exciting!”

Liz doesn't have children, but is adept at getting inside her characters' heads. She attributes this in part to her nephews and nieces, but also “I think it's the way I look at the world. I'm idealistic, open-minded and bouncy, and writing for children allows you to have fun, be innocent and excited about things and fantasise!” She grins. “And I love being around children.”

Liz started off as a teacher, then trained as a journalist and taught Media Studies in a Sixth Form College. One day she played Fantasy Lives with her mother and everything pointed to her being a writer. “That was in 1999 and I said I'm going to be making a living as a writer by the end of the year - though I didn't know how!”

Liz signed up to do an Novel Writing MA but soon after was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. “In a way that fuelled the whole idea,” she says. “I was 33 years old – it's just not what you expect. But I think cancer often has a gift inside it and that was quite an important part of me becoming a writer. If you want to do it, just do it.”

With that outlook, it's not surprising that Liz sold her first book, The Tail of Emily Windsnap, which turned into an extremely popular series. Her other series, about Philippa Fisher, came from an experience she had as a child when making a daisy chain. “I just had this very strong feeling that the daisy was going to become a fairy at midnight,” she says, and became so scared in case it became “a bad fairy” that she threw it out of the window. “The next morning I was devastated because I knew that was my one chance to have a fairy and I'd thrown it away.” Thankfully a friend had other ideas. “She said, Liz this is great – you're a writer. This doesn't have to be the end of this fairy.”

Thus Philippa Fisher was born, and in the last in series, Philippa Fisher and the Stone Fairy's Promise, she and her best friend, Daisy, must prove their loyalty to each other. “Having strong relationships, whether it's with friends, family, partner, or a combination of all, is what life's about for me,” says Liz. “I don't consciously write about them, but if those ideas of love and loyalty and trust seep through to children in terms of feeling good about themselves, then I'd like that.”

Bullying is another theme but not, thankfully, one that Liz writes about from a personal experience. “For me it comes from a sense of justice and fair play,” she explains. “I like people to stand up to things and for people and not just let bad people get away with things.”

Liz says she owes her inspiration to two women, the first being her grandmother. “I loved her with all my heart,” says Liz. “There was nothing literary about her but I made her a book of my poems when I was little.” The other was Liz's English teacher in the sixth form. “She changed my life really,” she says. “I think of her as the first person who really made me think I had any talent and she had the ability to bring it out.”

Listening to Liz, it's clear she is extremely content. “I love what I do and I love my life and I'm so grateful for it, particularly now, living here in St Ives in this lovely house,” she says. “I don't want fame and fortune. I just want to be able to make a living doing the thing that I love doing.”

Philippa Fisher and the Stone Fairy's Promise is published by Orion Children’s Books on 3 June 2010 in hardback, £9.99

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