Sibéal Pounder is the author of the “WITCH WARS” and “BAD MERMAIDS” series. Her new book “TINSEL” is out now and this is mainly what we will be talking about!
It’s not easy being an orphan in Victorian London – but 12-year old Blanche can look after herself. Working as a carter with her old horse Rudy, she secretly dreams of giving a Christmas present to every girl and boy in the world. When she meets the irrepressible Rinki – a girl who likes to dream big – Blanche is swept away on a whirlwind festive adventure to the North Pole. Here, with the help of an excitable Christmas tree called Eggnog and a grumpy fairy named Carol, she sets about making her dreams of gift-giving come true. This tale of friendship, sleigh rides and mince-pie feasts is the perfect book to curl up with this winter. Funny, feminist and with a huge heart, it’s a gloriously Christmassy adventure that will delight even the biggest Grinch.
This book is truly one of the best Christmas reads EVER!!!
Q&A WITH Sibéal Pounder
Q. Do you have a Christmas tradition? Like going on mince pie picnics?
A. I used to have mince pie picnics when I was little, though not so much anymore (I should bring them back! Maybe I will this year). I grew up in Canada and Scotland so there was always a lot of snow – the perfect weather for mince pie picnics. I live in London now and I don’t see snow as much down here.
Q. What was your favourite childhood read?
A. I have so many! I think if I had to choose it would be Eva Ibbotson’s The Secret of Platform 13. I love the idea of a secret island cloaked in mist. Odge Gribble was my favourite character – she’s a hag but she looks like an ordinary girl and she HATES it. She dreams of looking more hag-like and having impressive ear hair like her sisters. I like the flip on beauty standards and the idea that looking ordinary is HIDEOUS to Odge.
Q. Does writing energize or exhaust you?
A. That’s such a good question! I would say… both. It depends on the stage in the process. I feel exhausted when I’m stuck – and I tend to feel stuck during the first major edit, after I’ve written the first draft. That tends to be when I take everything apart and even the thought of putting it back together in a better way can be exhausting. But I feel really energised when it starts to come together. And there’s nothing better or more energising than writing the characters for the first time and slowly watching them move from your head to where they’ll live forever on the page.
Q. Will “Tinsel” be a series?
A. No, it’s a stand alone – my first one! I really wanted it to feel complete and be something that didn’t need to be revisited. Saying that, I do have an idea that is linked to Tinsel, but I’m still mulling that one over…
Q. Would you rather own a dancing Christmas tree, or a choir of singing baubles?
A. Haha! LOVE IT. I think a dancing Christmas tree, for a few reasons. 1. It would be fun to dance with. 2. My cat loves to bat ornaments off the Christmas tree, so a dancing one would make it even more fun for her. 3. A dancing tree would be too special to put away for a year so it would have to stay put all year round!
Q. If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
A. I would say WRITE WHAT YOU LOVE. The manuscript I sent to agents and the one that got me signed with the wonderful Gemma Cooper wasn’t the manuscript I ended up publishing. On reflection it wasn’t what I wanted to write, I just didn’t know it then. I was working as a journalist and everyone said, “write what you know”, so I wrote about a kid journalist. It was set in the real world and I dared to re-read it recently and I can see I found the real world setting so restrictive. I should’ve been writing fantasy. Lots of agents said it was too weird (it was quite weird!), but luckily Gemma – who sees things no one else can – saw something in it. She asked me if I had written anything else and I had Witch Wars, but I’d never considered submitting it as it was just something I wrote on the side because I love witches. That ended up being my first published book, so I always say: don’t write what you know, write what you love – and make sure you keep writing. Every book you write will help your writing ambitions, in one way or another.
Q. What is the first book that made you cry?
A. It was a Meg and Mog book. They make sandwiches filled with rats and I LOVE rats, so I was very upset. Do you know whose books never fail to make me cry? Happy tears, sad tears, the lot! Sophie Anderson’s books [Note: from B.R: THAT’S MY MUM!]! Particularly The House with Chicken Legs, which is one of my very favorite books.
Q. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
A. I think I always loved creating characters and making up stories but I never considered being a writer until I was in my 20s. I lived in quite a small place and we never had an author visit our school, for example. I didn’t really ever think it was something someone real could do, if that makes sense? They always seemed like supernatural beings to me – they were far, far away somewhere.
Q. How long did it take you to write “Tinsel”?
A. It took about a year, with all the edits. The first draft was fairly clean but we made a couple of significant changes. The big one was in the first draft Mr Krampus wasn’t there – Blanche and Rinki were just fighting a society that didn’t imagine much of girls. Gemma (my agent) and Ellen (my editor) pointed out it was perhaps too abstract and we needed a proper villain. So I created Mr Krampus, inspired by the Krampus devil, to embody all the things that the girls were fighting against. What was really spooky was usually if you add in a major character you have to chop things up and move things around and it has a huge effect on the story. But with Mr Krampus he just slotted into place – there were gaps where he fitted perfectly. I barely had to change the story at all. It was like he was always meant to be there and he was just waiting…
Q. What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
A. It varies a lot! If I’m drafting I tend to write in what would be considered normal office hours and then I stop in the evening and do other things that feed creativity – go to comedy shows, watch films, the theatre, go for nice walks, meeting with friends, etc. But when I’m editing (the exhausting bit!), I tend to work all hours and hide myself away for weeks and weeks, and then I eventually emerge with knotted hair and cereal on my face and I have something that looks like an edited manuscript.
Q. What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
A. I love these questions! Hmm… in terms of the process, I would say (and I’m not sure it’s interesting), but I tend to work better with background noise. I worked in an office for years when I was a journalist and so I think my first professional experience of writing was to the sound of phones going off and people chatting and fax machines whirring, so I can’t work in silence. I tend to put something on in the background, a podcast or radio show that I’m not really interested in or I’ve heard before, and then it’s just noise that I tune out.
Q. Have you got another book planned?
A. I have a new series that I’m working on at the moment. I should be able to tell you more about soon! I’ve really enjoyed writing it, it’s a crazy story…
THANK YOU SO MUCH, Sibéal for answering my questions!!! TINSEL is funny, as sweet as a mince pie and full of the magic of Christmas. It’s suitable for readers of ALL ages and you can find it on my Christmas Reading list at Bookshop.org.
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, AND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT!