Tonight, author Ali Sparkes visited the Manchester Children’s Book Festival to talk about her books and her writing journey.
Ali is the author of The Shapeshifter series, the SWITCH series, the Unleashed series and the stand alone novel Frozen in Time (which won a Blue Peter Award in 2010). More recently, in June 2014, Ali published Dark Summer.
Before becoming a children’s author, Ali worked a number of interesting jobs including: magazine editor, radio writer, journalist, and even, bizarrely, assistant to a juggling unicyclist! Before telling us about her fascinating life, Ali hypnotised us all with her “swirly whirly”, a gadget she said would take us back in time to her past. She had even brought calling cards with her (“Groan”, “Aww,” and “gasp” were among them.)
So we journeyed into the past with Ali, into a time without games consoles and the internet. She described her time at school and how she struggled with reading and writing until she discovered a Famous Five book in her local library, which she devoured. “I became a bookworm almost overnight,” she told us, “A book was no longer something to struggle through. It was a trapdoor to another world.”
A few years after discovering her love for reading, Ali began to write her own stories. Her first “novel” was called Webster Week Out, written when she was in secondary school. Ali had brought it along with her: it was made up of lined paper taped together, and a young Ali had even illustrated it. Ali loved writing it so much that she turned it into a series. Her art teacher encouraged Ali to submit it to a publisher, Penguin, but she was turned down with a letter that said, “Unfortunately…” (Ali then held up an “aww” calling card.)
“I wasn’t too cut up about it,” Ali told us, “I wasn’t planning to be an author at that point.” Ali then described how she attempted publication again over the years, only to receive the same, “Unfortunately…” response. Ali came close to publication several times, with publishers expressing interest in her ideas (including an early draft of Shapeshifter) only to turn her down at the last minute.
“I nearly did give up at that point,” said Ali, “I thought, why am I putting myself through this? But I gave it one more push.” This time, Ali got an agent who approached publishers for her. She was asked by Oxford University Press to turn Shapeshifter into a five part series. Of course, she said yes, and that was when her career as an author began!
The audience loved listening to Ali’s story about how she became a writer. There were a few budding authors in the audience, too, and one asked, “How old do you have to be to get published?”
Ali replied that there is no particular age, but that the chances of being published as a child are slim. She advised young writers to enter creative writing competitions and just experience life. “Life is research,” she explained. “Any experience can be used as writing research, even a horrible one!”
Ali also read a funny passage from her novel Dark Summer and signed books at the end of the event. No doubt all the young writers left feeling inspired and ready to make a name for themselves!
This event was made possible by the wonderful staff and students of Green End Primary School, who kindly adopted Ali for her visit to Manchester. You can read about her visit to Green End on our Reading and Writing Relay blog here
This event was brought to you in association with IHSSR: The Institute for Humanities and Social Science Research at Manchester Metropolitan University.