Jane Wilson-Howarth

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Author interview

Thursday, 20 September 2018
Two children aged eight and ten go on a holiday to an island in the Indian Ocean.
The younger one believes that there are dragons on the Island and persuades the older sister to join in the search for them.
 
Seeta, you have travelled a lot and worked for many years as a doctor including caring for sick children. What made you want to write for children?
I find that I can just make up a story. I’ve always been able to. I look around, see a tree and can think of a story about it.
I’ve always wanted to write and thought a proper grounding would help so did a creative writing course for children at Birkbeck College, London.

 
You speak English at home but know Sinhala and some words of Tamil. You must be interested in words and language! Are there some words that don’t translate easily or well?
The commonest words that do not translate well are "goodbye". The equivalent in Sinhalese would mean "I will go and come".
"How are you?" is a bit problematic as the recipient will answer giving a list of ailments and misfortunes.
Another expression is putting something off or postpone will translate as "dropping off on the way".

 
How long did it take you to write your first book?
About a year but this was a year of great change including moving city and home. My second story took just a couple of weeks to complete.
 
How did you decide on the setting for your story?
For much of my life, I worked as a GP but retired a little early – at 60 – and since then travelled the world. To Hanoi and Saigon (which was full of remorseful Americans, ashamed of using Agent Orange), to Petra, right across the US in a Greyhound, to Canada where I saw moose walking through the middle of Calgary, to Ireland, to Sri Lanka (of course) and to Denmark where there were so few people on the street I wondered if there had been some awful epidemic.
When we returned to Sri Lanka, we stayed in a house on a tea estate in the hills, where mornings were misty and, in the evening, lights came on like fireflies resting on a green mat. Those lovely scenes made me think of this story. There is also a dearth of children’s books written by Asians for Asian children. I decided to place the story in Sri Lanka where I grew up.

 
Was it difficult to find the right artist to illustrate it?
As often happens, the publisher took control – for better or worse. Finding the correct artist took a long time and finally two different artists with two styles were used.

 
Do you think using two separate artists worked well?
I have some reservations but many authors have such concerns.
 
Did you have any help honing the story?
Yes, from writing colleagues in Cambridge Writers travel group.
 
Did you try it out on any children?
Yes, on my six grandchildren. I also read it to a class at the Morley Memorial School in Cambridge and was pleasantly surprised that they followed the story despite it being set outside England. The children asked lots of intelligent questions about my work.
 
Did you organise an official launch?
Heffers bookshop in Trinity Street, Cambridge are generous to local authors and I launched it there on a Saturday afternoon.

Where can people buy your work?
Maya and the dragon is available in Sri Lanka at the Yapa bookshops, of which there are many branches all over Sri Lanka. 
 
Tell us about your other writing projects.
I have also written The Lonely Cat and launched this last year. It is available from Amazon by clicking here LonelyCat and from the Cat Protection Society (profits go to them) as well as from Melrose Books, Ely, Cambridge CB7 4GG, UK. i was especially pleased when Michael Rosenberg OBE read it and described it as "a sweet story" and "an enjoyable read".

In addition to this, five women in the Cambridge travel writers group have worked together to produce an anthology of travel writing based on the personal experiences of each member while travelling in Nepal, India, Egypt, Mauritania, South Sudan, Philippines and rounding the Cape, as well as other destinations. The title of the book, 50 Camels and She's Yours, is taken from one of my stories. The book launch is at Heffers bookshop in Cambridge (UK). Take a look by clicking on the  50 Camels and She's Yours page for more on that book which is now available in paperback and for e-readers.

Meanwhile, I shall be looking around for further inspiration. It is everywhere.
 
Seeta reading one of her contributions to "50 Camels" at the book launch in Heffers bookshop, Cambridge on 20th September



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