Posted on 09/05/2018 at 10:00 AM by Sadye Scott-Hainchek
Patience was most definitely a virtue for author Wendy White.
In 2001, ten years after the idea first popped into her heard, she began working on a novel about a young boy living with his neglectful mother and yearning to return to his home.
At that point, though, and for nearly another decade, she assumed no one would want to publish, let alone read an adult novel written from a five-year-old’s perspective.
Still, she kept working on it, here and there, when she had the time.
And then came Room, Emma Donoghue’s acclaimed novel, which was also written from a kid’s point of view.
White had been working to publish several children’s books (successfully, we might add), but Room’s reception made her rethink her plans for Not Thomas.
She spent a few more years writing it, found an editor and publisher, and picked out a new pen name for it and future adult books (Sara Gethin).
White took the time recently to answer our questions about her journey from schoolteacher to school-book-fair presenter.
SADYE: What prompted you to seek publication for the children’s books?
WENDY: I’d always wanted to write a book of my own, and it just so happened the writing class being offered near my home town, back in 2001, was creative writing for children.
I was a primary school teacher when I started taking classes, and I began writing contemporary children’s stories with a strong Welsh flavor — stories I would have liked to read in my own classroom but couldn’t find.
After a number of years attending the writing classes, my tutor suggested I try a publisher, which I eventually did, and Welsh Cakes and Custard was published by Gomer Press in 2013.
SADYE: What was it like switching back and forth between children’s books and an adult book (albeit one written in the voice of a child)?
WENDY: It was relatively easy. I took a very long time to write Not Thomas, my novel for adults, as I wasn’t planning on having it published.
I wrote it as my “pet project,” a story I needed to get out of my head and down on paper, and I wasn’t in a rush.
I took fourteen years to finish it and dipped in and out of writing it while concentrating on my children’s books.
Those light and humorous stories were a relief to return to after I’d been working on Not Thomas, which is quite dark as it’s the story of a neglected five-year-old boy.
SADYE: Have you received any feedback from children like Tomos, or the grownup versions of him?
WENDY: I based the character of Tomos on neglected children I’ve taught — he’s an amalgamation of them all — and so I knew the experiences I was writing about were based in fact.
People who were neglected as children have contacted me on Facebook, and some have spoken to me at book signings, and it’s always humbling and very touching to hear their real-life stories.
When I visited a prison book club in London earlier this year, some of the men told me that what I’d written described their childhood.
It was very sad to hear them say they had been like Tomos, hiding behind the chair while bad things were happening around them.
Some of the men said they’d cried when they read Not Thomas, but they were very glad the plight of neglected children had been highlighted in the novel.
SADYE: What has been the most rewarding part of your writing journey?
WENDY: Getting feedback from readers is very encouraging, even if it’s also sometimes sad.
I’m always amazed when people take the time and trouble to contact me about Not Thomas, and I love hearing their views.
It’s very rewarding, too, when teachers tell me that they’re using my children’s books in class – I always hoped they’d be useful for primary school teachers in Wales.
SADYE: You make frequent public appearances; what is your favorite part of that, in general, and one encounter at an event that you won’t forget?
WENDY: I do enjoy taking part in book fairs and book signing events, and I usually have an event planned every weekend during school holidays and in the lead up to Christmas and St. David’s Day.
I find the best part of these events is meeting and chatting with people.
A story that always makes me laugh when I think of it is when I handed a flyer to a lady in a branch of WHSmith and told her I was promoting my children’s books.
“Your children have written books?” she asked, incredulously.
Since then I always try to call them “my books for children” instead!
SADYE: What misconception about being a full-time writer would you most like to clear up?
WENDY: That all writers are ridiculously rich!
It’s understandable that children think that — it’s a question an author is bound to be asked during school visits, along with “Do you know JK Rowling?” — but amazingly some adults believe the rich myth too.
Sadly, most authors make very little money from their books — we write for the love of writing.
So, no, I’m not about to buy my own island anytime soon!
* * *
Know an author you'd like to see featured? Email us with a recommendation!
Categories: Author Interview