For as long as I can remember, there’s been this voice inside my head telling me to write. It’s always been there, always something I’ve wanted to do.
How did you come to writing?
When I was 16, I won my first short story competition. When I told people that I wanted to be an author, everyone said it was too hard and that I’d probably never get published. Not having the courage to give writing a go back then, I listened to this advice and packed my writing dreams away. I went to university and studied marketing instead. But I was always writing in the background, treating it as a hobby, a ‘maybe one day’ kind of thing.
After I’d had my first two children I thought it would be great to have a job I could do from home so I could spend time with my boys and earn money around their schedule, rather than working in an office five days a week. My mind immediately flew to the notion of becoming an author. I started attending courses, networking, entering competitions, reading in my genre and filling every spare moment with writing. Once I’d learned and embraced what I needed to do to become a published author, and after about three years of ‘learning the craft’, things started to fall into place and I began to get noticed by publishers.
What were your greatest obstacles starting out? How did you overcome them?
Starting from scratch and having no idea what I was doing! To fix this problem, I attended just about every workshop, course, conference and festival I could afford to go to. I also asked a lot of questions.
How do you keep yourself motivated and disciplined?
I’m a bit obsessed with my writing, so I usually don’t have any problem with motivation or discipline. I just want to shut out the world and write all day, every day. If I’m stuck for an idea—usually because I haven’t planned properly, very naughty!—I’ll go for a walk and get the feet moving, which usually gets the creative cogs turning.
How do you manage your writing time with everything else you do? How has that changed from when you were starting out?
Once you get a few books out there, your writing time does start to diminish because you have other demands, such as school visits, guest speaking and promotional activities. You don’t have endless days, weeks or months to create your stories anymore, so I think you learn to become a more efficient writer. A publisher’s deadline looming certainly helps with this too!
Where do you write? How do you arrange your working space?
Mostly I write at my desk, straight onto my computer. My touch typing is much faster, neater and infinitely more editable than my handwriting. I have a neat and ordered U-shaped desk, a large screen connected to my laptop, and lots of desk space to spread out my notes and ideas ready for transferring onto the computer.
What are your essential writing tools?
Laptop, notebook, pen. Bottle of water. Chocolate or butterscotch lollies.
What’s the one thing you wish you’d known when you were starting out as a writer?
How welcoming and friendly the children’s writing and illustrating community is. I was very shy and nervous when I first started getting involved in the industry, but everyone I’ve met so far has been absolutely wonderful. We share a lot, we help each other. It’s that whole ‘finding your tribe’ thing. My one regret is that I didn’t get involved in the industry sooner and it was only fear and misinformation holding me back.
What do you read and how do you read as a writer?
I pretty much only read children’s and YA books and I adore picture books. I’m always trying to learn from other authors and the best way to learn is to see how they do it. I love reading funny stories and admire those authors who can make kids laugh. It’s a special talent.
How do you overcome ‘writer’s block’?
I usually do something physical and mundane, like going for a walk or doing the vacuuming. That second one is only ever under duress, though.
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Never, ever give up because you don’t know what success is waiting around the corner for you.
Aleesah Darlison is an award-winning children’s author. Her much-loved stories promote courage, anti-bullying, self-belief, friendship and environmental themes. In 2015 she won the Environment Award for Children’s Literature (Non-Fiction). Aleesah has published over thirty books including Stripes in the Forest, Awesome Animal Stories for Kids, and the Unicorn Riders Series.