Beth was born in a grand house overlooking the grounds of Hampton Court Palace, on a snowy day in the last century. (It was a nursing home, the hospitals were full). She grew up in Farnborough in Hampshire. Being slightly dyslexic and dyscalculic, she did badly in school and was told she’d ‘never amount to much’. Beth read Sociology and Psychology at Uni, became a cleaner, then a hippie in an Amsterdam houseboat, lived in a Bavarian Castle, and then became a journalist and a radio broadcaster, and has published fourteen books for children and YA readers.
Beth has four awesome grown-up kids and two cats (who don’t let on they talk). She lives near Taunton in Somerset, and when she grows up she’d like to grow wings and fly.
Beth also teaches Creative Writing and Illustration for older children and teenagers from 8 – 19 years of age at Kilve Court Residential Education Centre. Check out her courses here: (some bursaries are available): Enrichment and G&T – Kilve Court
She also helped create Books Beyond Words (Home books for adults with learning disabilites) and still produces about one book a year for them.
In 2000, she did an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa.
Why did you want to write the Fleabag Trilogy?
I just love writing; I’ll write (almost) anything.
My publisher wanted me to write a new children’s book. I analysed what was popular at the time and came up with ‘neo-mediaeval fantasy quest’. But I still needed a plot. I played with all sorts of ideas, but nothing ‘clicked’.
The concept for for Fleabag came to me from two directions.
I found the main character when I visited a friend. He is a wonderful person – he’ll do anything for anyone in need, but if he thinks you’re a waste of space, he’ll let you know exactly what he thinks – and still help.
Well, on this occasion, his cat jumped on my lap while we were talking. My friend’s wife said, ‘Oh put him down, he’s smothered in fleas, and we can’t get rid of them. He won’t let us near him to comb or powder him. He’s a right Fleabag.’
The poor moggie was summarily dismissed to the garden. His long black fur was all knotted, and he hobbled on three legs (he’d lost one under a milk cart). So… I put my friend’s slightly crusty personality into the cat. I’d found my main character!
But I still needed a quest. My Mum had my great grandmother’s engagement ring, which had five large opals. Mum always used to look at it to see what the weather was doing. ‘If it turns green, it’ll rain, if it goes blue, it’ll be cold, and if the fire in the middle flares up and goes red, it’ll be sunny.’
This fascinated me, and I wondered, what if there was a great opal ring with a fire that flared up when things were right, and faded when things were wrong? What would happen if the fire were taken from the ring…?
Then I was off.
Why did I want to write it as a trilogy?
One story flowed from another. My editor at the time said, ‘You must round the story off at the end of book 3, no possibility of a sequel.’ But being me, I cheated. You’ll see how. I have ideas for a new series, and a prequel.
These books were first published about 20 years ago, and I thoroughly enjoyed re-editing the books and bringing them up to date. Best of all, it was a chance to introduce dragons…
Which of the characters is closest to you?
If you mean ‘closest’ as a ‘virtual friend’, I’d say Fleabag.
But the character closest to who I am is definitely Gemma.
Did you decide from the beginning to draw the illustrations yourself?
(Also how long does it take and do you decide at the beginning how many each book will have?)
The first two editions of Fleabag were un-illustrated. Having moved to a new publisher who wanted to re-launch the series, I mooted the idea of pictures, and he pounced on the idea.
To do a good illustration takes 3-4 hours each (including the roughs I scrap). I draw by hand with pencil and ink, and then scan the finished work over to the publisher.
In book one, (Ring Fire), I put in pictures where I thought they looked good, but the result was a bit unbalanced. My publisher suggested that I just did one at the beginning of each chapter, which I did for Fire Cat, and will probably repeat for Book 3, Fleabag and the Ring’s End (Due out later this year).
What’s the best thing about being a writer?
I can play with words all day! (Purr).
And the worst?
Getting those words RIGHT.
Changing the subject, apart from writing what do you love doing?
If I’m on my own, then gardening – more the design than the weeding. I also love music and go to folk and jazz gigs at the drop of a hat.
Most of all, I really love working with children and teenagers, inspiring them to read and have the courage to write (so often kids are too scared to have a go in case they get it ‘wrong’). I run the courses somewhere beteeen Hogwarts and St Trinians (with a few health and safety rules). They aren’t like school. They are spaces to daydream and experiment with awesomeness.
I’m giving you a free platform to talk about anything – GO:
Education. We need MUCH smaller classes. Children and teenagers need to relate to their teacher in smaller, more friendly groups.
If kids feel that who they are and what they say is listened to and matters, they will feel better about themselves.
Kids who feel good about themselves are less likely to do drugs or have problems in later life. They are also more likely to have confidence and courage and feel ok about who they are… Just think what would happen if we had balanced, secure, happy people in our crazy mixed-up world!
Also, I think education needs to allow kids the time and space to daydream and experiment, rather than having to respond with the ‘right’ answers all the time.
I know all that’s impossible, but you said I could talk about anything…
Which of your books would you recommend to a new reader (and yes I’m mean so you can only pick one)?
Depends on the age group, but I guess Fleabag and the Fire Cat. (I always like my most recent book best).
Did you make any New Year’s resolutions for 2016?
To get a sane and helpful literary agent.
Pretty please, tell us a little of what happens in the final book the Fleabag Trilogy?
OK, if you promise not to tell. (Luna: Ahm…. 😉 )
One of Fleabag’s friends decides to fight the Blue Magic from the inside – by joining the university. But they take on more than they can chew. Readers will also meet a Weaver Woman, a boy who isn’t, (who plays the violin) and you’’ll get a hint of how Fleabag lost his leg.
Tea or coffee?
Tea first then, then I alternate.
When no one is watching do you dance?
Yeah, especially to Meatloaf.
What magic power would you like?
Can I have two? The first is to heal, the second is to levitate objects so I can get the TV remote when the cat is on my lap.
Favourite dish, that you can actually cook?
I do a mean fish pie.
Do you ever rearrange books in a bookshops?
Only if I see my teen books (which are very dark and I hope scary) on the little children’s shelves. Oh, and I do turn my covers face out…
The word that describes you best is:
Book you’ve read the most?
Ursula le Guin, The Wizard of Earthsea.
What’s the perfect cure to a bad day?
A glass of rosé and a Studio Ghibli film.
You’re at the airport with a free pass to get on any plane – where would you go?
And finally, what is the question you wish people would ask and never do?
I’ve just bought 50 copies of your book for all my friends. Will you sign them all please?