Getting into writing – an interview with Mimi Thebo

Mimi Thebo - children's author

Mimi Thebo is a Carnegie-longlisted children’s author  (Dreaming the Bear, Coyote Summer, Hospital High, Drawing Together). Her work has been a BookTrust ‘future classic’, adapted for film by the BBC, signed for deaf children by ITV and read on Radio Four. She writes stories of recovery and redemption that are ‘beautiful and inspiring’ (The Times) and ‘hauntingly beautiful’ (Bookbag) but ‘not for the faint-hearted’ (The Observer). She is also Reader in Creative Writing at the University of Bristol.

What got you interested in writing?

I always loved books, but I wasn’t interested in writing when I was younger. I planned to be a singing sensation and a star of stage and screen! But, when I was fourteen, I died in a car accident that fractured my voice box. They managed to revive me, but I was in and out of hospital for most of my high school years (this experience was fictionalised for Hospital High). I couldn’t talk during this time, and communicated by writing on a little plastic slate. I soon discovered that I could get more things out of hospital staff when I wrote eloquently. I think my writing career started there, trying to get the timing of my jokes right and more intense descriptions of pain, so that I could get more pain medication!

Drawing Together by Mimi Thebo

Tell us a little about your chosen genre.

We are living in a golden age of children’s fiction. Although I’ve published three novels for adults, I find the children’s publishing world more adventurous than the world of literary fiction. It’s not easy writing for young people – it has significant technical challenges, but for me, right now, children’s fiction provides a place where I can explore my themes and interests and tell the stories I want to tell. I also have a strong sense of working towards social justice in my work – it’s the only think I do particularly well that can help (I’m not patient enough to nurse or steady enough for law), so the fit is a good one…

What are your happiest memories in your writing career?

It’s got to be connecting with my readers. I went into over 50 schools last year with Dreaming the Bear) and will go into more this year. I get followers on Instagram and fan letters…it’s all simply lovely. It’s wonderful knowing that your work has become part of a child’s inner world…and that you’ve maybe helped them to build their resilience to deal with the ups and downs of life.

Although, I’ll be honest, when the cheques come in and I can help my family…that’s pretty nice, too!!

How do you handle success and failure?

Neither one of them really exist. There’s only you and your work. If you concentrate on that and on making it the very best you can, you can handle anything. That’s what lasts… Success will fade, as will failures. What matters is the work on the page – in the end, that’s all there is. The more courage and application (and less distraction) you can bring to the writing, the better it will be. Oddly enough, ignoring (to a certain extent) the market and not trying to be successful is the best way to gain literary accolades – writing your most true and beautiful thing is the key to everything.

What makes you write when you’re exhausted and your fingers ache?

I’m not sure It’s useful to write when you’re that tired! Go get some sleep, or take in a movie or go for a swim. Come back to the page when you are rested. But what gets me through ‘the wall’ of manuscripts is loyalty to my characters. If I don’t tell their stories, they will never exist.

What is your advice to young and new writers?

I’ll tell you what William S Burroughs told me, ‘You have to write a lot of cr*p before you write anything good.’ Don’t worry that your first (or hundred and twentieth) bit of writing isn’t very good. It’s like going to the gym and thinking you’ll be able to bench press your weight on the first day. You have to build up strength and technique. Write regularly (maybe just for 20 or 30 minutes at first, but five days a week) and then build up both. And READ. Every time you read a narrative you are stealing technique!

Are you a traditionalist or a digital? (paper or eBook)

Hmmm. I read on my phone, I read on a Kindle, I read books (lots and lots and lots of books). I think I prefer print and I certainly do to edit my own work, but I need my MacBook Air to write… I think I’m both!

Do you blog?

Not as often as I should. Check it out at www.myglamorousliterarylife.com!

Do you self-publish?

No, although I have edited anthologies I published myself and contributed to others. I don’t have the time or the patience to market and sell books – I really have to leave that to the professionals. Also, I very much rely on my editors, who have been nearly uniformly brilliant.

Coyote Summer by Mimi Thebo

If you have a publication or promotion – tell us.

I’ve publish two books in four months! Coyote Summer is the story of a British girl who is recovering from a traumatic event that she herself caused – she’s sent to her mother’s childhood home in Kansas, USA, where she has to learn hard lessons. Hospital High is the fictionalised memoir of my car accident and high school years. They’re getting very good reviews and I hope everyone will enjoy them. If any of your readers are connected with a UK or USA school and would like me to visit, do get in touch at www.mimithebo.net.

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