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Interview with Allan Ahlberg

Born in 1938 in South London, Allan grew up in the Black Country. He worked as teacher, postman, grave digger, soldier and plumber’s mate before he fulfilled his childhood ambition to be a full-time writer. With his wife, Janet, he wrote 37 wonderful books, already classics. Which is your favourite? Tragically, Janet died in 1994 but Allan is still producing magic, inspiring his new illustrators and us, his delighted readers! Most of the questions in this interview came from St. Dominic RC School, Harpenden.

What was your dream job when you were younger? Do you know what made you interested in being a writer?

From the age of about eleven there were two things that I wanted to be - a footballer and a writer. As to what caused me to be a writer, I’ve really no idea. But roughly speaking I think it’s just that I was made that way - I have blue eyes - small mouth - clever feet - and I could write a bit. I had the potential to write. If I had grown up in a time or a place without pen and paper - without books etc - then I would not have written - the opportunity would not have presented itself.

On average, how long does it take you to write a book?

The time it takes to write a book can vary - obviously - for example each Peach Pear Plum took me a day to write - there again, it took Janet six months to do the pictures - then, as I sometimes explain to audiences of children, Janet and I sent our words and pictures to a publisher and he gave us some money - and I got half the money for my day’s work and Janet got half the money for her six months’ work - the basis of a happy marriage.

Are your characters like you or like someone you would like to be?

Well, I did used to be a postman a long time ago - but I did have to get up terribly early - and the weather was usually freezing or wet etc - and they didn’t pay me very well - so I don’t think I was actually all that ‘jolly’. But generally, though, I’m more the kind of writer who makes up a story - a plot - and then looks around for characters or actors to play the parts in it. Yes, it’s usually the story that comes first.

What was your favourite book when you were young and why?

The only books I ever had were Sunday school prizes - in other words I more or less got one book a year. Children in those days used to go to Sunday school each Sunday morning - and we had little cards which were stamped with a star each Sunday that we attended - then, at the end of the year if we had enough stars, we were given a book as a prize. My favourite book of all time in those years was The Bear Nobody Wanted - which was a little picture story - about forty pages long. Later on, when I was grown up, I tried to find a copy of this book but couldn‘t - so I ended up writing the whole thing all over again in my own way - and I gave my book the same title - The Bear Nobody Wanted.

What advice can you give to young writers and young illustrators?

My advice to young writers and young illustrators is to write and to illustrate. It’s simple really. If you want to be a cyclist - you have to ride a bike. If you want the world record for eating pork pies you have to eat pork pies. But actually, now I think of it, this is more advice for older writers... with children it’s different - if you like writing or drawing pictures - then just do it - whenever you feel like it - just for the fun of it. One thing I would suggest, is that you keep your stories and pictures - all of them, the good and the not so good - and store them away in a box - when you are older, whether you become a writer or an illustrator or not - I think you will enjoy taking them out and looking at them - and so will your children - and theirs!

Do you have any spare time? If you do, what do you do? What are your hobbies? What is your favourite sport?

My favourite spare-time activities are reading and listening to music - and eating and drinking with my family and friends - and doing a bit of ponderous running and a bit of walrus-like swimming from time to time - and talking to the cat - and going to the movies and answering loads and loads and loads of questions from my dear readers.

Thank you very much, Allan Ahlberg

Read more interviews of leading authors by children.

YoungWriter was a magazine published from 1995 to 2003 by Kate Jones.
We here at Myst Ltd had the pleasure of producing the magazine for Kate.
Sadly, Kate passed away in 2010.