Write On! interviews author and founder of Refuge in Literacy UK, Anne Stairmand.
Anne has had an extensive career in education and now writes for children and young people. Her books are entertaining, funny, sharp and sometimes satirical, and have completely mad and bonkers characters in the stories, with equally crazy tongue-twistery names. The books are still challenging and demand the reader’s attention with plots and twists throughout the books.
Anne is the CEO and Founder of Refuge In Literacy UK, which encourages authors to donate signed copies of their books to children and young people in domestic violence refuges in their local communities. She is also working with refuges to deliver reading prompts for parents to use with activities that feed back into the strategies used in schools, with a range of activities and questions for each strategy. One INSET has already taken place in the Midlands, with very positive results.
Anne’s dream is to encourage both children and parents in the direst and most challenging of circumstances to become literacy-confident and, as a result, have improved life opportunities.
WO: How would you describe your writing to someone new to it?
AS: I like writing amusing, sharp, funny books which are challenging, full of tongue twisters for names, and books that will keep the reader entertained. In truth, they are all slightly mad and can stretch the imagination, but I think children and young people love books like this, along with more serious and thoughtful novels.
My last book launched in 2019 and was the sequel to The Idiot Family At Home, called The Idiot Family On Holiday. It was great to have a sequel and writing it was much easier than I’d anticipated, though the editing took forever to get right! I love this part of the journey and am always learning the skills of patience and refinement. The last book took the very rich family, the Idiots, as their mother, Jimmelta Chew Van der Bratt took her handbag-shaped golden yacht, named the Jimmi Chew to Marmalade Island in the Caribbean and was kidnapped by the Salami Pirates. There are lots of adventures with her children being tutored by a bossy teacher called The Tank. Jimmelta’s escape is quite funny and, of course, in the end, she’s seen as a heroine.
WO: Can you tell us a bit about your latest book?
AS: I haven’t got a new book out at the moment, and over Covid, I found it difficult to write. This really surprised me. However, I began a community interest company called Refuge In Literacy UK CIC, which encourages authors to donate signed copies of their children’s and young adults’ books to community-based domestic violence refuges. Having had an extensive career in education, I have written reading prompts for parents to ask questions from birth to 11 years old. The questions feed back into the comprehensive strategies used in schools, enabling children to develop incisive answers which develop higher-order thinking skills in the world about them and the books they read. So far, we’ve had fantastic support, with 70 authors donating copies. We have nine pilot groups, and one leading organisation and have delivered INSET to one set of refuges with great results.
So, while I haven’t been writing, I think this new direction is important; in fact, vital. I’m very excited at the developments and response so far and, while we’re only just over a year old: we’ve moved at a cracking pace.
WO: What inspired you to write in the first place, and what inspires you now?
AS: I’ve had an extensive career in education and always wanted to write, so decided to try about ten years ago and was delighted to get such positive responses. As an independent publisher, I feel in control of my work and have loved building significant links to my work through other talented and instrumental people. Inspiration came from my father; a composer who had works published when I was young, so creativity was always evident when growing up. Sadly, he passed away nearly six years ago, but he would have loved all the developments and been thrilled with Refuge In Literacy UK.
WO: The previous issue of Write On! explored the theme ‘Worlds Apart’. With that in mind, do you find yourself drawn towards writing about the world you know intimately, or do you strive to discover a world unknown?
AS: As a writer, I encourage my readers to have fun and, while I don’t draw from the world around me, I do have strong themes of right and wrong in my books and like my characters to develop. Regarding Refuge In Literacy UK, there’s no doubt that, as a community interest company (CIC), I’m working with people in challenging and dreadful circumstances, enabling their lives to improve and develop literacy confidence.
WO: What one piece of advice would you give an aspiring writer?
AS: Write, read everything: news, magazines, novels, fiction, and non-fiction, develop a view, listen, learn from others, and grow to love editing! And always be proud of your work and achievements.
WO: Question from Twitter user: @madeleinefwhite – Are any of your characters based on real-life people?
AS: In my books, I think there’s a mixture of people, ideas and imagination, but not one character based on a person. I read the quote once, and can’t remember who said it. That said, writers are collectors and gather from others; readapting information to suit their writing. I think that’s quite a good take on it.
WO: Can you tell us anything about future projects?
AS: I’m very keen to get back to writing and sorely miss it. However, Refuge In Literacy UK has to take priority at the moment. I have a great group of board directors, but we’re still evolving, have exciting targets for the coming year and I hope, at some stage, to be able to sit down and write. This has been a fantastic year with Refuge In Literacy UK and I’m hugely proud of all those involved.
WO: Lastly, if you could choose one fictional animal/creature to be a pet or companion, who would it be and why?
AS: Probably Aslan from The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe by C S Lewis. Who wouldn’t want the cleverest lion in the world to be your guide and fight your battles?
You can find out more about Anne Stairmand here: www.annestairmand.co.uk and connect with them on Instagram: @stairmandanne and on Facebook as Anne Stairmand. Do look at all the titles, which range from three to 11 years. There are six in total.
Refuge In Literacy UK has its own website: www.refugeinliteracyuk.org.uk We are also on Linkedin.
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If you or someone you know has been affected by issues covered in our pages, please see the relevant link below for information, advice and support: https://pentoprint.org/about/advice-support/
Write, read everything: news, magazines, novels, fiction, and non-fiction, develop a view, listen, learn from others, and grow to love editing! And always be proud of your work and achievements.