Ali Sparkes is the author of lots of children’s books including the award winning Frozen in Time, and the Monster Makers, Shapeshifter and S.W.I.T.C.H. series.
She’s also a journalist and BBC broadcaster who regularly exploits her sons, as an in-house focus group for her children’s novels. She reckons it’s a fair trade for being used as a walking food and drink vending machine.
Ali was a local newspaper reporter and columnist before joining BBC Radio Solent as a producer and presenter and then chucked in the safe job to be dangerously freelance and write scripts and manuscripts. Her first venture was as a comedy columnist on Woman’s Hour and later on Home Truths.
She grew up adoring adventure stories about kids who mess about in the woods and still likes to mess about in the woods herself whenever possible. Ali lives with her husband and two sons in Southampton.
Ali Sparkes won the Blue Peter Book Award in 2010 for Frozen in Time.
Interview with Ali Sparkes
ALI SPARKES – AN AUTHOR? SHE DIDN’T EVEN COME TOP IN ENGLISH! HOW ON EARTH DID THIS HAPPEN?!!
Search me. I was going to be an actress. I knew that even when I was four. And even though I was writing stories to make my friends and family laugh from the age of about six, I never paid myself any serious attention at all. I kept on trying to be an actress – and a singer. And I did some stuff in theatres and even on telly when I was 14. Eventually, after working backstage in the big theatres of London’s West End, being a Bluecoat at Pontins (including a spell as a juggling unicyclist’s sequinny assistant) and singing in bands, I got a proper job as a reporter in my home town of Southampton. Even then, writing for a living, I didn’t know I was meant to be an author. I went into radio and stuff. It took me years to work out that writing stories was my thing, and now I have no idea how I missed it in the first place. It was OBVIOUS like a 15 foot glowing neon sign buzzing on and off outside your bedroom window all night. OK. Took a while for me notice it, but now that I have I LOVE IT and there is nothing, but nothing, that I would rather be.
What was your first ever book?
Hmm, well if we don’t include the one and a half page novel about a horse called Lightning that I published at Glenfield Infant School (to rave reviews from my friend), I suppose you could say it was a book about me and my two mates, called Webster’s Week Out. Slightly worryingly, I wrote about four (I think) of these Webster books. They are in a concrete clad vault somewhere, with my own very embarrassing illustrations. I found and read them recently and laughed so hard I thought I might rupture my internal workings. They weren’t meant to be comedy.
But my first grown up book was probably even more embarrassing. It was aimed at Mills & Boon, the romantic novels people, and probably featured a strong jawed man called Garth with a bitter rugged smile and a slender girl called Delphinia who stammered and looked up through her eyelashes a lot. I don’t actually remember. I have blotted this out and only a qualified therapist will ever coax the details out of me. No. It didn’t get published.
Alright, alright – so what was your first ever proper book?
The Shapeshifter: Finding The Fox. The first in the five part series of adventures about Dax Jones, who turns into a fox and all his COLA (Children Of Limitless Ability) friends. Oxford University Press published it in May 2006. I was in such delight overload I had to lie down with a damp flannel on my face.
How long did it take you to get published?
Oh forever. Ages and ages and ages and ag- . Well, probably about a couple of years for Finding The Fox. But before I even got that far I had been rejected in so many other ways by so many different people. Usually very nicely. I know exactly the note that a manuscript thudding onto a hallway mat makes. You’ve got to keep trying. Unless many, many people are begging you not to and, perhaps, putting a restraining order on you.
Now that you’ve got a book out, are you fabulously rich?
Laughs and laughs and laughs and laughs and laughs…
Oh alright. Sadly not yet. But I’m working on it.
What other books are you doing?
I’m about halfway through writing UNLEASHED – the next batch of C.O.L.A. adventures. This is where I get a chance to grab some of the other characters in the Shapeshifter series and take them off on a series of action packed stories of their own. The first adventure – Lisa’s story – comes out in May 2011. And I’ve also been writing S.W.I.T.C.H. – another, completely different series – first four books are out in February.
Do your kids help?
Oh yes. They have to. It’s in their contract. JB and Lex must, at all times offer support and enthusiasm, inspiration and (kind) criticism to their mother, or there will be no Nutella sandwiches on Saturday morning. Their father, Si, must also be nice to me at all times during writing or I will not buy him a Flake on a Friday. JB and Lex also inspired the characters of Jack and Lewis in Monster Makers, and Jacob and Alex teller in Shapeshifter.
Who first inspired you to write stuff?
Lots of people like my mum and dad and brother and sisters, who always listened and laughed (usually in the right places), my friend Val and teachers like Mrs Dann and Mr Tucker. My editor on the Daily Echo was also brilliant and people at BBC Radio Solent in Southampton, where I’ve worked as a presenter and producer and as lots of other things, have also been fab fab fab.
But probably it was mostly down to Joan Aiken who wrote The Whispering Mountain, and BB who wrote Brendan Chase, and Anthony Buckeridge who wrote the Jennings books and lots and lots of other brilliant authors who gave me an escape hatch from the corner of the playground into another world…