Popular children’s author Sue Mongredien has written many books for kids, with well-known series such as the Oliver Moon books and the Secret Mermaid series to her name.
Sue chatted to Hearditintheplayground about her writing career, how she combines her work with being a mum, and her women’s fiction novels, written under the name of Lucy Diamond…
When did you first realise you wanted to be a writer?
I have always loved writing, right from the age of 6 when my poem ‘Aston Villa We Love You’ was a winner in a county poetry competition! It was this dizzying brush with fame (ahem) that got me hooked and I went on to write endless stories and home-made magazines throughout my childhood.
My first proper job after university was as an assistant at a large children’s publishers and I found myself really envying the authors whose books we were publishing. As I got more experience there, and became an editor, I learned the nuts and bolts of editing, as well as developing a sense of what makes a good book – pace, characterisation, cliffhangers at the ends of chapters etc, and this really helped me when I had a go at writing my first book.
Who were your favourite children’s authors when you were growing up and did you have a favourite book?
I loved Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, Noel Streatfeild and Helen Cresswell. It’s hard to pick a single book as an absolute favourite – perhaps White Boots or Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. My eldest daughter is 9 now and it’s been lovely to see her devouring them both in the way that I did at her age.
Can you tell us a little about the books you have written for children?
I’ve written for a variety of ages, starting with a picture book for little ones called Tigers Love to Say Goodnight which was inspired by trying to get my children into bed at night!
I’ve also written quite a lot for beginner readers (ages 6-9) including the Oliver Moon series, which are funny stories about a young wizard, the Secret Mermaid books which are about a girl who discovers she can turn into a mermaid and have underwater adventures, and the Prince Jake books about a cheeky, naughty prince.
My most recent series is also for girls, and it’s called Kitten Club, and is about six girls who make friends when they each go to choose a kitten one day. I also write some of the bestselling Rainbow Magic series, under the name Daisy Meadows.
What age range do you generally write for?
I’ve been writing mostly for 6-9-year-olds, although now that my eldest daughter is nine, I’d like to write something slightly older that she would enjoy. So I’m currently mulling over ideas for a longer stand-alone novel. Hmmm….
You have three children – how has this helped you when coming up with story ideas?
My children are aged 9, 7 and 5 and they’ve been a huge help. I often try out new stories on them before sending them to my editor, and they always give great feedback (if slightly harsh at times!) They often give me good ideas for stories too, just with the things they say, or worry about, or what makes them laugh.
My son came up with the title Oliver Moon and the Troll Trouble a couple of years ago (which is now a book), and my youngest daughter, inspired by this, came up with a title too: Oliver Moon and Horrid Henry’s Spiderman Underpants. I’m not sure I can get away with writing that, though!
You’ve written over 100 children’s books! How hard has it been to combine your writing career with being a mum?
Writing is great, as you can do it anywhere and any time, so I have been able to work around the kids quite a lot. My husband works part-time so while the children were little, we split childcare and the working week between us: he would work three days a week and then I would work two. It was a godsend, to be honest, having him looking after the children as I wrote, although often I’d have to work in the evenings, or beg a couple of hours at weekends too, in order to meet deadlines.
Now all three children are at primary school life seems much more relaxed. My husband and I both work four days a week, so we have a day off together midweek which is absolute bliss!
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m writing a new novel – I write women’s fiction as ‘Lucy Diamond’ – so I’m halfway through that. It’s set in Cornwall so obviously I HAD to have a holiday (I mean, research trip!) down there recently, so that I could find the perfect beach for my story to take place. I’ve also got three more Kitten Club books to write, and more of the Rainbow Magic stories. Plenty to keep me busy…
Tell us about the latest Lucy Diamond book to be published.
The new book is out in June and is called Sweet Temptation. It’s about three very different women who meet at a weight-watching club and how their lives intertwine.
There’s Maddie, a mum who’s let herself go over the years (haven’t we all?), Jess, a beautician who doesn’t feel very beautiful herself (largely thanks to the horrible bloke she’s engaged to) and Lauren, a bitter divorcee who ironically runs a dating agency, even though she thinks love is a complete load of cobblers. They don’t have much in common at first but develop a friendship and end up becoming allies, helping each other through various dramas!
Where do you find ideas for your novels?
All sorts of things can spark an idea. I started writing my first novel, Any Way You Want Me, after having my first two children in quick succession – I was having a real ‘What happened to my life?’ moment, where everything seemed to have completely changed.
Much as I loved my babies, I felt ground down by how my world seemed to have shrunk, how all I seemed to be doing was pureeing vegetables, wiping bottoms and pushing a buggy around the park, and couldn’t help feeling a pang for the days when I wore nice clothes, worked at the BBC and had a social life! The main character in the novel is in a similar position but decides to spice up her life by telling outrageous lies about herself and ends up taking it all a step too far… (This is not a true story!)
The idea for my second novel, Over You, came to me after meeting up with two old friends for a weekend back in London, where we’d all lived during our twenties. I started thinking how awful it would be to have been unwittingly betrayed by such a friend, and to discover that there were all sorts of skeletons in the closet, having thought our friendships were perfect. (Also not a true story, thank goodness!)
The third novel started with a title – Hens Reunited. I then worked backwards, dreaming up three friends who had been at each other’s hen nights, but had all fallen out since. Then I had to work out how to ‘reunite’ them again.
So ideas come from all sorts of places – dreams, overheard conversations, what-if?s…
Do you find writing harder or easier when writing for adults?
Hmmmm… neither… both! I’m not sure. I love being able to write about things that particularly interest me, as a woman – like friendship, love, betrayal, following dreams etc – and it’s liberating, after years of writing children’s books and having a limited vocabulary, to be able to let rip and expand characters, especially when it comes to making them do things that they couldn’t get away with in a children’s book! But obviously it’s harder too, as writing a full-length novel (100,000 words) takes much, much longer than a 6,000-word children’s book. Happily, reaching ‘The End’ is so satisfying, I can just about motivate myself to get there each time.
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