Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Interview with Author Sally Lloyd-Jones

For this month's Insider Column, I am so excited to interview renowned children's author Sally Lloyed-Jones about her life, writing, books, and faith.

Sally is a British-born children’s book writer who moved to the States in 1989—"just for a year or two"—but she’s still here. She worked in children's book publishing for many years, and left to write full-time. She also lives in Manhattan and loves to run—sometimes in marathons. Sally is a well-known and widely published author of 20+ children's books. Among her best-known books are The Jesus Storybook Bible, Lift the Flap Bible, The Ultimate Guide to Grandmas & Grandpas!, Time to Say Goodnight, Being a Pig Is Nice: A Child's-Eye View of Manners, How to be a Baby by Me, the Big Sister, and Baby's Hug-a-Bible.

CCBR: We are extremely excited to talk with you this month, Sally. Thank you for joining us! Tell us a little bit about yourself. You are a Brit who was born in Kampala, Uganda, and raised in East and West Africa. How did that shape your early reading, and eventually your professional writing?

Sally: I felt life first as an adventure. And I think my best writing still comes from that place of adventure - of freedom and abandon and play. And reading was just another part of that adventure. The first book I ever read all the way through was Edward Lear's The Complete Verse. Nothing has been the same since.

CCBR: When did you first discover your desire to write books? How did you get started?

Sally: I always loved writing. It just took me a while to find my niche. I tried writing one-act plays, and wrote dreadful moaning poems as a teenager. Then I ended up working as an editorial assistant in the history school textbooks division at Oxford University Press. Down the corridor from me was the children’s book department - and I heard wafts of guffawing laughter all the time. I knew then and there - that’s where I belong.

CCBR: How long does it take you to write a book? What is your writing process like?

Sally: Each book is different. With picture books, they’re like seeds. You can’t force them. They take root and have their own time to grow. Your job is to show up and water them, prepare the soil, etc. Usually with picture books - which I think of as poems - I’ll work on a text, then leave it to “cool off” (as Madeleine L’Engle used to say), then come back to (sometimes a year later), work on it some more, then leave it for a few more months. So sometimes a very simple-seeming text has been growing for several years...So a lot of it is about patience and trust. Then with other books - like The Jesus Storybook Bible - I had a deadline and wrote that in a year.

But in the end, I don’t think you can really say how long a book takes to write - because it takes a year PLUS your whole life that brought you to that point where you wrote it.

CCBR: What is the purpose behind your books? Why did you decide to write children's books?

Sally: My purpose is simply to try and write the best book I can write - to tell the story the best way that I can. If you come at a story with an agenda I think you won’t do a good job. You might write a good essay or a good book of apologetics maybe, but it won’t be a good story. You will be shoehorning the story in to fit your agenda. It’s more mysterious than that, storytelling. Your job as the writer, it seems to me, is to get out of the way and let the story through. The story will take care of the rest.

CCBR: You have also written a number of books for general children's audiences. How did you come to write books for a Christian children's audience? How would you define your faith?

Sally: I actually don’t separate out audiences into Christian or non-Christian. I always just write for children. And with The Jesus Storybook Bible my goal was to retell this incredible story in the best way I could, in a way that children could understand - no matter their background or faith. And in a way that didn’t dumb it down - that preserved the mystery and the wonder.

CCBR: How does your faith influence what you write?

Sally: Faith is at the center of my life - faith, redemption, wonder, joy - so it infuses everything. And if redemption and joy is at the center of your life, then that will necessarily come out in whatever you write. Without even thinking about it or trying. You won’t be able to help it.

CCBR: One of your most popular Christian children's books is The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name. How did you come to write it?

Sally: I wrote it so children could know that God loves them with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.

CCBR: Are there more books in store from you? Can you give us an insider's preview of what might be coming down the road?

Sally: I have quite a few coming over the next year or so - mostly picture books. Some in verse, some young, some funny, some silly, some serious. But they are all my favorites!

Thank you so much for spending time with us, Sally. We love learning more about you!


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Annette W. said...

Every family should have the Jesus Storybook Bible. Every!

Angela said...

Thanks for sharing with us, Sally! May God continue to bless you as you share your gift of writing with the world.

Proverbs Thirty One Woman said...

I agree! Every family *should* have the Jesus Storybook Bible!