Maudie Smith is the author of the Opal Moonbaby trilogy, lives outside Bath and has a keen interest in cakes.
You’ve got a beautiful new book coming out this week – TheCake the Wolf and the Witch, can you sum it up in a few sentences?
Thank you! It is lovely, isn't it. I'm thrilled with the illustrations Tony Ross has done, and the cover design is so pretty I've had to restrain myself from licking it – it's even got embossed leaves on the front – how posh is that?
Max is fed up about his dad getting married, forcing him to live with a new sister and brother. He's even more fed up about having to jump out of a cardboard wedding cake with them and shout, “We're all going to live happily ever after!” because that obviously isn't happening. But then the children are whisked away in the cake to the Land of Ever After. Max is downright terrified when he meets a talking wolf who wants him to go on a mission to defeat a murderous witch. It should be quite clear, just from looking at him, that dangerous quests are not up Max's street.
Or, if you want the really short version, suitable for the elevator. It's INTO THE WOODS meets the CBBC show, MILLIE INBETWEEN.
Is this an idea that’s been lurking in the back of your mind for ages? With this book it was the title that came first. It's got a rhythm to it that stuck in my brain. All I've got to do, I thought, is write about the cake, then the wolf, then the witch. I'll just join the dots - it'll be easy. Of course it wasn't like that in the end.
What do you enjoy most – writing that first draft or slicing it to bits in the editing process?
My favourite part is when I suddenly catch a creative wave and advance the story, writing things I had no idea were going to come out of me. Those are the times when I can blot out everything else and whole hours seem to roll away without me noticing. Those times are far too rare.
Who is your first reader? Do you have an agent? And how well do you take their criticism?
My agent is Jo Unwin and she is my friend and trusted first reader. Jo helped me a lot with my first book, OPAL MOONBABY AND THE BESTFRIEND PROJECT, and I have total faith in her judgement. She tells me whether a draft is ready to go over to my editor. My husband, Gary Parker, is a writer too. He writes for TV. (In fact he writes the CBBC show, MILLIE INBETWEEN, which I seem to have mentioned here already.) We both work at home, so often meet for lunch and bounce plot ideas around. I find his thoughts very useful, although he says I never act on them. I don't ask him to read my books, though, until they're in print because I think too much criticism from someone that close could easily lead to irretrievable marital breakdown.
Are you fantastically disciplined?
Wouldn't it be marvellous if I were! I am the world's *best/worst (*delete as appropriate) procrastinator. And now there are so many excellent procrastination tools at our disposal – not just coffee-making or de-fleaing the cats, but Facebook and Twitter, both of which I seem to have enthusiastically embraced since I became a published writer. Coincidence? I think not.
You do school visits – do you bring your previous life to bear when dreaming up the possibilities?
Ah, you mean because I used to be an actor? Yes, to some extent. I do think that a school visit from an author should be a memorable and entertaining event, and I like to perform and lark about a bit while I'm talking about books and writing.
There's also something of an irony here, since one of the reasons I gave up acting was because the nerves started to get the better of me. I thought I'd stay at home and write instead. But then, lo and behold, I'm up on stage doing one-woman shows for hundreds of children! How'd that happen? I always enjoy it though, once I'm on.
Why children’s books?
Simply because I read so many of them myself when I was young. In those days I could be totally absorbed by books and I read in a concentrated way that, try as I might, I can't replicate in adult life. The books absorbed me and I absorbed them like a young sponge. It's probably the performer in me, but I also love reading aloud and it was reading with my own daughters, sharing books with them, pretending to be Pippi Longstocking, or Mr Gum, the BFG or Miss Hardbroom, that really got me going with my writing.
I especially like writing for the 'middle grade' age group, for people of 9 or 10 who are on the cusp of all that boggling change. My daughters are older now and want me to catch up with them and write something for teenagers or YA. I'm sorry to disappoint them, but I think I've found the right place for me, and I'm staying put.
What would the 10 year old Maudie think of the current Maudie? Would she be pleased or disappointed by Maudie Smith – writer?
She'd be a bit surprised. At 10 I was dead set on being an actor and totally blinkered to any other possibilities, so I'd be expecting more of a Maggie Smith in waiting than a Dodie Smith in the making!
When the 10 year old Maudie came home from school, what did she do of an evening?
Watched Blue Peter and Scooby Doo, ate Vesta curry and tinned peaches, pestered the cat, argued with her brothers, read Joan Aiken and Noel Streatfield, did bad cartwheels in the garden and sang Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the top of her voice.
If you could give a single piece of advice to the 10 year old Maudie – what would it be?
You're about to have a massive bust up with Susan Leach and you'll spend the next couple of years being the only girl in the class with a desk all on her own. But don't worry, Susan Leach isn't the right friend for you anyway – remember how she laughed at your efforts to make bread plaits for her precious Sasha dolls? You'll find the people who are right for you. Hang on in there and everything will work out fine.