Author interview — Erica’s Elephant by Sylvia Bishop

SYLVIA PHOTOHave you seen our giveaway for Erica’s Elephant? We love this gorgeous children’s book and are really pleased to welcome author Sylvia Bishop to Powered by Reading today, who has kindly agreed to answer our questions about the writing process and her inspirations. Lots of her favourite children’s books are also on our favourites list, so that may explain why we liked Erica’s Elephant so much. And now, over to Sylvia…

When you started writing Erica’s Elephant, did you know how it was all going to end? Did it end the same way you expected?

No, I definitely didn’t. I didn’t know the middle, either. Some research into elephants helped me work out how to get the elephant into trouble, and get him back out again. Then I took a month off writing to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. By the time that was over, something very significant had happened to me and lots of my friends, and I suddenly knew how the book would end. But now I must delicately side-step spoilers, and move on…

If you could live in any fictional world created, what world would you choose?

I would love to be able to access the ‘place between’ and all the worlds that branch off it, from Dianna Wynne-Jones’ The Lives of Christopher Chant. It’s a simple idea, just a series of worlds connected by a single place; there are comparable ideas, like the pools in the Magician’s Nephew (CS Lewis) or the Magic Faraway Tree (Enid Blyton). But the big difference with the place between is that Christopher had absolute agency over where he would explore. He knew all the worlds well, and he could go wherever he liked. That autonomy made his adventures there incredibly appealing.

If you can remember, what were your favourite stories as a child?

My parents would read me Winnie-the-Pooh, Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales, and the Nigel Molesworth books…in other words, an excellently curated diet of humour. As I got older, I loved Dianna Wynne-Jones (for the rich world building) and Frances Hodgson-Burnett (for the earnestly hopeful and kind interpretation of the world). These are all still my firm favourites.

Is there a specific reason that you decided to write a book with an elephant in as opposed to another animal?

It was sparked by a text from a friend that happened to mention an elephant. I think that it took hold because of their endless comic potential. A humble elephant is funny and endearing at the same time, pretty much whatever he does – he really just wrote himself. And trunks! Trunks offer so many lovely little physical details.

A bit of a mean question here, but who is your favourite character in Erica’s Elephant and why?

Eek! Well, boringly but truthfully, Erica and her elephant probably tie for first place. But an honorary mention goes to the nameless police officer who makes an appearance for two chapters. His main function is to be unsettled by the whole situation, and tug at his moustache. He was a throwaway idea, but he keeps creeping back into my other stories in various disguises: he’s in the current draft of my second book!

Did you make a consecutive decision to write for children or is that just what happened?

Honestly, I just wrote a thing that I would find entertaining, and found out the ‘right’ age for it afterwards. I knew it was a children’s book, of course. That wasn’t exactly a conscious choice: it’s just that all my ideas seem to belong in children’s fiction. I’ve never once come up with a book for adults!

Were you a fan of Elmer when you were growing up?

I’ve never read Elmer! I really need to correct that. Anything in patchwork is good.

What is your favourite thing about writing a book?

Finishing it! I always cry (Er. Just a little bit. Like, in a cool way). Writing that final sentence is amazing. It was just a thing in your head and with that last sentence it becomes self-contained, and independent of you; it feels like a jumble of words as I’m going along, but that’s the moment when it hits me that I’ve made a Whole Story. And, er, then I have to edit it. Heyho.

Thank you Sylvia! If you would like to read more and win a copy of Erica’s Elephant click here.

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