Mandy Collins is a South African journalist and author with a passion for words and wonderful stories. She lives in Johannesburg with her two teenage daughters and two slightly deranged dogs. Her story Dad Goes to School was longlisted for the Golden Baobab Picture Book Prize in 2013.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always written, but I didn’t set out to be a writer. I was planning to be a chartered accountant, but a teacher suggested that I might find it boring, and suggested journalism instead. I had visions of being an ‘intrepid reporter’, but it turned out I was really awful at news reporting. So my official work has mostly been writing for consumer magazines, and in the last five or six years I’ve branched out into other forms of writing.
What inspired your decision to write for the Golden Baobab?
I had written Dad Goes to School, and a number of other children’s stories and the awards came to my attention, so I decided to enter, on a whim.
What inspired you to write a children’s book?
Dad Goes to School was actually written as an attempt to help my older daughter, who was in Grade 1, and struggling to separate in the morning when her father dropped her off at school. She wanted him to stay at school with her, so I decided to explore what would happen if a parent did decide to stay.
Talk to us about your writing routine; what’s a typical writing day for you?
Ah, it’s quite boring – writing is about perspiration, mostly. I keep office hours – I’m generally at my desk at 8 am and I knock off at around 5 pm or slightly earlier if I need to pick my kids up from school. I start with my emails and a hefty dose of procrastination on Twitter and Facebook. I tell myself it’s personal marketing and brand-building, but really, I’m just wasting time. And then I begin. I take half an hour for lunch and then I’m back at it. I wish I were writing children’s books and fiction all day, but I make my living primarily as a features writer and content provider for a wide variety of clients.
Do you believe as an author that interaction (book readings, talks etc) is a key component of your relationship with your readers?
Absolutely. You don’t write a book in a vacuum. You write it for other people to read. So it’s a form of communication; it’s storytelling. And you tell stories to an audience – you can’t just disregard them once the story is told.
As a picture-book author, you have a lot of freedom to create weird and wonderful characters. What inspires you when you’re thinking up new characters? How do you ensure that your characters will appeal to young readers?
You know, I really don’t think about it that much. For me it’s about a story. The characters are part of the story. So I try to dream up characters who fit the story.
When you create your picture books, do you envisage, for example, parents reading the book aloud to children? How do you ensure a picture book lends itself well to being read aloud?
I read it aloud myself. In fact, I do that with a lot of my writing – not just children’s books. When you read your work aloud, you hear when the sentences are too long, or when something doesn’t make sense. So I always read them aloud.
Besides children’s fiction, do you write other genre of books?
I’ve published a health book, a recipe book, a reader for young children and a business book, all in South Africa. And I have a novel in my drawer that no-one in South Africa seems to want. The adult fiction market is very small here. So, I’m a bit of a one-stop writing shop. I like to play with words, and I’m interested in all kinds of genres.
If you could pass on a single piece of advice to authors out there reading this interview, what would it be?
Keep trying. This book was longlisted for a children’s literary prize, yet it’s taken me a full decade to get it published, and it’s been rejected by several publishers. If you believe in your work, keep trying.
Her book Dad Goes To School will be released soon.