John Heffernan - Interview (June 2018)
What five words best describe you?
Focused Scattered Amused Bemused Enthralled
(I’m focused because you have to be if you’re a serious author; there are often times when you have to zone in on quite minute details. I’m scattered because you also often have to let your mind wander off in all directions. I’m amused because there is so much about humans and life in general that makes me want to laugh. Of course there is also a great deal that confuses me and leaves me totally bemused. And yet in the end I am utterly enthralled by this amazing thing we’re all part of called Life, and seek to understand it as best I can.)
How did you get started in this industry?
It was basically Margaret Hamilton who got me started. I had been a closet writer for many years, and managed to briefly work on film and television scripts. But I knew that I simply had to become a published author if I was ever to feel truly satisfied.
I sent my first manuscript to Margaret, which she promptly rejected, writing a long and very critical letter about the story I’d sent. But then in her final sentence she said that she thought I could become a serious author if I put my mind to it, and suggested that I send her my next novel, emphasising that it had to focus on something I was truly passionate about.
Margaret published that book - SPUD - my very first! It is still in print almost twenty years later.
Is there any part of the creative process you don't like?
Not really. I do occasionally become tired and have to remind myself to stay focused. I do become annoyed with editors when they’re difficult to deal with, but that’s rare. I know that the editing process can be frustrating at times. But these are all necessary parts of the creative processes, and always worth working hard at if you really want to produce a book worth reading. Except for the rare genius, nothing much is achieved without focused hard work. I love that aspect of the creative process - the constant pursuit of a cherished goal.
What advice would you give to someone who is trying to catch the eye of a publisher?
Be pushy, but make sure that what you’ve got is worth pushing. Never be frightened to blow your own trumpet - no one else will blow it for you. But make sure you have the best tune possible. Tell the publishers you have a story to die for: ie that unless they publish it they will die. Maybe that’s a bit harsh, but hopefully you get the idea. Believe in yourself, then make them believe in you, but always give the best you’ve got, nothing less! And finally, be prepared for knockbacks. They’re part of the game. Accept them, try to improve your work if you can, and keep pushing yourself forward.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? (Plotter =Plotting out your manuscript before you write it. / Pantser = Putting pen to paper and plotting as you go along)
I’m mostly a plotter, although I don’t like to plan too much. I find that if I know the plot in too much detail, I often don’t ever write that book. I like to keep some parts of the story in the shadows - especially the ending - and to see what develops as we go along. But I spend a lot of time initially planning a story, right up until maybe the last two or three chapters.
What excites you about the future of children's books?
I love the fact that we have some truly great writers out there producing books for young readers. It’s great to know that the future of children’s books is in such good hands.
I like to think of myself as being among those authors, but only in regard to a few of my books. Of the fifty or so works I’ve published, I consider about ten or twelve to have more or less achieved what I’ve wanted to achieve as an author.
What’s the funniest thing a child has ever said to you during one of your presentations/talks?
Years ago I had a session with some kindergarten kids. As they came in to the classroom I heard one little guy said to his mate:
“What’s an ‘orfa’ anyway. I don’t even know what an ‘orfa’ is. What do they do?”
I knew I was in for an interesting session.
What's next from John Heffernan?
In the short term I have a novel to work on, but after that I want to head off on a totally new tangent.
For years I’ve wanted to be an illustrator, and so I’ve decided to spend a year or two following that dream. I also want to study animation, with a view to somehow giving my stories a new and exciting injection of life through short animated presentations. I have no idea whether any of this will work, but I feel that I’ve written enough books for the time being, and so now can set off on this new journey. Can’t wait to get going!
I’ll will still visit schools and talk to students about books and the wonderful world of words. (I really do love that aspect of being an author.) But now I also want to create something in the wonderful world of images as well.
And why not? After all it’s really just another form of story telling in the end.