We recently interview Caroline Summerfield, daughter of the late Eugenie Summer Field and one of the judges of the Eugenie Summerfield Children's Book Prize which was for writers in the Gloucestershire and Wiltshire area. We caught up with the inaugural winner, Chitra Soundar to find out how it felt to win the prize and what inspired her to write the winning book.
1. You recently won the inaugural Eugenie Summerfield Children’s Book Prize – Congratulations! How does it feel to have won?
I am very pleased. I wasn’t expecting to win – I have read the other books that were short listed, which were all very strong. I am delighted to have won.
2. Tell us about the book A Jar of Pickles and a Pinch of Justice, what inspired you to write it?
A Jar of Pickles and a Pinch of Justice is the second book in a series of folk tales from India. They are trickster tales derived from courtiers and ministers from the North and South of India. They were told to me by grandmother. I grew up with these stories – they would feature in comic books. I wanted to make these stories more child friendly and universal, focussing on the pivot of right and wrong and featuring a strong champion character.
3. In her interview with us on the prize, Caroline Summerfield mentioned your background in traditional storytelling. How much does this impact your writing in general?
I grew up in a house which engaged with oral storytelling. We didn’t have a television when I was a child, so we would tell stories as we cooked or when we sat together in the evening. I was always listening to stories.
My mother would make up plays when we were young, but she never wrote them down. She would map whole casts of characters and scenes in her head and we would learn the lines by improvisation. We had plenty of opportunities to stage these plays, so writing and performance were part of my life from an early age.
I won a prize for storytelling when I was in year 3 at school and this is something I like to share with the children I meet on my school visits. I had to read a story in front of the school and have always enjoyed doing this. We grew up in a neighbourhood where lots of screen writers, producers and actors from Indian cinema lived, words have always been a part of my life.
I am trained as a storyteller so that I could use this at my book events. Many of my stories, including the stories published by Lantana publishing starting with You are Safe With Me, are formed on the basis of oral storytelling and centre on the notion of dealing with fears.
When I am visiting schools and attending book events, I always tell my stories aloud, never completely as they are written but as a performance.
4. The prize was for writers based in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire. We know you have interesting connections to the area. Can you tell us a bit more about this?
I was working part time and decided to pursue an MA in writing for children at Bath Spa. Their writing department is in the beautiful Corsham Court campus in Wiltshire. I fell in love with the area and knew I had to live there. When I won the prize, the Summerfield sisters told me that their mother Eugenie had studied at the same campus when it was previously an art college. I later found out that she also worked close to where I live now in London, so it is a very small world!
5. Why did you decide to write books for children?
When I moved from India to Singapore, I suddenly found that I had Saturdays and Sundays free (in India the working week is 6 days and as a child Sundays were for chores!) I didn’t know what to do with all this free time and my sister suggested that I write down some of the stories I was always making up to tell my family as a child. I did this and began to write. I also read lots about writing – the library service in Singapore is fantastic. Many of the books I read were American or Australian and I also began to read lots of picture books, which is when I decided that I wanted to write picture books for children.
I find it very inspiring to write for children – their imagination is limitless and they have such creativity. They are able to suspend disbelief in a way which adults can find difficult. There is the potential for stories to build and build from an initial idea, to be drawn in by imagination.
6. If you could offer one piece of advice to budding children’s writers, what would it be?
My biggest piece of advice would be to read – take time to discover what is being written and what is being read at the moment. By reading you can build a picture of the type of writer you want to be.
In children’s publishing it is essential to read – this is the only branch of publishing which has different age ranges. This is owing to the differences in development level and also differences in subjects of interest for children.
7. Tell us a bit about what you’re working on currently.
I write every day and always have multiple projects going at the same time. Right now, I working on my series with Lantana publishing. The second book comes out in November and is called You’re Snug with Me. I have just finished writing the third book.
Thank you Chitra!