Jane Yolen is one of my favourite children’s authors. She moves easily between wonderful picture books like Owl Moon and How Do Dinosaurs say Tonight? to some of the most beautiful and important fiction for older readers, The Devil’s Arithmetic and Briar Rose, both of which deal with the Holocaust.  

She has also written Queen’s Own Fool, a superb historical novel told from the point of view of Mary, Queen of Scots’ favourite jester. As you all know, I’ve spent the last year totally possessed by this tragic Scottish queen, which builds on a lifetime’s love and obsession with Scotland. Jane Yolen has what I consider a practically perfect life – she spends 4-6 months of every year in Scotland and Europe, and the other months in Hatfield, Massachusetts, a beautiful and historic town on the Connecticut River. 

Called the Hans Christian Andersen of America, she is also a poet, a teacher, and a reviewer and critic of children's literature. Jane Yolen's books and stories have won the Caldecott Medal, two Nebula Awards, two Christopher Medals, the World Fantasy Award, three Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards, the Golden Kite Award, and the Jewish Book Award, among many others. 

She is also the author of one of the best books ever written about the importance of fantasy in children’s literature. Called Touch Magic – Fantasy, Faerie & Folklore in the Literature of Childhood, it was first published in 1981, and recently reissued and expanded. Here is one of my favourite quotes from it:

“To do without tales and stories and books is to lose humanity’s past, is to have no star map for the future.’

So I’m very proud and pleased to have Jane as the first of my favourite writers to be featured in my newsletter. Here are the answers to my questions:

Are you a daydreamer too?

Definitely. Though before I became a writer of fiction, I daydreamed situations in my life differently. I was the prima ballerina of Balanchine's company, the owner of a horse ranch, queen of the prom. Now I daydream larger scenarios in which I do not figure, but my characters do.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Yes, because my parents were both writers. Maybe "want' is the wrong word, though. I just assumed a ll adults were writers, along with their day jobs.

Where do you write?

Anywhere my laptop is. Sometimes in my official writing room, sometimes in my tv room. (A bad back precludes sitting for long periods at a formal desk.) Sometimes in the summer in the garden.

What is your favourite part of writing?

All of it. I love the initial spurt where something comes of nothing. The moment after I had no ideas at all, and suddenly my fingers are typing something new. Finding a better way of saying a sentence. Finding out what a character secretly wants. When an ending surprises me. And I love revisions because there are more surprises. The only thing I don't love is the sadness of finishing. The surprises are over, I am leaving my most intimate friends. Some I may never see or talk to again.

What do you do when you get blocked? 

Work on something else.That leaves the hindbrain, the lizard brain, alone to figure out the blockage. It always works, though it may take years. I am of the firm conviction that things DO work out.

Kate: How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

By reading, listening, being curious about the world.

Kate: Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

A cup of tea and fingers on the keyboard, butt in chair.

Kate: Who are ten of your favourite writers?

Isak Dinesen, James Thurber, William Butler Yeats, Emily Dickinson, Alice Hoffman, Ursula LeGuin, Ruth Rendell, Robert Louis Stevenson, William Shakespeare, Bernard Cornwell.

Kate: What do you consider to be good writing?  

Munchy prose, lyrical lines, strong storytelling.

Kate: What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?

B.I.C - Butt in chair. Read something every day. Write something every day--no vacations. Breathe in the world.

Jane Yolen’s website:

Kate Forsyth
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