Francesca Simon grew up in California and attended both Yale and Oxford Universities, where she specialised in Medieval Studies. How this prepared her to write children’s books she cannot imagine, but it did give her a thorough grounding in alliteration.
She then threw away a lucrative career as a medievalist and worked as a freelance journalist, writing for the Sunday Times, Guardian, Mail on Sunday, Telegraph, and Vogue(US). After her son Joshua was born in 1989, she started writing children’s books full time. One of the UK’s best-selling children’s writers, Francesca has published over 50 books, including the immensely popular HORRID HENRY series, which has now sold over twelve million copies.
Francesca won the Children’s Book of the Year in 2008 at the British Book Awards for Horrid Henry and the Abominable Snowman. HORRID HENRY is published in 24 countries and is also an animated CITV series. She lives in London with her husband, son, and Tibetan Spaniel, Shanti.
Interview with Francesca Simon
Horrid Henry's Stinkbomb
How did you get the idea for Horrid Henry?
I got the idea for Horrid Henry when a friend asked me to write a story about a horrid child. Horrid Henry was born on the spot. I also wanted to write about sibling rivalry and families where one child was considered “perfect” and the other “horrid.”
Is Horrid Henry based on a real child?
No, but I think there’s a bit of Henry and Peter inside everyone.
Where do you get your ideas from?
I get my ideas from things that happen to me, or to people I know, or from my imagination. I think of ordinary situations, like birthday parties or getting nits, then add a “horrid” twist. So if my son has to have an injection, I think of how Henry would behave.
How long does it take to write a Horrid Henry book?
Around 4 months.
Who is your favourite character?
I like Moody Margaret, because I was bossy like her when I was her age. But of course I love Henry and Peter. And Beefy Bert makes me laugh.
What’s your favourite Horrid Henry story?
I usually like the one I’m writing at the moment the best, but old favourites include Horrid Henry’s Injection and Horrid Henry’s Gets Rich Quick. I’m scared of injections and it makes me laugh when I read it.
How do you get your characters’ names?
I think of funny adjectives, like “sour” or “rude” and match names to them. I love alliteration and use it as much as possible.
Who is your favourite writer?
My favourite author as a child was Edward Eager, who wrote about magic adventures. I also really liked Beverley Cleary, whose Ramona and Henry Huggins books are published here. My favourite author now is Anthony Trollope, a Victorian novelist who wrote 47 very long books.
Why did you want to be an author?
I’ve always enjoyed writing, and started writing fairy tales when I was 8 years old, so it is never too early to start. I used to be a journalist, but I became an author after my son Joshua was born in 1989. I started to get a lot of ideas, and began writing them down. It did take me over a year to have my first book accepted, however. I started writing because I kept getting ideas—I think it’s because I love reading, and I was reading a lot of children’s books to him.
Can you give me any writing tips
Ideas are everywhere, and you must listen out for them. Your stories will be more fun if you give them a twist. So, if you want to write about football, what about an alien football match, or a pets’ football match? It’s always easier to write the beginning and end first, and the middle last. Think of where your character is at the beginning, and what they are like, and how they are different at the end. The middle bit is what changed them. The best way to learn to be a writer is to be a reader.
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