Author: Ali

Writing Sunny

My love of writing is rooted in my childhood love of reading, and my wanting to write for children grew out of the pleasure of reading with my young son.

When my son was seven, the idea for Sunny and the Ghosts fell into my head. It’s set in the kind of antique and second-hand shop I’ve always liked poking about in. This one has ghosts living in the furniture. The boy who lives in the flat upstairs discovers them, and they make friends and have adventures. One of my favourite things about having written a children’s story was that I could share it with my son. I printed out what I’d written and we read it at bedtime, and as well as drawing ghosts on the manuscript, he made helpful comments and asked good questions.

I read a revised draft to my nephew and niece, who did impressive listening and showed a reassuring interest in the story; afterwards, my nephew was already thinking about how a sequel might work, and on publication my niece sent me her really careful copy of the cover. I was pleased to discover that parents with children who fell inside and outside the target age group – for example, an eight-year-old and a five-year-old – were able to enjoy reading it together; it was also nice to hear that children, whether they’d had the book read to them or had read it independently, were eager for the next one!

I hadn’t particularly planned on writing a series, but when I wrote the run-down Hotel Splendid into the background of the first book, I knew I wanted to write a separate story set there, so I wrote Sunny and the Hotel Splendid. And then I decided it would be fun to give an off-stage character from that second book her own story, so I wrote Sunny and the Wicked Lady.

The Wicked Lady is based on a real ghost story attached to a real historical figure and real historical sites, including Okehampton Castle. We stopped there on the way back from a family holiday in Devon and enjoyed exploring the ruins, and the real-world research made it much easier to get the details right in my story.

I loved working on the Sunny books, including collaborating with the illustrator, Ross Collins. It was interesting to see how the process worked, and really exciting to see his realisation of the settings and characters, as well as his striking covers.

I’ve also enjoyed having the opportunity to do Sunny events, including a launch in the children’s section at Waterstones Nottingham, and a children’s event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, for which I spent some time devising games and activities and making props, and had fun doing a trial run with my son. I always gauge audience engagement by the questions I get at the end of a session, and the children’s questions were fantastic. And I visit schools, to talk to children who are the same age as I was when I fell in love with books and writing.

An earlier version of this article appears on Salt’s blog.