"To be in a position of influence is an immense privilege" - author Jacqueline Wilson (From Daily Echo)
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"To be in a position of influence is an immense privilege" - author Jacqueline Wilson
AFTER months of saying that she wants to be a pop star or a model when she grows up, my niece recently revealed that she had changed her mind.
Instead seven-year-old Ellie confided that she now wants to be an author, just like her heroine Jacqueline Wilson.
Forget the likes of Cheryl Cole and Katy Perry (although Ellie still likes them too), it’s this silver-haired 66- year-old that is really blazing the girl power trail today.
Loved by young readers – male as well as female – across the world, Jacqueline has sold over 35 million copies in the UK alone and her books are among the most borrowed in the country.
Appearing at the Wessex Children’s Book Festival in Winchester this half-term, tickets for ‘A Date with the Dame’ (she was awarded the title in 2008) sold out in a flash.
The Q&A and book signing at Theatre Royal on Friday, is the place to be for ‘tweenagers’ across Hampshire.
While it has been known for children to queue for eight hours for similar events in the past – such is their devotion for Jacqueline –she has learnt from experience and now limits signings to a couple of hours.
Receiving hundreds of fan letters, cards and emails every week, her superstar status has meant that her approach here has had to change too.“I always used to say very proudly that I answered everybody personally but that’s simply not possible now because there would never be any time to actually write my books,” she says.
“I can honestly say that I do look at everything and I will reply to any child who has made a really big effort or is worried about something.
“I have decided it’s better to do that rather than just to have a token letter sent out.
Nothing would be more terrible than if a child was showing off a letter at school and saying ‘I got this from Jacqueline Wilson’ and then for another little girl to say ‘I got one too’, and for them to compare it and them to be the same.”
While some authors prefer to sit at home and write, for Jacqueline connecting with her fans directly has been very much part of the job for the last 20 years.
An aspiring writer since childhood, she worked as a journalist on Jackie magazine before turning to writing novels full-time.
Her breakthrough came in 1991 with the release of The Story of Tracy Beaker (now a long running TV series).
Estimating she has written around 95 books to date, she penned around half of these before hitting the big time.
It was those years in the wilderness, it seems, that still make it hard for her to always absorb how far she’s come.
“For years I wasn’t at all wellknown and then the whole situation changed,” she says.
“To be in a position of influence is an immense privilege. I’m just charmed by it all.”
Writing for children loosely aged between seven and 14, her books deal with challenging themes such as adoption, divorce and mental illness.
Jacqueline, who has one grown-up daughter, always has her finger firmly on the pulse when it comes to issues that strike a chord with young people.
“Some things have changed since I was young – children don’t walk to school by themselves anymore and they don’t go out and play by themselves in the summer holidays. But I basically think that the issues like how you’re getting on with your family, whether you’ve got a best friend or if you’re getting teased at school, stay constant from generation to generation.”
Writing all her books in longhand before she types them up on a laptop, she has filled her home in Kingston-upon- Thames with her ever-growing book collection, thought to number more than 15,000.
Despite her hectic schedule, she manages to read two books a week on average which include titles she has to read for her local book club.
Winning multiple top children’s book prizes, in 2002 Jacqueline was also awarded the OBE for services to literacy in schools and from 2005 to 2007 she was the Children’s Laureate.
Recently she has been producing as many as three books a year, but more recently it has dropped to two.
While Jacqueline says she may continue to slow down in the future, she has no plans to stop altogether.
“I don’t know whether it’s the grey hair and the wrinkles but children sometimes say when are you going to retire?
I say the lovely thing about being a writer is you don’t have to retire, you can carry on as long as you’re able.”