Hampshire Personality: Ali Sparkes
Hampshire Now meets popular children’s author Ali Sparkes at the Winchester Discovery Centre to talk about how the county has inspired her work.
What are your connections to Hampshire?
I was born here and I’ve lived most of my life here, apart from a brief spell in London and Lowestoft, so it’s my home county.
What do you remember about growing up here?
Lots of running around in the woods near where I lived! Taking home toads and frogs in a bucket and being sent to put them back in the stream. It was very urban, it wasn’t in the country, but I behaved like it was.
What was your inspiration for your first books?
The first books were the Shapeshifter series, which begins with Finding the Fox. It was inspired by my surroundings and playing in the woods. When I wanted to write about a character I decided it needed to have its feet in wildlife, so I was inspired to write a story about a boy who can transform into a fox. A fox is the archetypal creature of not just the rural area but inner city woods and streets and takes me right back to my childhood.
What is the best thing about becoming an author?
I love the writing and I perform on a regular basis. I do 75 to 80 gigs a year in schools, festivals, classrooms and on stages. If you’re a children’s author schools want you to come in and talk about what you do. I’ve done lots with the Wessex Book Festival and Hampshire’s Library Services – they’ve been fantastically supportive of me.
You’ve won awards too.
I’ve been nominated for lots and then I was nominated for the Blue Peter Book of the Year award in 2010 and I thought “Oh, I’m going to be a bridesmaid again!” I was absolutely staggered when I won ‘The Book You Can’t Put Down’ category and the overall ‘Book of the Year’. I got to go to Blue Peter and get a badge!
How important are discovery centres and libraries?
It’s hard to explain to people who don’t come into libraries very often that it’s not about somebody going “Shh!” and rubber stamping a book. Librarians are inspirational figures in children’s lives, they get them reading, they bring in authors and they create events. It’s about much more than just the book in your child’s hand.
What do you remember from your school and library visits?
It’s a bit of a stand-up routine when I do my gigs. There’s nothing better than the sound of 200 kids laughing their socks off! I really, really love that. When the adults, teachers and librarians join in, that’s fantastic.
How important is it to have events like the Wessex Book Festival?
It is very important because children get the opportunity to meet an author. I never met an author when I was a kid! I like to get across to children that I was not very good at reading and writing to start with. I never got an A in any exam I ever took. I was not an academic high flier, but I loved reading and stories and I loved messing about with words. I know that there are some children who think that if they’re not a straight A student they haven’t got a hope and that is not the case.
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