Artist of the Month April 2019 – Rhian Ivory
Rhian was born in Swansea but moved to the Brecon Beacons where she went to school until 11. She then moved all the way across the border to Hereford. She returned to Wales to study English Literature at Aberystwyth and trained as a Drama and English teacher and wrote her first novel during her first few years in teaching.
She got her first publishing deal at 24 (found on the slush pile) and went on to write three more novels for Bloomsbury. She took a break to have three children and during this time taught Creative Writing and also a Children’s Literature course for the Open University.
Rhian has been working with students with Autism with her therapy dog, Betty and has been involved in training a Medical Detection Dog who has is now accredited and living with his owner who he cares for.
Rhian has been a Patron of Reading at Akeley Wood School for 3 years and is now a Patron of Reading at Bordesley Green Girls School. Rhian is a National Trust Writer in Residence and has most recently worked with Sudbury Hall and the Museum of Childhood.
Rhian currently teaches 2 days a week at Stowe School helping students with dyslexia and other learning needs.
What a visit from Rhian entails
Rhian has written 8 YA novels and a picture book and can work with children from Year 4 all the way up to adults. She offers fun and engaging talks about being an author and the writing process as well as offering workshops on creative writing, editing and poetry.
Feedback from Rhian’s previous visits
“Staff and students both really enjoyed Rhian’s assembly and many of them stopped me to say so over the course of Thursday and Friday. We enjoyed the workshops very much and I think the students who attended got a lot out of them.” Wakefield Girls’ High School
“We loved Rhian! The students who participated yesterday have been clammering for her books and saying such lovely things about her. It was perfectly pitched to the audience and her background as an English teacher was obvious, as she kept the audience engaged. Thank you for arranging this.” Piper’s Corner School
“I thought Rhian Ivory was very impressive and inspiring!” Beaconsfield High School
Interview with Rhian Ivory
When and why did you join Authors Abroad?
I have been managing my school visits since 2003 but now I have three children, teach 2 days part-time and am usually deep in edits for one book whilst researching the next one, I don’t have time to manage my events diary as well. One of my friends, Kathryn Evans recommended Authors Abroad and I’ve never looked back.
Did you enjoy World Book Day 2019?
I did. I always do. I was lucky enough to be invited to Wakefield Girls School and had a fantastic time giving an author talk about my route to publication as well as running creative writing workshops.
It’s such a special day and I loved the way the whole school came together to celebrate reading and their love of literature. This was their first big, World Book Day event which was created by the librarian there and I hope will be the first of many.
Does working as a teacher help when visiting schools?
Immensely. It’s often the first thing I’ll say when I meet staff and students and the response is invariably “Ah, so you know what it’s like then.” It also means that the teachers can sit back and enjoy the session (most of them end up taking part!) and not worry about crowd control or any other issues.
What sparked your interest in writing historical fiction? How important is it to be historically accurate in fiction?
My first historical novel was Jean Plaidy’s The Lady in the Tower (thanks, Mum).
I don’t think I knew there was such a thing as a historic novel before that book. It ignited a love of the genre in me and I sought out all of her books in my local library and read them over and over.
My favourite historical writer is of course, my Queen, Hilary Mantel. She knows how to bring the past to life without weighing the reader down with unnecessary historical detail or facts. Every sentence works, serves its purpose and fulfils its role within the narrative.
I’ve learned from her that the characters we write about don’t know what happens next. It’s vital that I remember when writing books like, The Boy who Drew the Future, they the characters are living their present right now and aren’t simply figures or footnotes from history.
You have some books and workshops dealing with sensitive subjects such as grief, PMDD and mental health, were you worried about introducing these to a teenage audience?
Yes, absolutely because with it comes a huge sense of responsibility. I’ve been doing school visits since 2003 and I’ve been asked for years to include periods in my novels but not to simply refer to them once and then move on, students were asking me to address period problems and what happens when you can’t just cope with them. I’ve been meaning to do it but it wasn’t until I ‘met’ Hope that I knew I would be able to.
Hope is the book that I have received the strongest response from in terms of letters, emails, social media contact and face to face interaction. I’m met at the school gates by mums who have read Hope and want to know how to get their daughter/themselves help; I’m messaged by Grandmas, aunts, mums, dads, daughters, sisters and friends on a regular basis asking me if I think they/their loved one has PMDD and if they do what should they do next and I have a queue of teens after any event I’ve done full of questions about menstrual and mental health that they didn’t want to ask int the Q&A session.
The week that Hope came out my notifications, messages and emails were overwhelming; I had to turn my Wi-Fi off because I couldn’t keep up. I turned it back on the next day and began responding to the stories people were brave enough to share with me which is something I’m still doing today.
National press coverage of the novel helped because I was able to refer to fact files, documents, charities and helplines to steer readers towards professional help and diagnosis.
What do you find easier to write, a novel or a play?
I’ve never written a play even though I’ve been in many and directed quite a few. I’d like to write the screenplay for one of my novels, one day!
How hard is it to get anyone to listen to a word you say when you turn up to a school with a dog I presume hogs all the attention?
Quite rightly so. My dog, Betty has stolen the show. Here’s a lovely picture of her having a mud bath – imagine my joy.
Children connect with dogs (and other animals too) in a way that they don’t/can’t/won’t with humans. Dogs don’t judge and so children are able to tell them things or read to them in a way they might not be able to (at first) with humans. Dogs are a calming presence and a great distraction. Sadly, my dog Betty died last year and is greatly missed in the schools I’ve visited with her. However, my children are already campaigning to get another dog so I’m sure it won’t be long.
What is your favourite moment from a school visit so far?
Probably during a Q&A following an author talk in a primary school when I was asked whether I’m an Apple Pie person or and Apple Crumble and the massive argument which broke out amongst the pupils and staff.
What is your proudest achievement with regards to your books?
That I’m still writing them and being published. It’s not an easy profession to remain in, competition is fierce and shelf life short. The price of books keeps falling which makes it extremely difficult to earn a living purely from writing novels, which is why school visits are a life line for most authors I know.
Hope is a huge achievement because it wasn’t an easy topic to write about but I know that it’s the book which has made the largest difference to readers and their families.
What would you do to encourage a teenager to write who says they are not good at creative writing and struggle for ideas?
To listen to audiobooks and hear how story is constructed and how character develops. If you think about it, this is how story began – oral storytelling and the way in which we are all introduced to stories before we can read or write.
I’d also recommend when watching a box set/film on Netflix/other streaming service that teenagers look at how the story/plot works and points at which they either want to turn it off or can’t stop watching – you know what Netflix asks, ‘Are you still watching Bandersnatch?’ and you feel bad, think about why you’re binge watching something and what’s holding your attention and analyse how you could translate this to the page yourself when writing.
Why is it important for authors to visit schools?
For some children it might be the first time they’ve met an author or heard someone talking about the publishing profession. It’s important to recognise authors as workers who occupy a professional space in the world, rather than creatives who can exist on ‘exposure’ alone; we have bills to pay the same as everyone else.
Meeting the author of a book you’ve enjoyed is such a milestone for pupils and teachers too. An author in a school can create such a buzz about reading and introduce staff and pupils to new ways into writing. The thing that most teachers are appreciative of is when I tell students how many drafts I do for each novel (The Boy who Drew the Future is the winner so far at 17 drafts).
Drafting is something that doesn’t come naturally to many of us, see also editing.
Are you a regular library user? Why are libraries important?
Oh yes! I go to my local library every week with a bag for life which I fill with picture books, MG books, YA novels, adult novels and audiobooks for me and my children.
I remember my first library experience which was a mobile van with green baize carpet and covered steps which I could sit on while choosing my books. It would pull up outside our house (in the middle of nowhere in Wales) and I’d be so excited about all the adventures hiding inside the van on those shelves.
I’ve moved around a lot during my life and the first thing I do each time I move is find the nearest library and sign up. I can’t imagine libraries not being in my life.
What do you read for pleasure?
MG fiction with two of my children every evening – it’s like a mini book club in my bedroom with snacks.
I listen to audiobooks every day in the car on the school run/on my way to visit schools. My most recent favourite has been The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea.
Which writers have inspired you?
Hilary Mantel for obvious reasons – my Queen.
Barbara Erskine for the way she pairs history with magic or the supernatural.
J.K.Rowling (I know, everyone says this but bear with me), I was reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and turned the book to look at the spine and thought I’ll send Bloomsbury my manuscript, what’s the worst that could happen? Two weeks later I received a letter in the post inviting me to come to London to discuss my book. And the rest, as they say, is history. So it’s thanks to J.K.Rowling that I’m a published author today.
What will be your next writing project?
I’ve just finished editing my 8th novel and that’s currently with my publisher, so I can’t say any more about that at the moment. After that is (FINALLY!) my love letter to Little Women. I’ve been dreaming about this book for the last 10 years and now I’m more than ready to write it.
Paperback or kindle?
Always paperback. I only edit on my Kindle.
Night at the theatre or night at the cinema?
Theatre, every time. I can watch a film at home.
Would you rather be able to breathe under water or see in the dark?
Breathe under water. I don’t want to see in the dark!
What’s cuter – a panda or a koala?
Who’s better – Kipper the dog or Spot the dog?
If you were Prime Minister for the day, what law would you introduce?
The banning of, talking about, or touching of belly buttons.
Arrange for Rhian Ivory to visit your school
To make an enquiry about Rhian, or any of the other authors, poets & illustrators listed on this website, please phone Trevor Wilson on +44 (0) 1535 656015, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org