Artist of the Month January 2019 – Claire Barker
Our January ‘Artist of the Month’ is exceptional author and lovely human being – Claire Barker. Claire Barker is an award-winning author of funny, magical fiction for 7 to 10 year olds. She believes that readers of all abilities deserve books full of delicious, vibrant words.
About Claire Barker
Claire lives on a small Devon farm with her family and several animals that are constantly trying to escape.
Claire Barker’s brain is like a barrel of excited monkeys. Writing stories lets the monkeys run about, for which they are very grateful. Ten years ago she worked as an HLTA in a primary school. She was always trying to find special stories to put in book bags – ones that are easy to pick up but hard to put down. In the end her brain monkeys wrote their own book.
Her award-winning Knitbone Pepper series, about a lovable ghost dog, has been translated into eight different languages and is available in hardback, paperback and audiobook. In 2017 the first book was a runner up in the Sainsbury’s Children’s Fiction award, was shortlisted for the Fantastic Books award and then won The Book Factor; an award voted for exclusively by over 2000 children. In the same year she was thrilled to be nominated by Devon Librarians for the prestigious Ruth Rendell Award, for the author who has done the most to champion literacy. She has performed on stage at Edinburgh, Bath, Cheltenham and a variety of other festivals, not to mention in front of thousands of children in schools around the country.
What A Visit From Claire Entails
Claire can offer author talks or writing workshops with primary aged children. Her talks are very interactive and inclusive and get pupils talking about hats, pets and books!
Claire’s writing workshops focus on getting children to consider the important elements that make up a story and encourages them all to produce their own work of fiction.
Feedback from School’s Claire has visited
“Claire was her usual vibrant self and kept the children completely captivated. She took time to chat to individuals as she signed her books, making each child feel special. She has the knack of inspiring both children and teachers!!” Testimonial Claire Rowe, KS2 teacher, The Maynard School, Exeter
‘Thank you Claire Barker What an amazing and inspiring talk today for children of Seaton, Colyton, Kilmington and Shute Primaries. Hats, biscuits, how to create a character, the power of your imagination, and stories about Claire’s own collection of animals past and present which have inspired her writing. And that was just the talk in the hall! Claire was then invited to some classrooms to look at their creative writing and share top tips. And after that she spent an hour in the library chatting to any children who dropped in, signing books and answering questions’. Jenny Eagles, Owl and Pyramid Bookshop, Seaton
‘Claire was like a breath of fresh air… When signing her books, Claire talked with the children individually and made it a really special memory for them. Many children have said how they have been inspired to write more stories as a result of this visit.’ Winscombe Primary, North Somerset
“A boy in my class was a very reluctant reader, I had tried all sorts of books and activities to try and get him enthusiastic and inspired but for him reading was a chore. After a visit from CCB and the author Claire Barker he purchased the book Knitbone Pepper and got it signed by the author. He went home excited about reading the book in the evening – I couldn’t believe it! The next day he was giving me a summary of what had happened so far with great enthusiasm. We spoke about the book often and one day he proclaimed “I used to hate reading until we had the visit from the author – now I love it!”. For this little boy that 50 minute visit and book signing had changed his attitude and enthusiasm towards reading forever, which without CCB we wouldn’t have had. He is now an avid reader who finds it hard to put a book down!” Teacher’s email to Crediton Community Bookshop
‘Claire came to speak to our KS2 children last week and was fantastic! Her story ideas and tips as an author were inspiring and the workshop afterwards complements perfectly our approach to story writing – never accepting the first idea, adding detail and “tell me more”! It was a wonderful event and many children went on to buy her book and appreciated meeting her as an author. Claire took the time to speak to each child individually and as I have walked around the school since, have seen lots of children reading her book. A lovely event – thank you so much!’
Chulmleigh Primary School
‘A simple yet powerful presentation that showed the children that, although hard work and requiring a great deal of patience, being a published author is not out of their reach. An inspiring visit that saw many children buying books and instantly wanting to read them and not put them down – a winning sight for any teacher. Thank you so much for visiting us and reminding the children how exciting, interesting and adventurous being a writer can be….What we particularly enjoyed was the way you showed the children how easy it could be to come up with ideas…Ever since your visit, your book has been read by a large number of the children and, from their reading comments, it is clear that they are loving it! Bring on the next one – we can’t wait!’ Haywards School, Crediton
“Wow! What can I say… the children and adults alike can not speak highly enough of you. Your presentation and workshops are truly inspiring, motivating and thought provoking. Our morning together has left my children desperately eager to write creatively and imaginatively, which was most defiantly our aim. The sessions provided great enjoyment for all abilities of children.
We loved the ‘Beloved Imaginarium’ sheets you provided as they set a great stimulus for the children to express their own ideas following on from the whole group discussion, allowing them to see that they all have the potential to be wonderful writers. As you know i am a devoted Knitbone Pepper fan and thoroughly enjoy reading the series to both my own children as well as my class. The series is humorous, yet tugs on the heart stings but above all are beautifully written with a depth and breadth of vocabulary.
Overall I would highly recommend a morning with Claire Barker to any school, your way with the children is lovely and their engagement this morning was truly magical… I have never seen them so engrossed and quiet. One of the children described your humour as tremendous . We also appreciated the time you took after the session to sign some cards for the children as this makes the experience more personal for them.
Thank you again, you are an amazing author and we would happily welcome you back anytime.”
Mrs Riley and the children of Broadfield Primary Academy
Interview with Claire Barker
When and why did you join Authors Abroad?
Because I wanted to spend less time doing admin and more time writing. I used to be a PA and I know the work involved.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
As a job? No, mostly because I had no idea it was even possible for someone like me. I imagined authors went to posh schools and had ‘connections’. However, if the question is have you always been a writer? then the answer is quite different. I have been a writer since I was very small.
Do you enjoy being an author? What’s your favourite part of the job?
I love meeting readers and the buzz you get from a great school visit is hard to beat. But I think the best part of being a writer is when the words all start to flow, to thunder along like galloping horses. There’s a wonderful rhythm and power to it.
Is Knitbone Pepper based on a real dog?
Yes, on our old dog Finn. He was a mix of lots of breeds, with the sum being greater than the parts. I’m sure he knew a lot more than he let on.
How do you concentrate on writing with several animals at home?
They do funny things all the time. As I write about funny situations, they are more of a help than a hinderance. For example today Luna, our French Bulldog, decided the sofa was too frightening to sit on. I mean, who is scared of a sofa? It’s not as if she doesn’t sleep on it every day.
How much fun was it writing about the character of Picklewitch with her antics and jokes? (Bravo by the way for one of my favourite lines in a book for a while – Professor Bright’s intelligence being described as having ‘more degrees than a thermometer.’)
SO MUCH FUN. When I finished writing it I genuinely missed her. Good job there are going to be more really. And thank you.
Where do you even begin to find inspiration for writing songs about badgers’ bottoms?
I have a very juvenile sense of humour. English place names are full of innuendo and they never fail to make me snigger.
We warn schools your presentations are likely to include a lot of hats – care to explain?
The aristocratic family in Knitbone Pepper are as poor as church mice, but they don’t care because they have each other. Their main passion is hats – bonnets, caps, top hats, turbans, fedoras, berets. Many are inherited from their ancestors, as is their idiosyncratic outlook.
How important is it to engage children and young people with literacy?
Being able to read is to be given the golden keys to the garden of knowledge. Without it you are stranded outside, contemplating a very high and slippy wall. Literate children become discerning, wise adults with choices. Choices mean freedom. Crucially it’s been linked to higher levels of happiness in children, so I’d say very important.
Can fiction be used as a force for good and change?
Definitely. Reading is about empathy, being able to imagine yourself in different situations. You can have tackled a problem situation half a dozen times in fiction before you have to deal with it yourself. Fiction teaches you about the wages of both good and evil. Stories are dress rehearsals for life.
What is your favourite thing about libraries?
The way they see everyone as being of equal value and deserving of knowledge. They are a touchstone of a civilised society. It is humanity on its best behaviour.
Sweetest moment from a school visit?
A little boy who told me, with great sincerity, that he was trying to understand his pet cat’s accent so they could communicate better. Then there was the little girl who brought her cuddly toy dog that she had named Knitbone. Lots really.
Funniest moment from a school visit?
When a child asked me about my job prospects and asked if I had a pension.
Would you describe Knitbone Pepper or Picklewitch books with their ghosts and witches as scary?
No, not really. I am easily scared by these things so my answer to these fears is to turn them on their heads. Ghosts and witches are supposed to be frightening, so I made them into friends. Ghosts are supposed to be human, so I made them into animals. Witches are supposed to be old crones so I made Picklewitch a little girl. But they still all have a certain edge. In my books you have to expect the unexpected.
Any plans for a new series?
There are more books coming in both the Knitbone and Picklewitch series so I’m kept very busy right now. But there are seeds, yes.
What books do you read for pleasure?
It tends to be non-fiction books about flora and fauna of the British Isles. I also love funny books. I’m rereading the James Herriot books at the moment. Very soothing in these troubled times and surprisingly hilarious for such a gentle subject.
Which author do you admire the most?
Toss up between Kate Atkinson ( Stephen King described her work as the Triple Axle of writing) and Rose Tremain. Best of all though was Sue Townsend. I really think she was extraordinary. I admire writers who invent characters that can stride off the page.
Any new year’s resolutions?
To get better at making decisions. Maybe. Maybe not.
Paperback or Kindle?
Cat or dog?
Rabbit or guinea pig?
What’s scariest – ghosts or witches?
Starter or dessert?
What’s your bucket list destination?
Pondicherry in India
Arrange for Claire Barker to visit your school
To make an enquiry about Claire 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