Interview: Andréa Prior | Living North

Interview: Andréa Prior

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Andréa Prior, Blueberry Kids Photography
Living North chats to children’s author and illustrator Andréa Prior about her delightful books for kids, growing up in a safari park, and her own personal reading habits

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
As a child I wrote stories but I think it was at university that I really started to get the writing bug. As I was studying illustration it seemed natural for me to write prose or rhyme to go with the illustrations I produced. I wrote my first satirical novel in my early twenties, which was a real labour of love and didn’t go far, but it did make me determined to come back to writing later in life.

What is it that draws you to write and illustrate children's books?
I have always loved children’s books – as a child I read avidly and still treasure the books I had when I was young. I’m drawn to writing in rhyme because I love the musicality and memorability of it; not only is it great to read aloud, but it’s an ideal way to help children with their reading skills.

With a degree in illustration, my early career was as an artist’s agent working in children’s publishing, and after a corporate career in branding and design, I now feel very fortunate to be able to dedicate my time to my lifelong passion of writing and illustrating children’s books. 

Would you ever dabble in books for an older audience?
I’d love to but I doubt I’ll ever have time! And my love of writing for children far outweighs my desire to write for an older audience, because children are so appreciative and there is real fulfilment and joy in that.

What are you working on at the moment?
I do have another idea in mind – it will be called A Grumble of Teachers and as with my other books it will be funny rhyming poems. However, as my new book A Piddle of Puppies has only recently been launched, my priority for the next few months is marketing and PR for that book, and I’m currently doing author visits to schools in the UK, and internationally too. As well as sharing my rhymes with the children, I talk about the process of writing and how the illustrations are developed so they get to see sketches of how the characters came about, which they love. 

What benefits do your books offer to young children?
My books are written to inspire, educate and entertain children between 5–9 years. The rhymes are full of word patterns, word play and tongue twisters to help with pronunciation and memory recall and, as well as children loving the silliness of the rhymes, there is an educational benefit with questions at the end of each rhyme. In A Piddle of Puppies (which is about the weird and wonderful names for animals in groups) there are also lots of amazing animal facts.

Who are your favourite children's authors?
As a child I was inspired by the stories and characters of Michael Bond (Paddington Bear), C.S. Lewis (The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe), A.A Milne (The House at Pooh Corner) and Dr. Seuss (The Cat in the Hat). I was particularly drawn to the nonsense poems of Edward Lear, Roald Dahl and A.A. Milne, which are still loved by children today. My favourite modern day authors are the Oi Dog/Oi Frog/Oi Goat series of books written by Kes Grey and illustrated by Jim Field, and I also like the author-illustrator Oliver Jeffers.  

What kind of books do you like to read yourself?
Anything with lots of pace! I love the Millennium trilogy of crime novels by Stieg Larsson and The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, but basically any psychological thriller will do!

And what is your favourite book of all time?
I have several – Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and the fabulous short story thriller Don’t Look Now, by the same author.

Tell us a bit about growing up in a safari park?
A rhinoceros in your garden, wildebeest at the end of the drive and cheeky monkeys just about everywhere, was all part of day-to-day life living in the safari park. We lived in the Lambton Estate in Chester-le-Street, and some of you might remember it as ‘Lambton Lion Park’. Seeing giraffes, elephants, lions and rhino for the first time as a child was completely awesome. My uncle drove the safari bus and I got to work in Pet’s Corner during my summer holidays, where I looked after llamas, goats, monkeys, pot-bellied pigs and a lion cub called Caro-Lion! 

What's your favourite thing about the North East?
Nowadays I live between the South of Spain and the Beamish Valley. I think what I love most about the North of England is the dramatic sandy beaches, beautiful countryside, history and heritage and the cosmopolitan city life. I don’t like the weather much, hence our trips to Spain for the winter, which I find a very inspiring place to write and create my illustrations. 

Describe your ideal Sunday.
If we’re in Beamish, I love a lazy morning with the Sunday papers and a little bit of ‘tinkling of the ivories’, followed by a long walk through the Beamish Valley to our local country pub for a late lunch, and then a lazy evening with CountryFile and Antiques Roadshow. If we’re in Spain, then tennis in the morning, a late lunch on the beach and then a couple of hours in the evening sun reading the Sunday papers. 

You can find out more Andréa, her books, and events such as school visits on her website www.andreaprior.me 

Published in: February 2019

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