5 Questions

Vivian French

17 March 2021
Book cover for 'Giants Tea Party' by Vivian French. Illustration of a young small boy wearing a crown and holding a book, sitting on a giants shoulder. A Big Dog Children's Book Festival event.

Children's Author Vivian French stops by to answer 5 questions on her book, The Giants' Tea Party, how she comes up with her ideas and, most importantly, the best part of afternoon tea. You can hear more from Vivian at her Big DoG event on Saturday 27 March.

1) The Giants' Tea Party is quite like a fairy-tale. Do you have a  favourite fairy-tale and why do you think these stories stand the test of time?

My dad used to read me fairy and folk tales every night before I went to bed, and I always loved them. I’m not sure I have a favourite… I do remember that when I was little I hated Rumpelstiltskin. It was too scary! Perhaps Beauty and the Beast? I like the fact that Beauty has the action… she doesn't wait around hoping that a prince will come and rescue her. She does the rescuing herself.
When I retell fairy stories and folk tales I try to give girls just as much to do as boys, if not more. Boys have been the heroes for far too long!

2) What is the most difficult part of writing a new story and what advice can you offer the audience to help them overcome that?

Beginnings, middles, endings… there are problems with all three parts! I always say, make yourself a plan before you start. It can be as messy as you like - it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you make yourself a story map.
Work out the beginning, then jump to the end and decide what you want to happen so your main character triumphs over whatever problem you’ve set up at the the beginning. Once you’ve done that, go to the middle, and find a way to connect the two.
Hopefully you’ve given yourself some clues at the beginning… but if you haven’t, put them in to your plan before you begin writing the story!

3) The characters in the book are all very different - how do you decide on the traits of each one?

Hmmm… I’m not sure. I was an actor for a long time, so I know how important it is to make sure that the characters don’t all sound like each other. That’s boring! I think of a story in the same way as I think of a play on a stage… I always know how the characters move and talk to each other. I don’t know what they look like - that’s up to the illustrator. (It’s so exciting seeing how an illustrator visualises someone that I’ve invented.)

4) Hungry marshes that won't swallow you up if you tell them stories - genius! How do you come up with ideas like that?

Goodness! I’ve no idea! I just wanted to make the marshes scary, and to keep to the idea that stories are really important… they can save you when you’re in a difficult situation!

5) What is your favourite food or drink from an afternoon tea party and do you have a favourite recipe you could share for our at-home tea parties after your event?

Help! You’re talking to the world’s most useless cook. I haven’t made a cake for years and years - I’ve got a wonderful bakery close by, and their cakes are absolutely delicious - so why would I try to bake when I know it’ll be a disaster, and I can run up the road and buy a slice of perfection for me and the family? My favourite is ginger and apple cake… or coffee cake. Actually, I’d say coffee cake is my favourite, especially if it’s gluten free and has lots of coffee flavoured icing! And I like drinking hot water with a slosh of lemon in it. (Is that a recipe?)