Linda Newbery on Writing

linda newbery chris normandaleAuthor Linda Newbery first came to Oundle in 2003 as the first judge of the Oundle Festival of Literature Writing Competition. Distinguished for her books for children and young people, Linda Newbery returned to the literature festival as part of the Autumn season programme to introduce her first adult novel, Quarter Past Two on a Wednesday Afternoon.

After over 14 years as a writer of books for young people, with acclaimed works such as Lob and The Shell House, (shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal and for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize), Newbery did not feel that her first adult novel was a radical leap for her. ‘I was writing it in between my children’s books and young adult books and I kept going back to it. It was just an idea I had that stayed with me all that time…it doesn’t feel like a big change really, it’s just the characters are older.’

There are of course expectations imposed on a writer to comply with the differing demands of writing for young or adult readers, such as subjects for adult fiction that do not correspond to subjects thought appropriate for young readers. She said: ‘You are aware that children could be reading it at a young and impressionable age.’

Set in Stone, a Victorian Gothic mystery, which won the Costa Children’s Book Prize in 2006, is an example of how some books can crossover between readers. It was published as a young adult novel, and has also been published on an adult list.

As a child, Newbery was inspired to write by the books that she was reading herself. From the ‘impressionable’ age of 8 she was absorbed by the 46 novels of Monica Edwards. ‘The places she wrote about made me feel that I was there.’ She also pays tribute to books by Aidan Chambers, a world away from Edwards’ books, but just as absorbing.

Newbery always wanted to write, and always thought of herself as a writer, despite receiving little encouragement from the adults around her. After many ‘fits and starts’ her own self-belief led her to publish her first book, aged 30.

Nowadays she learns from what she considers ‘good’ writing. Her own stories are anchored by a strong sense of place and she is influenced by the places that she visits and grew up in, such as Norfolk, the Isle of Wight and Cornwall. Her childhood town, Epping, has provided a great deal of inspiration for her novels. After a long period living in Northamptonshire, Newbery has recently moved across the border to Oxfordshire.

Newbery has resisted any pressure to write a money spinning series, enjoying the challenge and variety of constructing different stories. She appreciates being able to do different things.
‘Maybe I’ve been writing a long teenage novel and then I think, well, now I’m going to write a picture book.’

Writing for her is a daily challenge, but also a joy: ‘It’s something I can do and want to do, and want to do better…it’s addictive.’

Quarter Past Two on a Wednesday Afternoon is published by Doubleday and is available to buy at the Oundle Bookshop.

By Lucy Ing
Photo Credit: Chris Normandale