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Twenty Questions with
Tanya Landman,
Children’s Author & Carnegie Medal Winner :
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Twenty Questions with
Tanya Landman,
Children’s Author & Carnegie Medal Winner

Tanya Landman is a wonderful writer who has won the hearts of children around the world. Her amazing Buffalo Soldier won the Carnegie Award in 2015. It was a joy to meet her at The Eagle House Children’s Literary Festival this year and to hear her speak about her journey to becoming a writer (including a spell as zoo manager which involved dressing up in a bear outfit and being terrorised by small children!).

Tanya’s books transport us to different worlds and different times whilst nevertheless tapping into universal human emotions. I remember teaching Apache (Tanya’s breakthrough novel) in my first year as an Enlighs teacher and being blown away by how my students responded to it. The life of a teenager in the UK might seem a million miles away from that of an young Apache, and yet Tanya shows us how their emotions, their relationships, their hopes and dreams and fears ricochet through time and space.

Alongside Apache and Buffalo Soldier, Tanya’s recent books include The Goldsmith’s Daughter and Hell and High Water, all published by Walker. And once you’ve devoured those, you can plunge into another twenty three titles by this talented and prolific author.

Tanya lives in Devon with her husband, Rod Burnett, her two sons, Isaac and Jack, Edgar – a ferocious Siamese cat, and an eternally optimistic Labrador called Hobson. The latest addition to the household is Sally – Hobson’s niece, who Tanya describes as an escapologist.

Here’s a little insight into Tanya’s world.

Which three words would you use to describe yourself?

Enthusiastic. Inquisitive. Grumpy.

How would you describe your writing style?

It varies from book to book and voice to voice.

What do you love most about writing?

I love getting inside someone else’s head and seeing the world through their eyes.

What do you find hardest about writing?

The days when you feel that what you’re writing isn’t just the worst thing that you’ve ever written, but the worst thing ANYBODY has ever written in the entire history of the universe.

Tell us a bit more about what inspired you to write your latest novel, Hell and High Water.

That’s totally inspired by where I live – in North Devon – and the real life story of a very powerful man who lived here in the 18th century.

Your novel, Buffalo Soldier, won the prestigious Carnegie Award in 2015. Why do you think that this novel resonated so powerfully with your readers?

The Buffalo Soldiers had fallen down the back of History’s sofa. I felt very strongly that their’s was a story that needed telling and clearly readers agreed with me!

Many of your novels focus on events in the past: what inspires you to write about times and places different from our own?

There’s a cliché – ‘write what you know’. I find it far more interesting to write about things I discover and the research, the unearthing of obscure historical figures is part of the fascination.

What led you to writing for children rather than adults?

Children have hungry minds and open hearts – they are wonderfully energetic and enthusiastic people to write for.

What were you like as a child?

Accident prone and always in trouble – mostly for daydreaming.

I’ve stolen Tanya’s longer description of her childhood from her website as I think it’s awesome and that you’ll love it:

I was born and grew up in Gravesend, Kent, where I spent a lot of time up trees with a skipping rope tied around my waist, longing to turn into a monkey. The rest of my time was spent waging war against the cruelties of nature: I rescued stranded worms, mended snails’ shells with sellotape, righted beetles, and buried the birds that the cat brought home. I was mistaken for a boy right up until about the age of fourteen (possible as a result of my cropped hair and constantly scabby knees). On one traumatic occasion I was taken to see Santa in his grotto and he asked me, ‘What do you want for Christmas, sonny?’

If you could choose any superpower, what would it be?

I used to want to be a shapeshifter. But having spent so much time travelling recently I’d now prefer teleportation.

Which fictional character would you most like to meet?

Stig. (from Stig of the Dump by Clive King)

Which book do you wish you’d written?

Stig of the Dump by Clive King

Do you have any writing tics that you’re forever editing out?

I really like the word ‘really’. I really use it a lot. Really.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Walk the dogs. (But actually even then I’m writing in my head.)

What are you reading at the moment?

Heartsong by Kevin Crossley-Holland

What’s your favourite word?


What’s the most important lesson life has taught you?

Be kind.

Where do you write?

In a corner of the kitchen. But I dream of having a shed.

What or who inspires you?

People who are creative and kind and generous. My husband is one of them. JK Rowling is another.

What are your top three writing tips?

  • Daydream. Get a clear picture in your head of who or what you’re writing about.
  • Play with ideas – not everything will work, but that’s part of the learning process.
  • Have fun. The imagination is a glorious thing and can carry you anywhere if you let it.

Bonus track: here are 10 things that you might not know about Tanya:

1. I used to have a pet pig called Tilly.
2. I can make a horse’s top lip go floppy.
3. I always wanted to be a natural blonde and once bleached my hair banana yellow by mistake.
4. Later on I dyed it bright pink.
5. In years and years of PE lessons I never, ever managed to hit the rounders ball.
6. Or the tennis ball.
7. I used to hide in the toilets at school discos. The best thing about getting older is not feeling compelled to dance in public.
8. I am terrified of heights.
9. I know how to milk a goat.
10. I can make a tapir roll over.

You can find out more about the awesome Tanya Landman by reading her books, by visiting her website and by following her on twitter.