Anna Friend author interview

A few weeks ago I posted a tweet asking whether any indie book authors would be interested in taking part in an interview on my blog. I received a fair few responses and so have decided to turn this into a series. I’ve sent the same questions to all of the authors and it’s been fascinating to see how their answers differ.

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This week we have Anna Friend, the author of the Big Little Heart series. I won’t go too much into what the books are about or Anna herself as she’s done this below. So here’s my interview with Anna:

What is your book/book series?

My series is called the Big Little Hearts series, created with illustrator Jake Biggin and published by Scholastic UK. The series has been created to support young children and their families or carers through difficult or challenging times.

The first book was published in March 2021 and is called ‘When Can I Go Back to School‘. It was written as a result of lockdown and the impact this had on primary-aged children. This was followed up in December 2021 by ‘Who Will Love Me When You’re Gone‘ a book about grief and loss and the latest in the series ‘How Will It Be With Baby and Me?’ comes out in July 2022.

Each of these books are there to support Early Years Children and are an honest and open conversation, told from a child’s perspective. They contain supportive material at the back, including mindfulness activities as well as useful links.

What made you want to write a book in the first place?

All of these books were written by me in response to an event in my life. The first in the series was actually the most recently written book, inspired, I suppose by my youngest son and his response to the Covid lockdown. At the time of writing, my son was only 7 and he really struggled with the huge and sudden change created by lockdown.

I guess in many ways, the book and writing, in general, is something that I do when I’m trying to work something out in my head, especially something that my children might be experiencing. It gives them a voice and helps me to understand what they might be feeling. I wrote it to help me and my son name these feelings and then talk about them and I thought it might help others in the same situation.

Similarly, the other two in the current series were written about someone or something that I experienced. ‘Who WIll Love Me When You’re Gone‘ came about after I lost a good friend to cancer in 2018. She left behind two children and the way that she dealt with her diagnosis, the honesty she had with her family was staggering and inspired me to create this book that will hopefully be there for families at the darkest of times.

The latest book was written in 2012 when I was pregnant with my second child and thinking about my eldest and whether he might be worried about how life would be when the new baby arrived. The first book written, but the last to come out! I guess at the time of writing I never really considered getting these books published. I wrote them to create something for my children and also as part of a process for myself, trying to understand something BUT I was really fortunate that in 2020 lockdown I was gifted time (like so many of us) because my job, which is in theatre, ceased to exist.

During this time I decided to raise some funds to get ‘Who Will Love Me When You’re Gone’ self-published and started working with Jake. It was only in January of 2021, when we went back into Lockdown that Jake and I decided to self-publish the first book (When Can I Go Back to School) because we both felt that families really needed it. So we worked incredibly hard and managed to get it onto Amazon in 10 days! Then amazingly three weeks later, Scholastic publisher Leah James responded to an email I sent and we were offered a three-book deal. You can read all the details in this Guardian article but suffice to say it was a bit of a whirlwind.

What got you into writing?

I used to write a lot when I was a child, and always enjoyed storytelling and poetry. I loved my English lessons, reading books and plays! For the past decade or so I have written a lot of plays as part of my work as a theatre maker but never really considered myself to be a writer. It’s only been in the last two years that I shifted my perception of myself to include “author” and so now I describe myself as an author alongside a director, actor and podcaster. Ultimately I’m very fortunate because every aspect of my work is in the creative sphere and for writing to now be part of this is very unexpected for me and completely wonderful.

What was the biggest struggle when writing your book(s)?

I’ve been incredibly fortunate in many ways. Each of my books have stemmed from personal experience and in this way, the inspiration has been simple and the words have been easy to find. With my children’s picture books, I am often inspired by the world around me or someone in my life will experience something and I’ll think about how to support them and the young people affected by it. Sometimes it’s on a much larger scale, like the refugee crisis for example. I’m left wondering about the children who are losing their families and their homes and so a book will come from this.

I am currently working on a new book, however, in a different genre and so I’m having to dig a little deeper to find the voice and create time to really focus on writing. I write best when I’m able to block out other bits and pieces but with two children, a business and many other projects going on, it’s not always possible!

What was the publishing process like?

Initially, we self-published on Amazon but then were able to move over to traditional publishing for the series. I did find the process on Amazon really fantastic actually. Very user-friendly and our sales were excellent, much higher than we imagined. Moving over to traditional publishing has been really interesting. In many ways I was a total novice and had very little understanding of how it would work and like anything, I had to learn quickly and navigate the challenges as they arose.

For me, the greatest challenge has been handing over control of my career or written works to someone else. As a self-made business person I’ve always been in charge so this aspect was hard but Scholastic and my publisher Leah James, in particular, had an incredible reaction to the books and Jake and I always felt that Scholastic was the right place for this series. Producing the final books has always been a process that includes everyone and Scholastic have bought an amazing elevation to the series which wouldn’t have been possible when we were self-publishing.

What’s been your favourite thing about being a published author?

My favourite thing about the current series is knowing that these books help children and their families cope with difficult times. We’ve had such amazing feedback and that really is everything. Seeing the books for the first time in shops was also pretty mind-blowing!! Royalties – well that’s a funny question…book money takes a while so that’s not really something I think about at the moment so maybe someday….!!

Writing books and the anticipation of people unknown to you sitting down and reading your words and those words making them smile or feel better or feel understood or helping a family connect, really are the most wonderful things.

If you could give advice to someone looking to write a book what would it be?

DO IT. JUST DO IT.

Take time. Don’t hold yourself to any expectations. Don’t be afraid to walk away at times. EDIT EDIT EDIT. Have a good friend read it from time to time. Do it for yourself, the rest is a bonus.

Where can you find Anna Friend and her upcoming books?

Pick up a copy of When Can I Go Back To School: Big Little Hearts from Amazon

Pick up a copy of Big Little Hearts: When Will You Love Me When You’re Gone from Amazon

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