Authors Welcome had the opportunity to chat with author Anne Booth about her book Girl with a White Dog, and learn more about her as an author. Girl with a White Dog is about a modern 13-year-old girl called Jessie, who lives in a small English village and whose grandmother adopts a white Alsatian puppy. With Snowy’s arrival a mystery starts to unfold, and as Jessie learns about fairy tales and Nazi Germany at school, past and present begin to slot together and she uncovers something long-buried, troubling and somehow linked to another girl and another white dog…
AW: Who is your intended audience and why should they read your book?
Anne Booth: My intended audience is children who are learning about Nazi Germany and reading books like The Diary of Anne Frank. It targets children aged from 9-14. I would like them to read it alongside all the wonderful books that are already out there, in order to add one more perspective on the Holocaust and to become aware of current temptations to racism and fear of ‘the other’ in our modern day, recession-hit countries. I wanted to explore what it was like to be a Nazi child and to believe in the stories told by the media, and to show that children and adults today can also be subtly brainwashed and seduced by a kind of fairytale which tells them that they are superior and somehow more deserving of a happy ending than other people.
AW: How did you come up with the title for your book/series?
Anne Booth: Originally I was going to call my book ‘The Hidden Hours,’ but my agent, the wonderful Anne Clark, of http://www.anneclarkliteraryagency.co.uk came up with the title ‘Girl with a White Dog’, and I am so glad that she did.
AW: Tell us a bit about your cover design? Who designed it and did you have a lot of input into the design?
Anne Booth: I so happy with the cover! The illustrator Serena Rocca worked with the designer Philippa Johnson and my editors Liz Bankes and Non Pratt to come up with an intriguing cover which combined a modern day girl with a fairytale type feeling. As fairytales are so important in the story and Jessie and Snowy go walking in woods together it really feels true to the book. Once the design was decided on I was shown it for my approval, and the only input I gave was to ask Serena to make the figure of Snowy slightly smaller, as he is a very young dog. I think it is really beautiful and I couldn’t be happier!
AW: How long did it take to complete your novel?
Anne Booth: It took years, partly because of all the background research and also because it was so hard to decide on how to approach the story and what to leave out. I read many, many history books about growing up in Nazi Germany and Nazi policy. I read fairytales and books about fairytales and about the Nazis’ use of fairytales and folklore in schools. I read books about what children learned in schools in Nazi Germany, especially the book Education in Nazi Germany by Lisa Pine. I read about dogs and the Nazis’ attitude towards animals – particularly Boria Sax’s book Animals in the Third Reich and went to an exhibition at the Weiner library in London http://www.wienerlibrary.co.uk on Nazi children’s books and toys. I read books about the treatment of the disabled by the Nazis, and watched films and documentaries. I also went to Munich and Dachau for the weekend.
The other thing I felt it was very important to do was to read lots and lots of other children’s books by wonderful authors like Michael Morpurgo or Maurice Gleitzman. There are many amazing books on the period out there by wonderful authors. I also read children’s books in translation, and books that Nazi children would have read. In Dachau bookshop I also came across the fascinating Young Adult American book The Wave by Todd Strasser, which, written in 1981 based on a real-life experiment in 1969 by a school teacher, looks at how High School children many years after the Second World War can be seduced into Nazi-like attitudes. I felt that my story, apart from it being for a slightly younger age group, was more about the subtle, creeping way we can get into the dangerous habit of seeing ourselves as ‘goodies’ and others as ‘baddies’. My book is about how we need to recognize the lessons from history so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past and create a society where Evil can flourish unnoticed until it is too late.
Originally I wrote the novel entirely set in Nazi Germany, but it didn’t quite work. I loved writing it but I was worried about the difficulty of showing what it was like to be a Nazi child who loved Hitler without seeming to promote Nazism, and I knew I wanted to write about the implication of the Holocaust on today, so I changed it completely to a modern day story with a mystery in the past. It is odd, because having written the earlier version I feel I know a whole other story and set of characters that nobody else does, and yet they were so important for how I wrote the book set in the present day. I may try to come back to them in the future, but even if I don’t I feel the process was vital to getting to Girl with a White Dog.
AW: Did you ever experience writer’s block? If so, what did you do to get out of the funk?
Anne Booth: Reading history books or fiction, going to exhibitions or watching films can all help with stimulating ideas and writing. I have two dogs, and thinking about my writing whilst walking in the countryside can unblock lots. Getting feedback from other writers – even constructive rejections from publishers or agents – can all help with writer’s block and suggest new ways of approaching things. My family have been wonderful – my husband and teenage children have listened to plot problems and suggested solutions- and once I had an agent I found that Anne was great when I was losing confidence. My editors Non Pratt and Liz Bankes were also great at encouragement during revision of the book once it was taken on and I was writing new material. Sometimes just having a complete break – painting or making things or going on holiday can really give time to untangle knotty problems. Lastly, I am a religious person, and I also find that daily prayer and mediation is vital to help me keep on track as to why I write and what I believe in.
AW: Tell us about the challenges of getting your first novel published? About how long did it take?
Anne Booth: I have always loved reading books and wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t have the self belief to allow myself the time to do it. I went on my first writer’s course about 20 years ago – a week long holiday – but although it inspired me I did not follow on. In 1993-95 I studied part time in the evenings for an MA in Children’s Literature, which I absolutely loved. Ten years later, 2003-2205, married and with four young children, I enrolled on an part time, evening M.A. course in Creative Writing. During and immediately after that course I wrote an adult novel which had an agent for a time but unfortunately was never picked up. The course did however really boost my confidence, and in the meantime I was continuing to read children’s books with my children and for my own enjoyment. So this is a long way of saying that it really has taken me decades to get to this point. In fact, as I wrote my first book (a little biblical story about Jesus and Jairus’s daughter) at the age of 5 – you could say it has taken me 44 years to get published!
AW: Who is your favorite character from your book and why?
Anne Booth: I love lots of characters from the book. I love Jessie and I love Snowy, but I am also very fond of Kate, Jessie’s best friend. I feel very proud as a writer that her personality is more important than her disability — I forget it myself, which is how it should be.
AW: Who is your least favorite character and what makes them less appealing to you?
Anne Booth: My least favorite characters are the gang Jessie’s cousin gets involved with – Liam, Danny and Nicola. I think it will be obvious why! I do try to show that they are children, influenced by attitudes around them, and don’t appear out of nowhere – people like Hitler and his modern contemporaries are always ready to exploit periods of economic hardship and find those with contempt for others and tendencies to violence.
AW: If you could change only one thing about your novel, what would it be?
Anne Booth: I have changed so many things in the novel in the long process of writing and re-writing it, and have had such wonderful editing from my agent and from my publishers, that I honestly wouldn’t change anything now. Originally I tried to cover too many aspects of life in Nazi Germany and there are story lines that were edited out that I do miss, but the advice to cut them out was wise, and maybe I will be able to pick them up again in future novels. I had more about the wonderful Sophie Scholl and The White Rose Movement and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, for example, but at least I did manage to mention them in my afterword!
AW: Give us an interesting or fun fact about your book/series.
Anne Booth: The book Amazing Dogs by Jan Bondeson was the source of one idea that is mentioned passing in my book – that there was a college for dogs in Nazi Germany!
AW: What other books are similar to your own? What makes them alike? Did they inspire you?
Anne Booth: This is such a hard question, as it feels arrogant to compare my books with others I admire! I am only getting used to being an author myself! I think I might leave that to others to say.
AW: What made you decide to become an author?
Anne Booth: I love writing stories. I think about stories all the time, and read every day, and I can’t think of anything I would rather do than pass on those magical experiences to others. I also feel stories are being told all the time, all around us, in our press and general media, and some times these stories are cruel. I want to use any gifts I have to counteract cruel stories and add to the sum of good, stories out there which make the world a better, happier, more loving place, because I believe Love, Goodness and Truth are realities which should be honored.
AW: What is the toughest criticism that you have received as an author?
Anne Booth: I felt very sad when my adult novel wasn’t taken up, but I think that the comments that it didn’t quite work were true – I had over-edited it and so a lot of life had gone out of the story. This has taught me that good editing is vital but that trying to please everybody and losing your voice in the process is not good.
AW: What is the best compliment?
Anne Booth: I think people crying at the story is a great compliment. Non Pratt, my editor at the time, and a writer in her own right, said it was ‘a story to change hearts and minds’ and I think that is such a wonderful thing to have said about your book.
AW: Do you have another job or are you a full-time author?
Anne Booth: Although I have had a lot of part time jobs since becoming a Mum nearly 18 years ago, for the last four years I have been a carer for my very elderly parents who have moved to a house opposite us – particularly my mother who is not well – as well as writing and looking after my four children with my teacher husband.
AW: What can we expect from you in the future? Do you have a new novel or project that you are working on?
Anne Booth: I hope you will see lots from me in the future! I have just finished my second middle grade novel, which my agent is submitting at the moment. I have a lovely Christmas book for 5-8 year olds – ‘Lucy’s Secret Reindeer’ coming out with Oxford University Press in September. I also have two picture books illustrated by the amazing Rosalind Beardshaw coming out in the future with the wonderful Nosy Crow publishers. I am very lucky and have a great agent and publishers!
AW: Do you have any tips for readers or advice for other writers trying to get published?
Anne Booth: I’d say to read, read and read, and write the type of books you love to read yourself. Don’t choose to write a particular type of book because you think it will make money, but having written a book you love and believe in, be prepared to edit and re-write and listen to the advice of agents and publishers – they want your book to succeed as much as you do and know both what makes a book work and what else is in the market. For example, I had a great idea for a WW1 story for my second book, but I think I was wisely advised against writing it just now, as there are so many wonderful books already coming out about that subject. It was hard to hear as I loved my idea so much, but I can see that the book I have just finished is more unusual and won’t be competing against such amazing competition or replicating the same material. I am definitely very grateful to have an agent – and if you can get one you trust and admire then I definitely recommend it rather than doing it all yourself. Anne deals with contacts and contracts and money and I can just concentrate about writing! I have also noticed how much my books have improved thank to the editors – it hasn’t always been easy to accept that I need to change things – but I can really see how my writing is improving thanks to the process.
Lastly – use Twitter! It is through Twitter I found out about Anne Clark and about Nosy Crow, and I have now made contacts with so many lovely authors and illustrators through it and have had so many supportive chats and advice online. I come across so many ideas for stories through reading about other people’s lives and news items and links on twitter – I found out about the Nazi College for dogs through a link on twitter to a review of Amazing Dogs by Jan Bondeson, for example. I have also been recommended so many fantastic children’s books to read – it’s like an online college for children’s writers
AW: How to you market your book?
Anne Booth: The marketing of Girl with a White Dog is in the capable hands of Bounce Marketing, and through them I have been asked to speak at upcoming Festivals. They have also sent my book out to be reviewed and taken it to conferences, so I feel they have done their utmost to get it ‘out there’. For my part I follow up leads on Twitter, for example, or agree to author interviews when approached, and hope to do lots of school workshops.
AW: How can our readers find you?