Glyn Harper, author of the recently published picture book ‘My Grandfather’s War’, has kindly agreed to be our very first author interviewee! Glyn offers an intriguing insight into his writing process and thoughts.
How much do you feel your background of having served in the Australian Army and New Zealand Army influences your writing?
I’ve always been interested in writing military history. I don’t think that having served in both Australian and New Zealand armies influenced my writing history particularly. However, it did increase my knowledge of all things military. Having been a trained teacher has helped considerably.
When did your interest in military/war history begin to develop?
I’ve been interested in history for as long as I can remember. It was definitely my best subject at school. When I joined the Territorials (Army Reserve) as a holiday job while I was at university it certainly increased my interest.
What are your go to tools and places for writing?
Before I start writing, I always make sure that I have a decent breakfast. While I’m writing I always have a lot of coffee in the mornings. I need a quiet place to write so I’m fortunate to have an office at home or even the dining table. I dream of spending a couple of months on a Greek island where I can write, swim and eat. Sounds perfect!
Specific questions about My Grandfather’s War
This version of My Grandfather’s War is an adaptation of a book you wrote that was published in 2007. What are the key differences between the two?
Compared to the original My Grandfather’s War, this version is much shorter. This means that I need to focus on the relationship between Sarah and her grandfather. I was also dependent on Jenny Cooper’s excellent illustrations to drive the story somewhat.
Why did you chose to have the Vietnam War as the background of this story versus other wars?
I had finished a story set in the First World War and my publisher said to me:
‘You know we have never done anything on the Vietnam War
or anything for the veterans of that war. Why don’t you think about it?’
So I did. I also asked two friends who were Vietnam veterans how they would feel about a story based around their war and what approach I should take.
My Grandfather’s War is the result based on my publisher’s challenge and the advice from two special friends
Some might think that a picture book is a strange medium for this story. What was your inspiration to write a picture book versus a longer story?
My publisher suggested a picture book. I needed to explain a complex war to a younger generation. All of my books for children do that. Also, writing books for young adults takes a lot more time which I didn’t have. I’m committed to writing other books for the next few years.
How did your initial concept for the book change throughout your writing process?
Cutting back the amount of text from the original book was really hard. Trying to get the story in a lot fewer words was definitely a challenge. However I tend to write a plan for any book I write and I usually don’t change it that much.
Your main characters are a grandfather and his granddaughter. Why did you chose this combination over other possibilities?
Like most authors writing for children, I use a ‘hook’ to get the kids interested in the book. For My Grandfather’s War I used Sarah as the narrator of the story. This showed a positive, loving relationship between Sarah’s generation and that of her grandfather.
If the reader was to get just one thing from the book what would you like that to be and why?
If I wanted the reader to get just one thing from the book what would it be? That’s a hard question and I think that it needs a two part answer. First, all wars are so destructive and those who fight them are worthy of respect and compassion. Second, the country that starts the aggression that is the catalyst for a war is just a bully. Bullying in any form is not acceptable.
For aspiring writers who want to include references to an actual event from history in their work, what advice would you like to offer?
Do your research and then write a plan for your book. Give yourself plenty of time to write it. Get an honest opinion on your manuscript.
I liken my books to babies. No-one wants to hear your baby is ugly or needs improving but sometimes you do need to hear it.