Author Interviews

5 Questions for your favourite authors

We pose five questions to authors and illustrators and find out everything from what inspired their stories, to what books they love, and what they’re working on next! Plus we include awesome giveaways of their books. Let us know who you’d like to read about next.

Meet author Kristien Potgieter

Kristien is a children’s author and editor from Johannesburg, South Africa. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University and an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, where she was a Booker Prize scholar.  She loves spending time with her cat Luna, reading mystery novels and watching classic movies. Bongi Ballerina is her first children’s book. 

   

 

1. Did you ever do ballet and what gave you the inspiration for Bongi Ballerina?

Yes, I took ballet lessons for many years – all through my school years and for many years after that, too. I loved performing and was fortunate to have many opportunities to take part in exciting ballet productions (some of my most memorable roles include a candy cane, a zebra, Cinderella’s fairy godmother and a snowflake queen!). I also loved the discipline and hard work of ballet lessons. I wanted to depict that world in Bongi Ballerina in a South African setting, with characters that South African children could hopefully recognise themselves in.

Also, although things have improved, the ballet world has historically been very discriminatory towards dancers of colour, which meant that for a long time children’s stories about ballet have usually only featured white dancers. So another of my main inspirations for writing Bongi was the hope of contributing just a tiny bit to the diversity of these stories by depicting a diverse range of dancers in the book.

It was important to me to acknowledge in the book that ballet still has some ways to go in this department. For instance, when Bongi and her ballet class go to see a professional ballet production, one of Tamsin’s dads points out that the (fictional) ballerina Refilwe Maloka was one of the first dancers of colour to dance the role of Giselle in South Africa. This is a reflection of real life. For example, Misty Copeland became the first Black female dancer to be promoted to Principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater less than a decade ago, in 2015, and only last year, in 2023, Guillaume Diop became the first Black dancer ever to be promoted to Étoile (their version of Principal) at the Paris Opera Ballet. And, as recently as 2019, white dancers at the Bolshoi in Russia were still performing in blackface in ballets like La Bayadère. So, as much as I love ballet, it’s important to acknowledge the ballet world’s ongoing limitations at the same time as celebrating its progress.

2. Can you share with us what you are currently working on?

I can’t say much at this stage, but, if all goes well, readers can expect more adventures with Bongi and the rest of the ballet girls sometime in the future… I’m so excited to get back to Bongi’s weird and wonderful world, and I hope readers will be too!

3. What was your career path after leaving school and how did you get into writing children’s books?

I studied languages (English and French) and philosophy at university, and later went on to do my PhD in Creative Writing, which focused on children’s literature, but I’ve been writing for a long time and always had an interest in reading and creating stories for young people. I’ve also worked as an editor for more than a decade, mostly in the academic sphere, but writing has always been my first love!

4. What are your favourite children’s books?

There are so many good ones to choose from! Some local children’s books I love are
Know My Name by Refiloe Moahloli, Bianca Flanders’s Pumpkin series, The Turnaway Girls by Hayley Chewins and This Book Betrays My Brother by Kagiso Lesego Molope.
I’m also a huge fan of Robin Stevens’s Murder Most Unladylike series (Detective Society forever!), Louie Stowell’s Loki series and anything by Jason Reynolds, Becky Albertalli and Patrick Ness.

5. Where do you like to sit and work and how do you structure your writing day?

If I get tired of working at home at my desk, I love going to a coffee shop to write for a few hours. I usually have editing work to do as well as writing, so I will usually do that first, in the morning, and then focus on my writing projects in the afternoon. I always take plenty of tea and biscuit breaks, of course!

GIVEAWAY!

TWO lucky Book Tree members can win a copy of Bongi Ballerina by Kristien Potgieter.

Subscribe to our newsletter to find out how to enter!

 

Meet author Lori-Ann Preston

Lori-Ann is an award-winning children’s author who lives in East London. She won the Golden Baobab Prize in 2016 for her Early Chapter Book, The Ama-Zings! She holds a BEd Honours degree and is a former child’s educator of 20 years. Lori-Ann is an avid reader who is passionate about improving the literacy of children in South Africa. She has held over 100 free, educative literary workshops around the country, to motivate, encourage and inspire children to develop a love for reading. She is the author of the book series: Thabo, the Space Dude and Trixie, the Mischief-Maker. Follow her here. 

1. How did you get the idea for Thabo’s personality?  Is it based on someone you know?

Before becoming a full-time writer, I was a teacher. In my Grade 2 class there were three boys who were the best of friends. They inspired me to create the characters of Thabo, Zen and Kurt.

While I was teaching, I would listen to the children to see how they interacted and how they spoke to each other – this enabled me to get loads of ideas for Thabo’s personality.

2. What did you think of school when you went all those years ago?  🙂 Did you like school?

Yes and no. When I was at school the teachers were way too strict. We’d get yelled at for literally doing nothing. One of the teachers would even smack us if we didn’t do well on our spelling tests. I did enjoy break times though. We played with yoyo’s, jumped roped and were allowed to roller skate in the quad – that was fun! Until this one boy fell and broke his arm. Roller skating was then banned. Oh dear.

3. What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you while you were touring with your books?

I asked the children I was chatting to if they had any questions. I meant questions about writing or publishing or about my books. One boy put up his hand and asked, “Who do you prefer, Ronaldo or Messi?”

4. Do you ever bake while you write? What’s your favourite type of baking?

I don’t bake while I write. Mostly I write early in the morning. I find my mind is the most alert then. I bake a lot of crunchies. They’re my husband’s favourite. No sooner has he gobbled down a batch than he asks for more.

5. If you were a character in a book, how would you write yourself?

I’d give myself long eyelashes and big puppy dog brown eyes. I’d be super cool and definitely give myself the ability to fly. My best friend would be a giraffe, called Spunky.

GIVEAWAY
TWO lucky Book Tree members can win a copy of Thabo, the Space Dude: Logbook 1 and Thabo, the Space Dude: Logbook 2

COMPETITION CLOSED

Meet author Karen Theunissen

Karen Theunissen grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa. She studied law at the University of the Witwatersrand and she practices her writing by blogging on a regular basis under the name of Mumziboo. Karen writes to ignite the imagination, creativity and curiosity of young children. Her writing is inspired by her four young daughters and their quest to discover the world around them. 

 Follow her here. 

Karen Theunissen’s book ‘I Have Brown Skin and Curly Hair‘ is a very welcome addition to South Africa’s children’s book scene.

This wonderful book explores diversity, race, heritage and family connections. Karen also offers her 4 tips to teach children about race and diversity. The perfect picture book for children from age 4 – 10.

We sat with Karen to discuss the inspiration for her book and met her four delightful daughters, who even read for us!  Look at the interview on YOU TUBE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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