by Martina Krénová
edited by Blanka Šustrová
Such are the words of Laura Dockrill who was kind enough to spare a few minutes to answer our questions. Writing is only one of her many accomplishments as she is a woman of numerous talents; apart from being an author, Laura is also a performer and an illustrator. Laura’s works cover various genres, diverse characters, but they all have a few things in common: a creative spirit and an empathy towards all the heroes and heroines, whether feisty or insecure ones. It is not difficult to find yourself in any of her works, because even though her characters come from different worlds, they all have quite ordinary struggles. And when Laura starts to perform poems, the rhythm of her performance draws you in. Whether you are an aspiring artist or “just” a reader, she has the power to reach and inspire you.
You are a writer, an illustrator and a performance poet; tell us, where and when did it all start?
I have written, performed and drawn since a very young age, it has always been a second nature for me to play, create, make, show off… whether that be stories, art, theatre. I am only truly happy when I have a creative outlet of some kind bubbling away nicely. I guess the performance poetry was the first time I began doing for a real life job, calling my art “work”.
Did The Brit School of Performing Arts influence your creativity in any way?
Yes, I found the Brit school hugely influential. Mostly I felt encouraged to know there were others that responded in the same way that I did to art and making. It gave me confidence in myself to take risks and be brave as we discovered new artists and celebrated established ones, too. For example, we would spend months at a time learning about Steven Berkoff or The Beatles or David Lynch. Absorbing ourselves entirely in the work and way of thinking of those free thinkers. That is an amazing way of schooling and inspiration.
In one of the interviews I heard you say that Roald Dahl is your ultimate favourite author; is there one book that you like the most? And what exactly about his writing did you as a child find so inspiring and captivating?
Yes, The Big Friendly Giant is probably my all time favourite, but it is so hard to choose. I love the Big Friendly Giant’s character so much. I find him charming and kind, I love that he doesn’t change his values to fit in. He does his own thing. It’s a beautiful and reassuring story but you still get the ugliness and wickedness of the giants to counteract that. I love the way Dahl doesn’t patronize his readers, doesn’t change his approach to the text and language or content whether he is writing for adults of children. He had an amazing imagination, a dark sense of humour and always managed to polish everything off nicely with a moral.
What other authors influenced your childhood and how?
Spike Milligan, Sylvia Plath, John Cooper Clarke, Edward Lear, Ernest Hemingway, Jaqueline Wilson, but most recently I love food writers. Nigel Slater and Marina O’Loughlin are my absolute favourites.
Darcy Burdock is not an ordinary child, she has a very vivid imagination and she writes poems and short stories. Did you as a child keep a diary and write stories and poems as well?
Yes, absolutely. I don’t think diaries are really that healthy because although cathartic, I find them miserable and ploddy, they often highlight the negatives – it is nice to live your life rather than analyzing and investigating it the entire time. Doing something creative, for me, was a much more productive form of expression.
What gave you the idea to write the Darcy Burdock series and when writing it, did you go back to your own diaries for inspiration?
No, I didn’t go back to any old diaries – HA! They are all in the bin! (joking) But I got the idea because I wanted to create a feisty female lead that was just doing her own thing. Darcy is opinionated and passionate, but she makes errors and that’s really important in a protagonist, especially for children, that they are relatable. I also wanted to create a character that was passionate about their art, proud of it. Darcy is mostly just me though. Although I wish I was more like her.
How important do you find the illustrations to be when creating your work? Is it something not to be separated from the narrative?
I just draw. I always have done. I don’t think too much about it, I just pick up a pen sometimes and find lines coming out and go with it. It is fun and relaxing.
What are your thoughts on the Italian cover of the first Darcy Burdock book? Do you think that it lacks the essence of Darcy’s spirit?
No, I absolutely adore the Italian cover. I think they have done a gorgeous job. It’s different from mine, but special and beautiful.
I had the first Darcy Burdock book with me at my friend’s and gave it to her 12-year-old sister who, after finishing the book, just took out a notebook and a pen and started writing. Was it your intention to create something that would inspire young girls to be creative?
That’s absolutely lovely! I am so glad to hear that. It wasn’t a deliberate intention but I guess anybody being inspired by something you’ve made is wonderful to hear and really special. I would love if it inspired young people to pick up a pen and have the confidence to write.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
I would tell all aspiring writers to never give up. To write only what you want to write – don’t focus on the reader too much because you will have no control over who finds your writing. To share as much as possible. To get feedback from as many different places but take all with a pinch of salt. To let yourself make mistakes and don’t punish yourself. To try and idea out even if you’re unsure of it – be experimental and brave.
A lot of your characters are a bit different from the rest of the world they live in, in Darcy Burdock there is this beautiful poem about being different. Are you trying to send out a message to your readers to embrace their difference and not be afraid to be who they are?
Most definitely. I think it is a must. Growing up is very hard, it is easy to feel like you have to fit in and tempting to imitate and not want to stray from the norm for safety and security and fear of being judged. I hate that. It is completely terrifying that people quash their identities and uniqueness to be like everybody else. Individuality should be celebrated, it is what makes our planet so special.
Ugly Shy Girl and Mistakes in the Background have an unusually arranged text that looks playfully chaotic. What is the reason for it?
I wanted to create books that were special, secrets and nuggets of magic exploding everywhere on the page. At the time I used to work like that, even just as home for no reason making birthday cards for friends etc, I was developing my own style, finding my voice I guess, playing around and experimenting. And I had an amazing editor, Claire Bord at Harper Collins, who was constantly encouraging me to be brave.
Ugly Shy Girl is a story of a girl being picked on for being different and out of nowhere a murder happens. What inspired you to give it such a twist?
That short story is a delicate piece of work that is fictional. I was finding a writing voice with this piece, it was the longest story I had ever written and I was exploring with form and language. I wouldn’t say it was a twist, it’s revenge, an outburst.
Darcy likes colours, in Lorali there are the beautiful tapestries that define the mermaids. You are often seen to wear colourful clothes and make-up. What are your favourite colours and why? What do they represent for you?
My favourite colour is sparkles. I cannot describe how I feel about colour because it is much more internal but I know I have a strong relationship with colour, light, shadow and it inspires all my work greatly. Thanks for saying nice things about my work.
Lorali is a beautiful story for young adults featuring mermaids. Why mermaids?
I am obsessed with the bizarre and strange, I wanted to make a fairytale lead female that was not prepared to buckle under pressure and had to be beautiful and alluring but I’m not much up for your regular princess, she had to be weird and odd, so I stuck a tail on her! I love the sea and have spent lots of time in Hastings over the last ten years, I’ve gotten to know it and wanted to give the seaside town a heartbeat. The story just started writing itself, at first I thought it was something I’d just try but before I knew it I was building a world.
Lorali is quite different from Darcy Burdock. How was the process of writing different? Was it more challenging, putting mermaids and modern pop culture together?
Yes, they are different, Darcy has become such a comfort blanket for me now, I could write in her for years and getting my head around the three voices was challenging at times, sometimes their voices were sounding seamlessly similar so I had to define them and embody them. I guess writing the seas opinion was a brave leap of faith that I really wasn’t sure if it would work or not. I wanted to just be playful and imaginative. It is very hard building a world from scratch, too, as you can write yourself into a corner. The pop culture references actually were the easy bit, it is creating moral laws and a society under water that is a challenge. And also working with so many characters.
Echoes is a collection of 26 retold modernized fairytales that is disturbing, horrifying, at times even darker than the brothers Grimm fairytales, yet very amusing. Where does it all come from? And which one is your favourite?
I am fascinated with the macabre. I love dark writing and have been heavily influenced by classic tales. I enjoy to collide the beautiful with the ugly, growing with death and fear with comfort. I am influenced by writers such as Angela Carter and Roald Dahl where there is often a juxtaposition of good and bad, joy and terror. I wrote Echoes a very long time ago so it’s hard to say which story I bonded with the most but I think “Gutted” is probably my favourite because a young artist illustrated the story for me for a school project and she did it so beautifully it made me love the work even more. She completely elevated it.
Your works have been translated into a few languages. Do translators contact you? How often? Do you enjoy working with them? Do you find it important?
My Czech translator Filip Bul Krajnik is absolutely amazing, checking things and trying to do a great job. Obviously, Darcy has her own tongue and speaks in her own style which very much relies on her “darcy-isms” and some of these are very British in reference and tone, relying on puns or jokes or sounding words or rhyme so I didn’t even think the books would sell around the world, because the voice of Darcy is so personal to her and the book itself is character lead; I feared it would isolate readers outside of the UK, but it has been totally overwhelming to know that the book is printed into languages that I can’t read! That is funny. So yes, it is a must that a translation can adapt your work, make the jokes and voice of a character translate. I feel very lucky.
Are you working on a new book right now?
Yes, a new Darcy Burdock, a fifth book in the series. And something else which is a secret.
You are also a performance poet. I have seen a few of your performances on YouTube and I love listening to you because you bring them to life. You seem to enjoy it very much. What do you like more, performing or writing?
I don’t really “perform” so much these days. But when I read I love it just as much as I always did… and I’m always performing anyway – every day in my own little way.
Laura Dockrill is an English writer, illustrator and performance poet. She attended The Brit School of Performing Arts in Croydon where she other creatives such as Kate Nash and Adele. Laura likes performing of any kind; from performing at different festivals such as Glastonbury and Latitude to reading stories and poems for children. She loves children literature and lists Roald Dahl among her favourite authors and her influences. Her early works Mistakes in the Background, Ugly Shy Girl and Echoes, where she combines writing with her own illustrations, earned her a placement among the top promising authors. She is currently writing the fifth book of the Darcy Burdock series for pre-teen children. Her most recent book is Lorali, a novel for young adults where the world of mermaids and the sea merges with our modern culture.