Thank You, Ellie – Interview with author Joe Burnett

  • Illustrations by Gill Gill
  • Published by Austin Macauley Books
  1. Could you give us summary of your book Thank You, Ellie.
    8-year-old Grace is on a family picnic when she becomes lost in a forest. Just as her
    situation becomes very difficult, a mysterious Golden Retriever, Ellie, appears. Over
    the next day or so, Grace encounters some challenges, but with Ellie’s help, she
    overcomes them and returns safely to her family. However, Ellie disappears as
    suddenly as she arrives, so did she exist at all?
  2. What made you decide to write for children?
    The decision was almost made for me! I have a 6-year-old grandson, and shortly
    after he was born, I wrote a book for him. It was bound and printed but not
    commercially published, a family history back to his great-great-grandparents. My 2-year-old granddaughter, Grace, was born just after we lost our Golden Retriever,
    Ellie, at 13 years old. I thought life would be difficult if only one grandchild had a
    book written for them, but I had only one family history and two grandchildren! I
    wanted to celebrate both Grace’s birth and Ellie’s life, and one day, the idea for the
    story just arrived!
  3. Can you tell us about Ellie?
    Ellie was the most beautiful and courageous companion. She was not quite 7 weeks
    old when she came to live with us, and although, as her owner, I trained her in the
    usual way, over the years, I learned far more from her. She faced a serious health
    problem when she was 10 and a half years old but, after an operation, had 18
    months of excellent health. Then the illness returned, and she was on permanent
    medication for the last year of her life. She was so calm and brave in that period, a
    true inspiration!
  4. In an email to me you said you write under a pen name, why is that?
    I chose to use my grandfather’s name because the book is about my family. I changed some of the names for the story because, in real life, they are unusual, and
    if I used them, it might have been very obvious who the family was, and I thought I
    didn’t have the right to publicise them in that way.
  5. As a primary school librarian I always have children who will only read a chapter book with illustrations. I loved the ones in your book as they are in colour, why is that?
    Gill Gill was a friend before I wrote the book. She is an artist, and we have some of
    her paintings. When I began to develop ideas for the story, I knew I wanted some
    illustrations. I spoke to Gill, and she was enthusiastic about doing them. We sat
    down one day, and I described the scenes and scenarios, but I left it to her to come
    up with the sketches. Apart from a few tweaks, very little has changed from her
    originals. Gill obviously felt that colour would work best, and I was very happy to take my lead from her. Interestingly, she has also done the illustrations for the follow-up, and one of those, in black and white, is perfect for the scene it illustrates.
  1. What can we expect in your next book?
    ‘To be continued’ are the last three words in ‘Thank you, Ellie’. The first word in
    ‘Thank you, Grace’ is ‘Previously’. So the next story literally starts from the moment
    the first one finished. This time, Ellie is in trouble and Grace and her brother Tommy
    set out to find and help her. The plot also deals with aspects of the pandemic and
    bullying. Existing characters are more prominent, and I’ve introduced some new
    ones.
  2. Part of my job is to encourage children to read, what advice could you
    give me?

    If I was advising children about developing good reading habits, there are some
    practical things like joining a library, creating a reading routine of when they will have time to settle down with a good book but also where; a comfortable space, maybe in their bedroom or at the end of the garden on a warm day. I’d also point out that reading for pleasure should be enjoyable; plots should be interesting, and we should care about the characters. In any drama, one of those aspects must be present, but if an author fails to do either, then don’t spoil the reading experience by carrying on with something that just feels like hard work. It’s fantastic when you find an author you like and discover on the flyleaf that there are more books to be read. And of course, unlike films and television, books allow you to use your imagination; to almost step into the story. Here’s an example; when Ellie saves Grace from the adder, I described the scene. But the reader then creates their own unique picture, deciding how loud Ellie’s growl was, how high the snake flies in the air and how far away it lands.
  3. What advice could you give to children who might want to write their
    own book in the future?

    The first piece of advice must be, read a lot, and then read some more! Try a wide
    variety of authors, and when you find those you like, try to understand what draws
    you to their stories in particular. I’ve mentioned plots and characters, but the use of
    language and how words are brought together is a skill that can be learned and
    improved. There is also the classic advice: write what you know about. That’s not to
    say that you can only write about things you have experienced, but it does mean that you draw confidently on your experiences, direct and indirect, as you develop your plot and storyline. When you finish your first draft of the book and begin your checks, ensure that the passage of time is realistic. ‘Thank you, Ellie’ only covered 2 days, so I didn’t need to worry too much about that. ‘Thank you, Grace’ develops over a number of weeks and for one significant event, I needed to ensure that enough time had actually elapsed. The internet is an excellent resource for researching, but I also talked to an ‘expert’ about one aspect of the plot to make sure what I’d written was feasible.
  4. As a child who were your favourite authors?
    Enid Blyton was very popular when I was young, and I particularly liked some of her
    series; ‘The Famous Five’, ‘The Secret Seven’ and the ‘.. of Adventure’. (The blank
    might read Castle or Island.) My favourite author was Richmal Crompton, who mainly wrote about the character ‘William Brown’. Over almost 50 years from 1922, she wrote 38 books about him, each with about 15 short stories. He got into mischief with his friends Henry, Douglas, Ginger and Violet-Elizabeth. The early stories were already quite old-fashioned when I discovered them in the 1960s, but that didn’t matter because the plots were interesting, and I cared about the characters! I also liked the way she challenged me with her use of vocabulary; I needed a dictionary on hand when reading the stories, and guess what? My vocabulary improved as a result. I’ve done something similar with ‘Thank you, Ellie’, using words I hoped would challenge the reader to ensure they knew what they meant. I have re-read some of the William books as an adult and enjoyed them again. It made me consider whether I’d written a children’s book or a book with a child in it!

I was delighted when Joe approached me to review his book, I loved the idea
that he based it on his family. I thought that writing a story for a grandchild
was the best way he could show her how much he loves her.
I really liked the idea of a much loved pet featuring in the story, it’s a way to
never forget her, I can imagine Joe has lots of pictures on display of Ellie.
This book is ideal for children aged 7 upwards. They will love the short
chapter and the colourful illustrations.
The story line is easy to follow and they will enjoy this sweet storyline. They
will love the relationship between Grace and Ellie.
It makes a nice change to have illustrations in colour, this will hold the
children attention.
I really enjoyed working with Joe, and I wish him every success with his book.
I will definitely be reading book 2.

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