You’ve tried your hand at a fair few professions – designing, illustrating, writing, performing – do you have a favourite?
I think everything I do is my favourite at the time I’m doing it. Nothing was really completely planned. I always had dreams of performing, but I was much too shy to ever really go into that. I also love art and design so I went into the world of theatre as a designer and I loved it. Then I stumbled into children’s television and loved doing that. Going into the world of writing and illustrating children’s books was a sort of accident as well, but I’ve loved each thing that I’ve fallen into.
Are your children involved in writing the stories at all?
My children are my biggest source of inspiration. For my first idea, my son Charlie told me some funny story and that inspired me to write my own book. When I started writing, I’d tell them the stories and we’d act them out to come up with endings and funny things that might happen. Even now, my daughter is 18 and my son is 14, I still call them into my studio at the end of the garden to read what I’ve done. They have complete input into everything I write and they’re not afraid to tell me when they don’t like something.
Where did the inspiration come from for Molly Maybe?
I think the time is right for a really feisty girl character in picture books, so I thought about my daughter. She’s a feisty young thing, the essence of fun and adventure herself. She used to spend all her time in a tree house in the garden, looking around and making up adventures. She always says nothing really happens where we live and I thought, “There we are, that’s perfect”. So we’ve got Molly Maybe who lives in Smallsbury, this seemingly ordinary place, but she can access a whole secret world where the monsters live and she has to stop the two worlds from colliding. It all came from my daughter, her tree house and the fact that she lives in a place where nothing much happens but actually… maybe it does.
How has writing changed your life?
Being in the festivals has helped me overcome my shyness and it’s been fantastic for my family. Part of the reason I stopped working in television is because it just didn’t work with having two children, but writing and illustrating from home did. So when it came to touring and festivals, I’ve included the children in the shows as well and it means we’ve stayed very close. Writing has also… well I would say it’s kept me young but I don’t feel that old anyways. Somewhere inside me I feel like I stopped growing up when I was about 8 – I liked being 8, having that freedom and imagination. Being a children’s author, I can still think with an 8-year-old’s head most of the time.
Did you have any favourite authors growing up? Who are your favourites now?
We travelled around an awful lot when I was growing up so we didn’t have that many books. My mother did read to me when she could and my favourite was probably Enid Blyton. I wanted to be there with the Famous Five children, I wanted to go on one of those adventures. Since then, through reading to my children I’ve discovered all sorts of books, there’s probably too many authors and illustrators to mention all the ones I’d like to. Neil Gaiman is an absolutely superb writer, especially because he writes for children and adults. Then there’s Roald Dahl and Michael Morpugo, some of my favourites. For adult authors, there’s a chap called Colum McCann who’s my favourite at the moment.
Are there any authors or illustrators who have influenced your style?
No, I think probably not. Like I tell children, it’s not about copying somebody else but about writing in your own style. I think what has been more influential is the work I did in theatre and television. In fact, when I started writing Sir Charlie Stinky Socks, I could hear the voice of an actor I used to work with in my head - Michael Maloney, an absolutely brilliant actor. Even now I still write the stories as if they were on screen.
Do you have any advice for children who want to get involved in the writing process?
When I visit schools I start by asking children who they think the best authors are. They come up with the traditional ones – Roald Dahl, Jacqueline Wilson, J.K. Rowling – and I tell the best writers are the children themselves. Children have magnificent imaginations and that’s the starting point; using your imagination and not being afraid to tell your own story. You can learn spelling and punctuation at any time but the most important thing is to be able to tell the story. I tell children to keep their eyes wide open, carry a little notebook to jot down ideas or drawings, and just to keep their imaginations going.
How do you feel about having your show in Edinburgh?
Oh it’s fantastic. We bring the books alive with music, songs, set, costume and puppets, and it seems to have taken off quite nicely. We’ve been going to the festival for about seven years and they keep inviting us back, so we must be doing something right. But I love it, it’s incredibly exciting and it’s so welcoming. I get very nervous before every show but everyone is very kind and supportive, it’s a huge thrill.
Are there any shows you’d suggest at the Edinburgh Festival?
At the moment I think they could see – well, any of them. It really is the most fantastic festival. It’s always a magnificent sight: it’s a lovely enclosed Scottish town garden so it’s a completely safe, wonderful area. There are events for tiny children and large families; there really is something for everybody. Though of course they must come and see Sir Charlie Stinky Socks and Molly Maybe.
Kristina Stephenson's new series, Molly Maybe, launches on 27 August (Simon and Schuster, £6.99). Kristina will be performing her Molly Maybe show at Edinburgh Festival on Sunday 23 August. For more information, see her facebook page: http://bit.ly/facebookmollymaybe