Interview: Joseph Coelho On The London Book Fair 2024

By Anoop Bhuller

4 months ago

The London Book Fair is taking place on 12-14 March 2024

We spoke to author and Waterstones Children’s Laureate 2022-24, Joseph Coelho ahead of The London Book Fair 2024.

Q&A: Joseph Coelho Ahead of The London Book Fair 2024

Joseph Coelho (Image credit to David Bebber)

Joseph Coelho (Image credit to David Bebber)

What are you most looking forward to at The London Book Fair 2024?

To be back in the space. I first got published as a result of going to the book fair every year, for a three year stint with my manuscripts in hand. So it’s quite emotional going back, especially now being a published author and the Children’s Laureate. I’m looking forward to taking it all in, seeing what new books are in, meeting writers, illustrators, readers, publishers and connecting with people. 

What does your role as Author of The Day entail?

There will be a series of events that I will be doing on the day – talks and interviews. I will be talking about my career and my processes.

Are there any other authors you are looking forward to hearing from at the event?

Oh gosh – just everyone. I’m particularly interested in meeting new authors and illustrators because I think it’s an unnerving time when you first go somewhere like the book fair. Especially when you are at the start of your career, it certainly was for me. So I’ll be looking forward to meeting those new voices.

Your new book, Luna Loves Gardening comes out on 7 March. What was your favourite part of writing this book? 

It’s all about seeds and the story of seeds. I’m quite a keen gardener so it was really nice bringing in some of the seeds and plants that I have planted myself over the years. There is a focus on strawberry popcorn which many people don’t know about – it’s bright red and makes great popcorn. It’s really cute. It was nice to be able to bring that in and discover the stories of other seeds. For example, potatoes come from South America and carrots were originally lots of different colours and have been bred to be the orange we recognise. Unearthing some of those stories was great.

Will there be a live reading of the new book at The London Book Fair?

I’m not sure as of yet, but I hope so. I did just share it at The Imagine Festival in Southbank so that was really lovely. Myself and Fiona Lumber, the illustrator, had our very first public reading of that together so hopefully I will get to read it again. 

Blow a Kiss, Catch a Kiss by Joseph Coelho

Blow a Kiss, Catch a Kiss by Joseph Coelho

Your books show diversity, include a range of voices & topics. How important do you think it is for children to see themselves represented in books and why? 

It’s hugely important. I think it’s important that all children see themselves and others reflected because we have to see ourselves to be able to realise the options we have in this world, to broaden our horizons. But we also need to see others so that we can put ourselves in their shoes, feel empathy and realise we are all on this rock together. A lot of my stories revolve around council estates, tower blocks and families that are not your so-called typical families. I’ve always thought it important to show that there are lots of different types of loving families, for children to see there are different ways of being in this world.

How has this representation changed in the book industry over time?

We do see a shift moving in the right direction but we have still got a long way to go. It’s nice to see that there are more books available by people of colour and featuring characters of colour and lots of ethnicities.

Do you feel that as an author you have the power to shape a child’s understanding of the world?

I think it’s something you can do as an author but I think your responsibility first and foremost is to write good stories. As part of that you are able to show the world around you. I think the majority of authors and illustrators do reflect what they see in the world around them. As an artist you end up wanting to represent the world at large because we observe, take in and then spew out. It’s part of being an artist really.

Where do you get ideas for your books from?

I draw heavily on my childhood. I think back to when I was a kid and the things that were important to me, that felt big to me when I was young. I’m often thinking back to what my friends would say, do, the games we would play, and the places we would go. I tend to get more inspired by other art forms. If I’m writing a poetry collection I tend not to read other poetry collections in the same vein. I like to get inspiration from works of art, theatre, plays or film. 

I get scared of reading something and thinking ‘oh that’s how a poetry collection is done or that’s how a middle grade book is done’ and feeling that is how I have to do it. There’s always a bit of that when consuming the medium that you are working in and so I like to get inspired by other mediums.

Ten-Word Tiny Tales by Joseph Coelho

Ten-Word Tiny Tales by Joseph Coelho

Do you have a writing ritual?  

Check the deadline. No, I tend to write as and when inspiration hits. I think you need to carve out time to work, you need to be relaxed, have space in your head and in your diary to free up an area in which the work can come forth. Also, taking time to relax and live because that is when inspiration comes. I don’t have a set ritual.

What was your favourite children’s book growing up?

A poetry collection called Spine Tinglers which was a Ladybird book. That was one of my favourites. I remember pouring over the pictures which were a little bit scary, and a bit eerie. It was a collection of spooky poems. I liked the Ladybird fairy tale books. I’ve done a few adaptations of fairy tales and I suspect it is because my earliest memories are of reading are those Ladybird collections.

If you could collaborate with any children’s author in the future who would it be?

It would be really lovely to do something with Polly Ho-Yen. I love her work. Her novels are great, they deal with magical realism, the everyday but going slightly sci-fi. It would be great to do something with her. 

With World Book Day coming up, if you could dress up as any of the characters in your books who would you choose?

I would dress up as the tree man from Our Tower, who lives in a magical world under the land and sits on a tree-grown throne.

Have you got any exciting projects coming up that you could tell us about? Is there another book on the way?

There is a musical of Luna Loves Library Day that is touring at the moment all over the country. It was produced by Little Seeds Theatre Company. I am really excited about that being out and on the road. I am also working on a few new books. I’m working on a new middle grade series with Walker Books that will be coming out later this year. I’ve got a new poetry collection also coming out at the end of this year with some spooky poems. I like spooky things so it will be fun.

Joseph Coelho, Waterstones Children’s Laureate 2022-24, is the Children’s Author of the Day at The London Book Fair (Olympia London, 12-14 March) on 14 March.