Q: What inspired you to write your Whatever Next, Grandma! series?
A: I was inspired to write my Whatever Next, Grandma! series by my grandson Ben, who has the same mischievous take on life as me! At 8 years old he was an avid reader and he challenged me to put my wacky storytelling and larking about into words on the page.
Having got the basic concept from him - a gung-ho, nutty Grandma - my creative juices started flowing!
I was a news reporter for a number of years as well as a literacy-support teaching assistant in primary schools in London, so the writing was great fun. I wanted, above all, to make kids laugh and enjoy reading.
Grandma pretty much wrote herself once I'd started the process; in some ways the pandemic helped because with many hours having to be spent in lockdown I was given the gift of time to focus. I wrote 12 stories in all.
Q: What do you think Mike Phillips's illustrations add to the stories?
A: I chose Mike Phillips because his dry, witty cartoons complement the characters and action exactly as I had imagined; I had spent a year hunting for the right person, looking as far afield as India, before the right guy turned up on my doorstep in the UK! He is a family man who has been a busy illustrator for 25 years.
Mike is a well-known illustrator here in the UK with a large and varied catalogue of successful books. I knew these little stories cried out for brilliant illustrations to bring them to life and I feel extremely lucky to have Mike to partner me.
Children love comedy and Grandma is a walking disaster as well as a born comedian! Gertrude, her faithful cat, is long-suffering and cynical - and who can blame her.
Q: Do you usually know how the stories will end before you start writing them, or do you make many changes along the way?
A: I am lucky that I have a vivid imagination and, I hope, a good sense of humour. Also lots of life experience getting things wrong!
I am a grandmother of eight so know how kids love slapstick and reading about adults who make a mess of things. This Grandma is the works...irascible, bossy, ignorant, and impulsive. She always gets it wrong!
Once I think of an idea and create a title, it's my starting pistol. I take myself to a quiet space with pen and sheets of paper and create a story scaffold in my mind; when I start to write it's as if a faucet has turned on. (My husband knows this is not the time to start conversations!)
I transfer the story, once written, to the computer and I guess this happens after three or four writing sessions. Then as I do read-throughs over the next few weeks things will be changed, augmented, edited. I will hunt for jokes to include or invent them myself.
I have an editorial/publishing assistant and we decide where pictures should go before I send detailed instructions to Mike. He also reads each story beforehand so he gets a chance to think about what would work well.
In my latest story, hopefully to be published in the autumn, I added a chapter when I realised it needed more structure to be satisfying. I had Gertrude have an adventure of her own which, naturally, had much better results than Grandma's exploits.
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the books?
A: I want younger children to enjoy these stories by being read to by parents or grandparents. Bedtime is ideal and it is such a precious time for loving closeness.
Emergent readers will also love this and begin to read the stories themselves. I hope children as old as 9 or 10 will enjoy them and will look forward to reading others in the series. The vocabulary is easy and accessible with a few slightly more challenging words to stretch the readers and help them learn via context.
There is a quiz at the end of each story and added activities in some of the books and on the website.
I hope children will ask their parents/carers to post a review saying what they enjoyed about the story they have been reading!
Q: What are you working on now?
A: My current book in production is Grandma Gets a Bump on the Head, which is a tongue-twister and two adventures rolled into one. I'm really looking forward to seeing Mike's images!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I regularly read my stories in primary schools and libraries, dressed up as wacky Grandma, and do Q&A sessions with the kids afterwards as well as the quizzes. I love the performance aspect and making the children laugh. You can see me reading Grandma's Jungle Adventure on YouTube.
I sign books for children who have bought them in advance, or if I am invited to sell copies after school.
Here's a link to the website to buy the books: https://alisongrunwald.co.uk/the-books/
--Interview with Deborah Kalb