Getting to know Dogs Don't Do Ballet author, Anna Kemp

The next LSO Family Concert on Sunday 26 April 2015 is based on Anna Kemp’s hit 2010 book Dogs Don’t Do Ballet. It stars pug pup Biff who doesn't like ordinary canine stuff like peeing on lampposts or scratching fleas. Biff loves moonlight and music and walking on his tiptoes. Biff doesn’t think he’s a dog, Biff thinks he’s a ballerina! But dogs don’t do ballet ... do they? LSO Customer Service Assistant, Felicity Hindle, caught up with Anna to find out more.

Anna-Kemp***We're excited to announce that Anna Kemp will be at the Barbican before the Family Concert to meet fans and sign books!***

Did you want to be a writer when you were growing up; if not what did you want to be?
I didn’t always want to be a writer, when I was growing up I wanted to be a variety of things. I wanted to be the Prime Minister at one point but only because it was what I thought of as the top job, like being top of the class. I wanted to be an explorer, until I realised that I’d have to deal with things like sharks and spiders, and all kinds of scary stuff. The only thing that stuck for a while was wanting to be an animator; I went to Disney Land and saw people working on cartoons and I really wanted to do that. In a way, picture books have been a round-about way of coming back to that, although I don’t draw the pictures I’ve always loved illustration and animation and stories of that kind.

Did you always love writing?
My main job now is as an academic, so I do lots of writing, but boring writing for adults! Although I was a slow reader and it took me a while to get into it (when I did I really, really loved it!), I did always enjoy writing stories. I enjoyed making things and being creative. I’ve always been torn between academic and creative work; what I do combines them both – lecturing in French literature, but writing for children too.

dogs-dont-do-ballet-420x0Why did you want to write for children?
I had an idea for a children’s picture book that I thought might work; I wrote it out and drew the pictures – I can’t really draw but it was just to show what I wanted it to be like. I sent it off to an agent, and they thought it might work too. Although it was a story that never got published, that was enough to get me into it. I’ve never really written fiction for adults; I like the plots, fun and humour of children’s writing. I’d like to write for adults, but it’s just something I’ve never tried, I feel that maybe there’s something quite exposing about it. I also really enjoy using my analytical brain for working at the university, but getting hands on with creative writings for children. I wish I had more time for the writing!

Where did the inspiration for this book come from?
I don’t tend to get struck by bolts of inspiration; it’s more of a process. I give myself tasks to start generating ideas and stories; I might give myself two minutes to jot down ten ideas. Most of them will be rubbish, but occasionally there will be one that’s the seed of a really good idea, and then I can develop it by unpacking it further. Dogs Don’t Do Ballet is written in prose, and it came together quite well and quite quickly. But in general I find it much easier to work with rhyme; the constraints help to produce ideas. Sitting at a blank page is much harder!

Is Biff based on a dog that you know?
A friend of mine has a dog called Biff… but he’s a huge Newfoundland! I chose Biff because it’s a tough, macho name, and the idea of the story is of a boy dog who identifies with ‘little girl things’. He’s a supposedly ‘tough’ dog that likes ballet.

What do you think Biff would say to children who want to do something a bit different, like he did?
Go for it! Don’t feel constrained by the notion that just because you’re a boy or a girl that you should like or do particular things, or behave in a certain way. Biff is a boy dog that likes doing ballet (something normally associated with girls)… but so what?

dogsballet sp155-300x300What do you think Biff’s favourite ballet is, and why?
Swan Lake, because of the melodrama. He likes moonlight and music, and walking on his tip toes. I think he’d like to play Odette.

What was your favourite book when you were younger?
It was something that changed a lot, but I think an enduring favourite was Matilda. It’s just so funny and has such a good plot. It’s quite hard to remember which picture book was my favourite as a child. My favourite ones now would have to be My Big Shouting Day (Rebecca Patterson), about this little girl who has a temper tantrum all day. I also love Ferdinand (Munro Leaf), the story of a bull in Spain who won’t fight; Click-Clack-Moo (Doreen Cronin) which is about cows who go on strike for better conditions is also really good.

Do you have any plans for your next book?
My next book is out in June, and it’s called Sir Lilypad – A Tall Tale of a Small Frog. It’s about a very small frog who has dreams of becoming a knight, he reads The Frog Prince and realises that, if he wants to become a big strong, hero he just needs to get kissed by a princess. He goes off in search of one and bumps into Princess Sue (who is the heroine of The Worst Princess), she doesn’t need saving of course and so he has a big crisis… but it all works out in the end!

Loved Dogs Don’t Do Ballet? Why not try another of Anna’s books?

The Worst Princess
Rhinos Don’t Eat Pancakes
Sir Lilypad (Coming soon!)
Fantastic Frankie and the Brain Drain Machine
The Great Brain Robbery