On publication of Jacqueline Wilson’s new book, The Best Sleepover in the World which is a sequel to her much-loved – classic? – 2001 story, Sleepovers and features a non-verbal wheelchair user, Rebecca Butler interviews Jacqueline about the process of creating this novel.
Since the publication of Sleepovers, Jacqueline has significantly increased the number of characters within her stories who have a medical condition or a disability. In Queenie, for example, her main character has tuberculosis, in Rose Rivers a central character has epilepsy and in The Butterfly Club, one of the young protagonists has a heart condition. It is perhaps both a reflection of the changes in wider society and a concerted effort by Jacqueline to bring issues of inclusivity and diversity to the fore. This enables more children to see their reality reflected in literature which in turn helps to validate the experience of the reader.
My first question is why Jacqueline decided to write the sequel now, twenty-two years after the original?
Sleepovers has been one of my most popular titles, year after year. I think it’s because nearly all children love the idea of having a sleepover – even though sometimes things go wrong! The main character is Daisy whose sister Lily is non-verbal and uses a wheelchair. In the first book Lily seems rather a passive character because she can’t always express herself.
I wanted to write a sequel which takes place just a few weeks later and gives Lily a chance to show herself as a sparky girl with a great sense of humour – and together they work on a sleepover to rival spoilt Chloe’s ‘Best Sleepover in the World’.
I am very interested by the research process you undertook because it was obviously extensive.
Because I’ve been writing children’s books for many years I’ve been invited to various special schools and met the staff and young people who attend. I’ve also met many children at award ceremonies and general talks who are non-verbal and/or use wheelchairs.
Were there any topics which your research brought to light that you didn’t include? Which were they?
I was very impressed with some of the facilities at Treloar’s (Treloar School and College for disabled children and young people) and their wonderful library and music room, but they weren’t really part of the story.
Can you tell me about the process of getting agreement for Lily’s wheelchair to be depicted on the front dust wrapper. I remember that when you published Katy in 2015 you were dissuaded from having Katy in her wheelchair on the front cover. What has changed?
I think the cover for Katy was a slightly different case, because her accident happens halfway through the book and the art team didn’t want to give the plot away. There was no discussion about Lily’s wheelchair – Rachael simply drew it beside Lily’s bed, where it would be kept.
What was your reasoning behind making Uncle Gary a drag artist? And were there any reservations made about including drag for this age group?
I thought a drag artist would be able to give these girls a magnificent makeover! I’m very fond of Uncle Gary and think he plays an important part in the book. He would never do or say anything inappropriate in front of his beloved nieces.
Why did you decide on Makaton as Lily’s preferred communication method? Did you consider other forms of non-verbal communication?
Makaton was the only method I’ve seen used – and I adore the Lucinda Makaton clips on Youtube.
Can you tell us a little about the discussion you must have had with Rachael Dean about the illustrations? Is your process of working with her different from working with Nick Sharratt?
I’m lucky to have two such brilliant artists to do my illustrations. There’s never been much discussion. The publisher’s art team gets in touch with Rachael now and makes suggestions, and then the rough drawings are sent to me. I’m always thrilled! Rachael lives a long way away, but she’s coming to London to do an event with me on Thursday 26th October at the Imagine Festival at the South Bank.
What or who was the inspiration for Natalie’s character?
I wanted to show you can be anything you fancy if you have a disability. Being a Goth seems very much part of my imaginary Natalie’s personality.
If you could add a scene to this book, what would it be and why?
If I’d written the story in the third person I might have had fun describing Chloe’s sleepover in detail, but of course this isn’t possible with Daisy as a first person narrator.
Can you tell us what you are working on now?
I’ve written one children’s book for next Spring and am now working on one for the Autumn, and then I’m going to be writing something completely different – but I’ve been sworn to secrecy on all three.
Jacqueline has already written a Christmas adventure set in Enid Blyton’s world of The Faraway Tree to be published in time for Christmas.
Dr Rebecca Butler writes and lectures on children’s literature.
The Best Sleepover in the World is published by Puffin, 978-0241567227, £14.99 hbk