Celebrated children's author Joyce Dunbar


"Joyce Dunbar is one of the best writers for children today..."  The Guardian

Children's author Joyce Dunbar is a prolific writer, having published over 80 books which have been translated into 20 languages. Her writing is funny, poetic and reassuring.

Lady.co.uk interviews Joyce on her career and what advice she has for those burgeoning authors entering the world of children's writing and illustration. 


  • What inspires you and has this changed over your career?

'All kinds of things. Ideas don’t come whole. They are fleeting things. A word, a phrase, an image, a dream, a joke, a memory. You have to be on the look-out, but careful not to pounce or you can frighten them off. Misery is a great spur: writing for small children is about making them happy, so I end up making myself happy as well. And then there is the joy of working with fabulous illustrators.'

  • Do you have an age range you prefer to write for?

'I wrote a novel about the imaginary companion of a deaf child - called Mundo & The Weather-Child, which was for older children, but after that I got hooked on picture books. I write for the very young: Shoe Baby, Grumpy Duck, Pat-A-Cake-Baby. Slightly older, Tell Me Something Happy Before I Go To Sleep, or more sophisticated stories like The Moster Who Are Darkness. Even tiny babies enjoy being read to, they pick up on the rhythm and patterned language which is a feature of picture books. Also, they can ‘read’ pictures long before words which puts them steps ahead when it comes to reading properly. It is important to appeal to the parents, teachers and carers who read the stories to the children, so the story has to work on two levels.'

  • How do you discipline yourself to write, do you have a strict routine?

If I spend the morning doing chores, I feel it’s time wasted because I have to do them again next day.  But if I write for 3-4 hours each morning, the chores become a pleasure. Also, there is a full stop at the end of a story, whereas chores are never ending. Sometimes writing can be a chore - but then I drop it for a while and do something else. Writing is my safe haven.'

  • What advice would you give to aspiring children’s authors/illustrators?

'Be prepared to fail, then fail better; be resilient enough to deal with inevitable setbacks; be open minded; above all, treasure your sense of wonder.' 

  • Is your favourite book your most recent?

'My two most recent books were both published on 4th October, Grumpy Duck, illustrated by Petr Horacek, and Is It Really Nearly CHRISTMAS? illustrated by Victoria Turnbull. They are very different, but both my favourites at the moment. The Christmas book is about some rather makeshift toys who hijack Santa's sleigh. But that’s not the story I wrote. The illustrator hijacked my story! (I never give instructions for illustrations!) The child reads the words on one page, and a different story told by the pictures on another. It’s a really witty take on the text  - and the quirkiest example I know of the strange dance that writer and illustrator do together. Mischievous!'

  • How will you be celebrating Christmas this year?

'In Beccles, with my daughter Polly and her two rollicking, rambunctious boys, aged 18 months and 4, and her partner Dom. My Christmas story is about two children who twinkle and shine themselves to sleep on Christmas Eve. Ho Ho! Some hope!'

Buy Is It Really Nearly Christmas? here and Grumpy Duck here