Marissa Bell Toffoli

Interview With Writer Keren David

In books, fiction, writing, young adult (YA) on May 16, 2011 at 11:20 am

Keren David

Keren David. Photo by Faye Thomas.

An introduction to Keren David, author of Almost True (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2011), the sequel to her debut novel When I Was Joe. Keren David’s first novel was published in the UK in January 2010, and won the North East Teenage Book Award. A journalist by trade, Keren David began writing fiction when she returned to live in London after eight years abroad. She explained that “the experience of being a stranger in my own land really inspired me to write. I saw everything with a new eye.”

Quick Facts on Keren David

  • Keren David’s website
  • Home: London, England
  • Comfort food: toast
  • Top reads: Anne Tyler, Jane Austen, Nick Hornby, Antonia Forest, and Mara Kay (Mara Kay wrote my favorite book when I was a child. It’s called Masha. It’s been out of print forever, but I live in hope that it will be rediscovered.)
  • Current reads: Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd

What are you working on now? 

The third book in the ‘Joe’ series, provisionally called Another Life. It has a different narrator, so it’s quite a shift away from the other books.

What do you hope readers will take away from your books? 

I hope they’ll be entertained and that they’ll remember the characters and their stories. I hope I’ll have raised interesting questions to think about.

“I hope I’ll have raised

interesting questions to think about.”

Who do you picture as the ideal reader of your work?

Me, aged around 14.

Where and when do you prefer to write?

I dream of an office of my own, ideally a white-walled studio not too far from home with a desk, a chair, a sofa, and nothing else to distract me. Above all, no internet connection. But I don’t have that, so my next ideal place is my friend Anna’s dining table. She confiscates my phone and she won’t tell me her internet security code, and I can gaze out at her beautiful window boxes and the trees in the communal garden in the square where she lives.

I prefer writing in the afternoon and evening, but because I need to make the most of my children’s hours at school, I usually end up writing in the mornings.

It’s been said writers can do their work from any place, where would you most want to live and write? 

“The experience of being a stranger

in my own land

really inspired me to write.”

I don’t think that’s true. I lived in Amsterdam for eight years and I didn’t write at all. When I came back to London, the experience of being a stranger in my own land really inspired me to write. I saw everything with a new eye, and I understood what I was seeing. I loved being able to understand all the conversations I heard around me. So, I’ll stay in the UK—I’d love to live by the sea though. Maybe Brighton on the English south coast.

Do you listen to anything while you write? 

No, I find music too distracting. Sometimes I listen to music to get into my character’s head before I write. I’d listen to hip-hop before writing as Ty, the main character in When I Was Joe and Almost True.

How has your background in journalism influenced your fiction writing?

In so many ways. My books are inspired and informed by news reports. My writing style was honed on newspapers, where you can’t afford to waste a word. My writing routine is based on short and urgent deadlines—on a newspaper you can’t procrastinate or there’s a nasty white hole in the paper the next day.

When you became interested in writing fiction, what drew you to young adult literature? 

I wanted to write for children because I love children’s books, and I felt that the books I loved as a child were the ones that had influenced me throughout my life. I had the idea of writing about a boy in witness protection, and it seemed a perfect metaphor for adolescence. So I made my main character a teenage boy, and then I set about finding out about YA fiction.

Do you have a philosophy for how and why you write?

“I like taking risks in my writing.”

Writing is what I do best, and I strive to write as well as I can. I like taking risks in my writing, and trying new things.

How do you balance content with form?

The story comes first—I learned that as a reporter—and then an authentic voice.

Is there a quote about writing that inspires you?

Anne Frank: “I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living after my death!”

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Don’t be too self-critical. Just try and write a certain amount every day, let your story build, and don’t edit until you have at least 20,000 words to work with. (I ignore my own good advice all the time.)

What’s the best advice you’ve been given as a writer?

Don’t be afraid to keep it simple—aim for clean, uncluttered prose. This advice came from David Nathan, the great journalist who was Deputy Editor of the first newspaper I worked for.

“Aim for clean, uncluttered prose.”

What book do you wish you owned a first edition of?

Something ancient—perhaps the Dead Sea Scrolls!

Is there a question you find surprising that people ask you about your work?

I’m always surprised when people ask how many copies I’ve sold.

Is there a question that you wish people would ask you more often about your work?

I love it when people ask almost anything about my characters.

What do you find most challenging about writing?

Combining it with book promotion, journalism, and the demands of my family.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?

I love chatting with friends.

About Keren David

Keren David has been a journalist for all of her adult life, since she was 18 and got a job as a messenger girl on a national newspaper. She was working as a news editor on The Independent newspaper at 27, and later became a commissioning editor for the op-ed page. She lived in Amsterdam for eight years, bringing up her children and working for a photo-journalism agency. When she returned home to London in 2007 she signed up for a course of evening classes in Writing for Children at City University. Her first book, When I Was Joe, started as a plot-planning exercise for the course; it was published in the UK in January 2010, and won the North East Teenage Book Award and was nominated for the Carnegie Medal. The sequel, Almost True has just been published in the US.

Buy the book, preferably at your local independent bookstore.

[Toffoli, Marissa B. “Interview With Writer Keren David.” Words With Writers(May 16, 2011),

When I Was Joe cover

When I Was Joe by Keren David (Frances Lincoln Children's Books).

Almost True cover

Almost True by Keren David (Frances Lincoln Children's Books).

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