AUTHOR INTERVIEW Q&A with Fiona Barker

Fiona Barker, author of Setsuko and the Song of the Sea, has just had two new picture books published in time for the festive season. She dropped by Words & Pictures HQ to tell Françoise Price all about it.


Welcome to Words & Pictures Fiona! The Big Christmas Bake is a properly Christmas book, the clue’s in the name! What’s the story behind it, both how it came about and the plot line?


We have always celebrated twelfth night in our house. When we were little Mum even tried to make us save our presents until Epiphany as that’s when the kings were meant to arrive with their gifts. Obviously that didn’t happen! But we do save one present to open after all the decorations are put away on 6th January and we have a little party with a twelfth cake. I love older medieval traditions like that and always feel a bit sad that we make a big deal of advent but then the twelve days of Christmas after the big day get a bit forgotten. I wanted to celebrate them and also cake! The twelve days of Christmas seemed made for the twelve spreads of a picture book and The Big Christmas Bake was born.


I Definitely Don't Like Winter - published by Scholastic

I Definitely Don’t Like Winter looks…wintry — but also cosy and Christmassy too. How would you describe the main theme? And what was the inspiration behind it?


The main themes are friendship and embracing differences. The inspiration came from reading about a piece of psychological research that showed that if you dread winter, you’ll end up having a worse time but if you look forward to it, you’ll have much more fun. I love winter and look forward to cosying up on long winter evenings and having fun outside in the cold. My Dad hates it when the nights draw in. But somehow we still get along and thus the idea for the story was born. It’s really about me and my Dad. He is Hank to my Hoog.


How long did it take to write both books? What were the challenges?


I Definitely Don’t Like Winter was the quickest story I’ve ever written. It almost wrote itself! But The Big Christmas Bake took much, much longer. There were many iterations and my long suffering but brilliant critique partners, especially awesome rhymers Meredith Vigh and Donna David, will know how much work it took to get the story and the rhyme to work together. It probably took at least a year.

'I’m always 50 per cent Christmas in my head'

Did you set out to write two seasonal books that would come out so close together?


No! Definitely not! The Big Christmas Bake was signed first but was delayed by Covid and so they both ended up coming out the same year.


Did you get into a Chrismassy and/or wintry frame of mind to write these books? Like mood boards, watching Christmas films, wearing reindeer horns?


Not really I’m afraid. Most of my writing is done in a soundproof booth in snatched moments between audiology patients. Not much opportunity for getting festive! I think I’m always 50 per cent Christmas in my head though. Any excuse for a bit of glitter and sparkle! 

 When and how did you start writing picture books?


I started 17 years ago, like lots of other people, when our daughter was small and I was reading a lot of picture books at bedtime. The brilliant ones made me feel like I wanted to be able to do that. The bad ones made me feel like I could! So I had a go and wrote and self-published Amelie and the Great Outdoors (after being rejected by literally everyone). Early drafts were dreadful. It was a very steep learning curve. SCBWI definitely helped me climb it.


What are your favourite Christmas/wintertime picture books?


Hmmm – of course I had to get my whole collection out to answer this question. What a lovely couple of hours I’ve just spent getting all the Christmas feels! It was very difficult to choose but I’ve gone for:


A selection of Fiona's fave Christmas books

  • Refuge by Anne Booth and Sam Usher A timely thought-provoking retelling of the Christmas story

  • Mog’s Christmas by Judith Kerr A classic
  • Christmas by Dick Bruna.  The illustrations just evoke infant nativities – love it
  • The Christmas Crumb by Lou Treleaven and Alex Willmore. A little really can mean a lot, especially at Christmas

But there are so many! I’ve added a few more this year including Kid Christmas by David Litchfield which I think is set to become a favourite.


Thank you for dropping by Words & Pictures, Fiona — and have a great Christmas!

*All  pictures courtesy of Fiona Barker.


Fiona Barker believes that a good picture book is for life, not just for childhood. She is writer in residence at a school in Sunninghill where she works to promote reading for pleasure. She has been an audiologist for nearly 30 years and specialises in helping people with dizziness and imbalance. She is represented by Alice Williams.


Françoise Price is Deputy Editor of Words & Pictures magazine. Contact

1 comment:

  1. Great interview Fiona, I’d love to know more about writers in residence x


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