Author Interview – Sue Wickstead

  1. What is the inspiration behind ‘Jay-Jay the Supersonic Bus’?

Jay-Jay the Supersonic is a real bus which my children went to when they were little.
The Playbus was used as a very successful and much-loved playgroup.
I became involved in the running of the bus and helped the charity to raise the money to buy a newer more reliable bus.
The bus really got into my heart and I loved being involved.
I was also very involved in promoting the bus and, as project co-ordinator, I set up exhibitions to highlight all the things a mobile project could do.
We were able to raise money for every aspect apart from that of the full-time worker (my role) and the charity was taken for granted.
When the project finally closed its doors, I was asked to put the photographs in a history book, which I did. ‘Bewbush Playbus’ was published in 2012.

However, when teaching the children asked me so many questions about the bus that I began to tell a story, which was eventually written down and published.
JJK261 is the real number plate of the original bus and gave him his name.
My daughter suggested I should write other aspects of our bus life including the Carnivals and our buses (Daisy Daydream and Gloria).
The names were made up for the story books.

2. What do you hope your readers take away from this book?

I have read my first book in so many schools and the children love, not only the story but also, knowing that the bus is real.
The Playbus offered a safe place to play and promoted the importance of inclusion. But a mobile project can do so more. I was lucky to have been able to share the real bus adventure with my children and many other children too.
I never expected to write or publish stories so it is good to be able to share my enthusiasm and to tell where the ideas came from.
I now add a ‘Real-Life’ page to the back of each book as I found children were still curious and wanted to know beyond the story.

3. How many books have you written? Which is your favourite?

I have written and published ten story books plus the initial photographic book. (at present)
Each book is my favourite for many reasons and yes, they all do have a bus included somewhere.
My favourite book: I don’t think I can really choose but…

‘Jay-Jay the Supersonic’: This was my first picture book and one I have shared in many schools. The bus always seems to come along and move me on.

‘Jay-Jay and his Island Adventure’: My second book which was initially written for a project in Scotland. They were busy with other things but had paid for the editing so I sent Jay-Jay to the island. Although not my favourite it did open the door and linked connections to a little village in Spain (Moraira) where I have now read my book in the local school.

‘Jay-Jay and the Carnival’: This is based on our own Carnival adventures, which was always fun to take part in with the real bus. We were also the last ever winners in our towns Carnival. Plus, it has a link to the Fiesta celebrations in Moraira, Spain.

‘Daisy Daydream the Nursery Rhyme Bus’ : This is the bus I painted and the start of my own bus involvement.
‘Daisy Daydreams bus Rhymes and Jokes’ : a bit of fun and also rhymes written with my colleagues for a carnival event with a Nursery Rhyme theme.

‘Gloria the Summer Fun Bus’ : Gloria is the bus we raised the money to buy and convert. Our last version of the Playbus.

‘Sparky the Dragon Bus’ : Based on a fascinating project we met on our journeys. The bus was a Glasgow project which worked with children with disabilities and promoted inclusive play.

‘A Spooky Tale – a walk with the teacher’; A story I wrote together with the children in class at school. A slight detour from buses and one for the younger children.

‘The Christmas Play Rehearsal’ : The Christmas Play was always a favourite event at school and one that I produced. This led to a few problems and giggles along the way. A story based on one such production.

‘Barty Barton the Bear that was loved too much’ : My latest book which sort of came along unexpectedly. I wrote the story for my grandson and it is about my teddy bear that my son didn’t want any more. My daughter wisely said you can’t throw Barty away and the story sort of grew.

So, I really can’t pick one out! I love them all.
But I suppose if you had to force my arm then I might say ‘A Spooky Tale’, as it was a shared story write with my class after I had gone home ill after a neighbourhood walk.
“Why did you go home ill?” they asked.
“I don’t know you tell me,”
“Well maybe…”
The book was initially illustrated by one of my pupils and read every year to my new class.
I needed a shorter story to read to younger children and this was perfect.
Eventually I updated it and rewrote it.
Since its publication spooky connections have happened, I read the book to a couple of schools in Spain and learnt the Spanish words for each of the characters.
I also produced 4 slide shows to go with the book (links on my website book page)
The book also won a Silver Medal in the ‘Wishing shelf Book Awards’, in 2020.
Yes, there is a bus in the story, as all of my books have to have a bus in them somewhere.

4. What is the best and the hardest thing about writing?

I love having ownership of my writing and sharing stories. Hopefully one day my grandson will enjoy but he is only one and too young at the moment. I’ve had lots of lovely comments and reviews but although the children love the stories it is not them who buy the books.
The hardest part is the promotion and book sales.
I have undertaken author days and events (sadly on hold at the moment) and love sharing my ideas as well as pointing out that an author can be an ordinary person just like them.

5. What was your favourite book as a child?

I loved reading and hearing traditional tales and fairy stories. I loved knowing that the same story can be told many times and in different ways.
But my absolute favourite book has to be Winnie the Pooh.
We had a copy of Winnie the Pooh but I was thrilled many years later to find out there was a second story book! ‘The House at Pooh Corner’

6. Are you working on anything at the present? Can you share any of the details with us?

Yes loads.
I have a chapter book to write called ‘The Weather Witch’, this is a story I tell in schools as I visit and unlike my bus stories (that were initially too long), ‘The weather witch’ seems to be growing.
She will end up as a story plus mythical links as well as information on musical instruments – including ‘rain sticks’! but she is definitely taking her time.

I also have a few other bus related stories in the production process. (Nine or more in some sort of publication form – draft and planning.)

I’d also like to work on and create an activity book to go with the bus stories – one for pre-school and one for school aged children.
As well as an information book to compliment the bus stories too.

7. What do you like to do when you are not writing?

When I’m not writing I am playing with my Lego!
(I buy old Lego, sort it through and remake the sets which I then sell on. It has helped pay for my books; enabled me to not have to go back to full-time teaching and has kept me busy in lockdown.)

I also crochet a lot.
And now, with my grandson, I enjoy playtime again.

Sue Wickstead is a teacher and an author and writes children’s picture books with a bus theme. She has also written a photographic history book about the real bus, which is where her story writing began.

Sue once worked with a playbus charity based in Crawley. This led her to write the photographic history book about the project. The ‘Bewbush Playbus’ book was published in 2012.
Sue then began to write a fictional tale about the bus. ‘Jay-Jay the Supersonic Bus’, his number plate JJK261 gave him his name and has now been followed by more picture books (ten to date) which all indeed have a bus connection as well as links to her teaching journey.

Gloria is the most recent bus book and is based on the summer play-schemes which operated during the school holidays providing a safe place to play and to meet other children. (published 2020)
‘Barty Barton; the bear that was loved too much’ was also published in 2020. Barty was written for both her son and grandson.

Some of Sue’s books have been entered and shortlisted in ‘The Wishing Shelf Book Awards’, her book ‘A Spooky Tale’ was a silver medal winner in 2019. It is a story written with her class in school and is aimed at the younger reader.

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