While children all over Cardiff dressed up as their favourite book character yesterday to celebrate World Book Day, The Cardiffian caught up with a young author from the Welsh capital to find out how to capture children’s imagination and what she thinks the future holds for libraries.
Meet Casia Wiliam, 27, from Roath, as she describes the process of writing a children’s novel and how we should all occasionally ditch our beloved phones and zone out into an imaginary world with a good book.
Casia, what inspired you to write a children’s novel?
My Mam is a writer, so stories have always been a big part of my life. I would always be read a bedtime story and then encouraged to read as I got older, so I think that writing sort of came naturally from reading so much. I’d had a kernel of an idea for some time but I didn’t know what to do with it. It was just sort of floating around in my head.
But then I heard a lot about the Welsh gypsies, I saw a creative performance about the Welsh gypsies which really inspired me, and I read up on the history of the gypsies in Wales, and all of a sudden the idea came together and I thought right, I have to write this down!
Tell us about your novel…
My novel, Sgrech y Môr (The Sea’s Screech), is a Welsh language adventure story aimed at children between nine and 12. It is about a 13-year-old boy called Siôn, who is having a bit of a tough time. He lost his Dad a few years ago, and his Mum has now got a new partner and they’ve had a little girl. Siôn doesn’t really get on with his stepdad, and finds his little sister a bit of a pain in the bum too!
His mother decides it might be a good idea for him to spend a few weeks with his Aunt over the summer, in a small coastal village in North Wales, Rhos y Grug, which becomes a treasure trove for Siôn, who loves to climb and explore. He spends hours on the beach, exploring the caves, and playing with Anti Beth’s crazy dog Gel, but soon he and his new friend Morus get caught up in a mystery, and it is up to them to find out what is really going on. And as if that wasn’t enough, Siôn’s kooky aunt, Anti Beth, has a secret to tell him, a secret that will change his world forever…
How do you go about capturing a child’s imagination?
For me it’s about trying to capture that sense of wonder that we all have as children and tend to lose as we get older. To be able to be amazed at things again, big or small, to feel and experience things for the first time.
I think it is good to make sure you spend time with children as well, to be reminded of what makes you laugh when you’re 10, what makes you want to cry, and what’s interesting.
What’s your favourite part of writing a book?
This was my first novel so I was learning as I went along. I enjoyed many parts, I enjoyed getting to know my characters – they seemed to take on a life of their own about half way through the book.
I enjoyed getting a new idea out of the blue and working it into the plot. I also have to say that writing those last few words, and typing the very last full stop, was a fantastic feeling.
How important is reading for children and do you think enough is being done to promote the activity?
I think that reading is incredibly important for children. You develop that love for reading from a young age so it is important to encourage and support children so that they become confident, independent readers for the rest of their lives. When you are growing up, reading can teach you about other people, about the world, about history and so on, and it is the best form of escapism that there is, so in my opinion, reading is an invaluable gift to give a child.
I feel like there is a lot being done to promote reading in Wales; the Cardiff Children’s Literature Festival will be held again this year and there are some fantastic new books coming out for children all the time.
Do you think the digital age is making it harder to get children to sit down with a book?
I’m always fascinated at how many people on trains look at their phone rather than a book, and I’m guilty of it myself too. I have to put my phone on silent and leave it in another room if I want to settle down to read!
I think that e-books are a great way to combine the two, but I think that we should also remember that there is nothing quite like sitting down with a book and zoning out of the world; it allows children to develop their imagination, rather than depending on a computer, app or tablet to do the imaging for them.
Do you think libraries have as important a role in society as they used to?
Definitely, if not more important now. Society has changed so much and places where people can congregate within communities are getting more scarce, but a library provides a safe and peaceful haven for adults and children to sit, read, think, research, read, go on the internet, relax, unwind, write, draw, discover, explore and read some more.
If libraries and all the books in them disappeared it would be a great loss to societies everywhere.
What was your favourite book as a child?
I loved Gwe Gwenhwyfar, which was the Welsh version of Charlotte’s Web. I loved everything by Judy Blume. Also my big brother read Paul Jennings’ quirky books so I read them as well in attempt to be cool.