Jacqueline Wilson Q&A: “My cat is a sensitive soul – I worry about him terribly”

The children’s author talks Victorian fairy hoaxes, a world without emails, and books about the NHS.

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Jacqueline Wilson was born in Bath in 1945, and grew up in Kingston upon Thames. Primarily a children’s author, she has written more than 100 books including the Tracy Beaker series, which was adapted for television. She was made a Dame in 2008.

What’s your earliest memory?

Sitting in my pram being jolted up and down the steps to the furnished rooms where my parents lived in Bath. Children rode around in those large Silver Cross prams for several years in those long-ago days – I was probably about two and a half.

Who are your heroes?

My childhood hero was the child actress Mandy Miller. I even wrote a “biography” of her in a Woolworths notebook when I was nine. My adult hero is Frida Kahlo.

What was the last book that changed your thinking?

Three books about the NHS: Do No Harm by Henry Marsh, This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay and The Language of Kindness by Christie Watson.

Which political figure, past or present, do you look up to?

Ed Davey – for his patience, caring and honesty.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

Victorian fairy painting.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

Victorian times – just for a few weeks so I’d never have to do any research again.

What TV show could you not live without?

24 Hours in A&E – for the touching stories, not the gory stuff.

Who would paint your portrait?

Saied Dai is currently painting me for the Foundling Museum. I’m thrilled.

What’s your theme tune?

“Jackie Wilson Said” by Dexys Midnight Runners. And there’s actually a song written about me called “Jackie Jackie” by the Moon River Toy Co.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received? Have you followed it?

Friends told me to get a cat because I’d relax and stop worrying if it sat on my lap purring. Well, I have a splendid rescue cat called Jacob but he’s such a sensitive soul that I worry about him terribly.

What’s currently bugging you?

I find it astonishingly irritating to go in a big art gallery and find many people there standing with their backs to the paintings, so they can take a selfie.

What single thing would make your life better?

I’d love it if emails didn’t exist. If people had to go to the trouble of finding paper and pen and stamps then they’d only write if it was really important – and they wouldn’t expect an immediate answer.

When were you happiest?

I think I’m happiest now.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

I’d have my own second-hand bookshop. I’d call it Women and Children First and it would stock every book by top female authors. The children’s section wouldn’t be arranged by age. I would theme it instead. I’d have a rabbit section with all the Potter bunnies, Little Grey Rabbit, Miffy, The Velveteen Rabbit, the Pookie books, and Watership Down. I’d have toy rabbits on the shelf, too. I plan all the themes in immense detail when I can’t get to sleep.

Are we all doomed?

No, I think we’ll muddle along somehow. 

Jacqueline Wilson will discuss “My Mum, Tracy Beaker” (Doubleday) at Cheltenham Literature Festival on 13 October

This article appears in the 12 October 2018 issue of the New Statesman, How austerity broke Britain