Winner of the third annual London Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition, Janet Foxley is an avid reader who has been writing all her life. Thrilled to see her first novel, Muncle Trogg, a funny story about the smallest giant in the world, published, Foxley sits down with Scholastic to discuss her writing process, work, inspiration, and more.
When did you start writing?
I made up stories from a very early age but most of them stayed in my head and didn’t make it onto paper. When I was eleven or twelve I wrote an Enid Blyton–type story about three children who stumbled into an adventure while playing in a half-built house. I started writing seriously in my early thirties when I was at home with small children.
What inspires you? Where do you get your ideas from?
Usually an image of a character in a particular setting appears in my head while I am daydreaming. Then I have to stop daydreaming and think really hard about what his story is.
Are you an avid reader? What are your favorite books and authors?
As a child I did nothing but read. Now if I sit down with a book during the daytime I feel guilty – I should be writing or getting some healthy exercise instead – so most of my reading is done in bed. I love to sink into fat literary adult novels like those of Robertson Davies and the German writer Siegfried Lenz, but I also read scores of children’s books, from picture books to young adult. As a child my favorite author by a long way was Arthur Ransome. Most of the children’s books I love and remember particularly well are the ones I read to my children in the 1970s and 1980s: anything by Jan Mark, Helen Cresswell, Philippa Pearce, Ursula Moray Williams’ Bogwoppit and Mary Norton’s wonderful Borrowers – the book I wish I’d written myself. Among recent favorites are Pat Walsh’s Crowfield Curse, Ellen Renner’s Castle of Shadows and City of Thieves, Katherine Langrish’s Troll trilogy, just reissued as West of the Moon, and Cornelia Funke’s Reckless.
Tell us about Muncle Trogg, specifically the plot. Where did the idea come from?
I had already written a quest/coming-of-age story about an imaginary people, which I’d been told was too long for any publisher to consider taking on as a first book. With Muncle I wanted to stay among an imaginary people, but this time one from traditional legend rather than one of my own invention. The Harry Potter series was about halfway through at the time, so I was particularly keen to avoid any form of magic or witchcraft, and what I came up with was giants.
Once I had decided that my protagonist would be a boy giant, his predicament sprang to mind immediately – what could be worse for a giant than being small? In daydreaming mode I saw Muncle (the name comes from Latin homunculus – little man, with the spelling tweaked to make it look more English) dangling upside-down from his brother’s hand, and I had my opening sentence.
How long did it take to write?
On and off about eight years, writing, taking advice, and rewriting
How did you set about getting a publisher?
I sent the book to agents and entered it into every competition I came across. It had been rejected by eight agents, long-listed in one competition, and short-listed in another before it won the third London Times/Chicken House competition.
Have you had anything published before?
When I started writing I took two correspondence courses. I published a few women’s magazine stories as a result of one. The other was in children’s writing and guaranteed that I would earn enough to cover my fee. I did cover my fee, but they insisted that I write nonfiction (mainly arts-and-crafts articles) so I soon gave up because I wanted to write stories.
When and where do you write?
I write, alone and in silence, mostly on a PC in a small study, occasionally on a netbook in the summerhouse if the weather is really nice. I would never write in a public place – I’m too easily distracted and I do a lot of reading out loud, which would be a bit embarrassing! Since I’m retired I can be flexible about when I write, but I’m at my best in the second half of the morning when the chores are done, and the second half of the afternoon when I’ve had a little rest.
Do you find writing hard work?
Some days the words just pour out and I lose all sense of time. Other days I can spend ages rewriting just one sentence and not being able to get it to say exactly what I mean. Hardest of all is thinking up the plot in the first place.
What’s the best thing about being a writer?
The buzz you get when it’s going well and you’re totally transported into your imaginary world. What I enjoy most in writing is creating different societies with their own particular culture and way of life. This, rather than battles between good and evil, is for me what fantasy is about.
And it’s always great to get feedback – it’s fascinating how readers find things in your book that you didn’t realize were there.
And finally, why should people buy this book?
I hope Muncle Trogg will entertain and amuse young readers but also make them think, and perhaps feel better, about some of the problems they may come across at school, such as bullying, feeling different, or overcoming setbacks.
About the Book
Mount Grumble is where the giants live. But (contrary to what you might think, maybe because of their name) not every "giant" (see?) is, um...big. In fact, Muncle Trogg is so SMALL that all the other giants make fun of him for being (uh-oh) people-sized. But when Mount Grumble is put in harm's way, it's up to little Muncle to be the bigger smallest giant, prove that size doesn't matter, and somehow save his home!