Sibéal Pounder, Christmas and Tinsel

Sibéal Pounder talks to Louise Ellis-Barrett about all things Christmas and Tinsel(y)

You have had such great success to date and I am sure you will with Tinsel. So, can we start with – what do you think has been the key to your success to date? I’m not sure – a lot of success is definitely luck and hitting on ideas at the right time. Finding the right people to work with is also a big part. I’m surrounded by a lot of incredibly smart women, and one incredibly smart Jason! (illustrator of Bad Mermaids). There’s Gemma, my agent, Ellen, my editor, Laura Ellen Anderson, who illustrates Witch Wars, Sarah Warburton, who illustrates Tinsel, Emily, who handles all the publicity, Mattea who does all the marketing. Tinsel is about mighty girls and, fittingly, it was a mighty team of women who created it.  


The writing - Do the ideas flow quickly or do you work really hard to find the next story? I tend to find the ideas fairly easily, but it’ll be a grain of an idea. Turning it into a book is the difficult bit! Not all ideas snowball to form a book.  


Tinsel – why Christmas and why give it a fashion, fantasy makeover? I have always been fascinated by Mrs Claus. Everyone knows who she is and yet no one knows anything about her – we don’t even know for certain what her real name is! I wanted to go back and find her story, all the way back to when she was a young girl. And it turns out, a long time ago, we all got the Santa story a bit wrong. 


In terms of fashion specifically, the characters Rinki and Teddy are very interested in design, and I think it always works its way into my books in some form – in part because it’s something I’m interested in, but also because it’s such a fun form of self expression. It’s also an interesting time for fashion in the 1800s in London, when Tinsel is set, because it had many more rules around it back then. Tinsel is very much about two girls breaking free from the limitations placed upon them. 


And character names – I love them, particularly Mr Krampsus – do you find it easy to create characters and find suitable names/descriptions for them? A lot of the names come from twists on already established Christmas things – Captain Garland, the fact all the elves are called Carol (the carols), and Mr Krampus is a reference to the Krampus, the Christmas devil. I toyed with the idea of making him a supernatural being, but I thought it would be more terrifying to make him simply a rich and powerful bad man. The cane he carries, which forks at the top to form two horns, is a reference to his devil origins.  


Do you personally have a favourite aspect of Christmas –the day itself or the whole time of year? Any favourite memories? I love Christmas, and normally start eating mince pies in September! One of my favourite memories is having mince pie picnics in the snow when I was little, which was a tradition in our house. I put mince pie picnics in the book because I love them so much. 

Do you have a favourite, classic Christmas story or one that inspired you? My favourite Christmas story growing up was probably Raymond Briggs’s Father Christmas (there was also the animation of the book – I remember crying when someone taped over my treasured VHS recorded copy with half an episode of The Crystal Maze!) 


How important is it to you to introduce young readers to feminist concepts? Why did you think this would work with a Christmas story – you do it subtly and weave it in so smoothly but it is there for the eagle-eyed. I think it works well with Mrs Claus because she is very much a relic of the Victorian era – a woman known and yet completely unknown in a world that didn’t imagine much of women. She’s always in the background and I think it’s important to look at the stories we tell and how we tell them, why some characters are in focus and others are barely there at all. 


Is this a book just for Christmas or one for any time of year? How would you feel if it were to become a must-read Christmas classic that readers return to year on year? Christmas books can be read at any time of year because they are so cheering, but there is something magical about curling up with a Christmas book next to a twinkling tree. I’d of course be delighted if it became a Christmas classic!


Who has been the biggest influence on your work? Do you have a muse? Oh gosh, I’m not sure there is one person – I’ve been very inspired by authors I read as a child, particularly Eva Ibbotson and Jill Murphy. I don’t really have a muse as such, I think I’m most inspired by meeting new people and seeing new things, thinking about things in new ways. It’s such a difficult one to answer! 


What do you think is the key to your continued appeal could you bottle and share or is it unique to each and every author? I have no idea! I always tend to write about the things I love, and create characters that I hope others will love too. The humour is very weird and very me and I think the most important thing is to write what you love and in a way that you feel is you. Friends who read my books say that when they read them they can hear every line in my voice – I think that’s important, to find your own voice and translate that to the page.  

Finally, what advice would you like to share with up-and-coming authors or children who would love one day to be in your shoes? I would just say: know that you can do it, find your voice, really think about what it is you love to write about, and keep going!