Clad in a white linen jacket, grey trousers and silver shoes, Sally Grindley looks every inch the sophisticated and successful woman she is. Her numerous awards are a testament to her incredible writing ability. For an internationally renowned children’s author, with over 100 books published, she is remarkably down to earth and greets me with a warm smile.
Grindley’s visit to Qatar is to enable her to work on a project entitled ‘Telling Your Story: Children in Exile.’ The project was launched by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing (BQFP) and the Ministry of Culture to celebrate the fact that Doha is the Capital of Arab Culture this year.
Dr Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar, reading and writing development director at BQFP, explains how the project came about: ‘Qatar is home to so many people from disparate backgrounds, specifically from the region, Middle East and Africa.’
The aim is for children that have fled conflict zones to write reflective pieces about their homeland and impressions of their lives in Qatar. Rajakumar is animated as she adds: ‘It felt natural to have Sally on board in this project. We really are excited to have her here.’
Grindley and BQFP have been holding workshops and visiting schools to work with children from Palestine, Sudan and Iraq. Although the language barrier has proved difficult at times, Grindley explains that the children’s visible excitement about the project needs no translation. ‘It’s lovely to give these children a chance to tell their stories,’ she says. ‘When we explain to them this will probably go to print, that’s
so exciting for them.’
The best pieces will be released by BQFP in a special commemorative book in December this year. Grindley feels confident that she will also be inspired by these children. ‘Something will certainly come out of this area, whether it’s a feature book or a novel,’ she affirms.
This is not the first time Grindley has visited Qatar. This time last year she came over to consult on a series of books she is writing based on the popular Fafa television programme, as featured on the Al Jazeera Children channel. The first two of these eagerly awaited, illustrated books are also set to be released in December. ‘It’s a fascinating place, and I love it as it seems to have adopted me,’ she says of the Middle East, adding that she’s keen to explore and learn more about it. ‘I want to keep coming back and seeing more.’
Grindley’s road to success began at university where she was studying French literature. Asked to pen a children’s play she did just that, and her interest in children’s writing was piqued. After university she went to work for a children’s book club where her first book was born. ‘I wrote my first book going down the motorway one day,’ she laughs, recalling her very first flash of inspiration. ‘I had an idea, got home and wrote it. Then I sent it anonymously to a publisher that I knew through the book club, as I didn’t want the embarrassment of him saying no!’
Of course he liked it, and Grindley went on to have two books published in the same year, one of which was illustrated by well known children’s artist Anthony Brown, and 25 years on it’s just been reissued.
In 1995, Grindley started writing full time and has since written books for toddlers to pre teens. Many of her books deal with real-life situations and issues such as moving house, divorce, pollution and even death. Asked if she views her books as ‘educational’, Grindley states that it isn’t her aim. ‘I set out to write a good story,’ she admits. ‘Because some are based quite heavily on what can happen in real life, there’s that aspect to them. I like to think they are more enlightening than educational.’
She explains that she’s not trying to ‘change the world’ with her books, but likes the idea that children may think slightly differently having read one that deals with a ‘heavy’ issue. And she is a busy lady, with several projects in the pipeline. She is currently finishing a novel about a child with selective mutism, and is set to commence work on four books linked to annual conservation issues, in conjunction with Bloomsbury and London Zoo.
With so much success to date, and books published in over 30 countries, I’m curious as to whether there can be any ambition that Grindley has yet to fulfill. ‘I’d like one of my books to be made into a film. That really would be the crowning of my career.’ Wistfully she adds, ‘One day…’ Considering Grindley’s passion for her work and her complete likeability, I have a feeling that one day her dream will come true.
Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing (BQFP) is a joint venture between the Qatar Foundation and the UK’s Bloomsbury Publishing. Call 4454 2131 for more info, and see www.bqfp.com.qa. More info on Sally Grindley at www.sallygrindley.co.uka