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Bestselling children’s author Francesca Simon, 58, is the creator of Horrid Henry, whose adventures are published in 24 countries. Horrid Henry and the Abominable Snowman was Children’s Book of the Year in the 2008 British Book Awards.
What was your earliest ambition?
To be President of the United States.
Public school or state school? University or straight into work?
State, except for nine months in London when I was seven. I went to Palisades High School in Pacific Palisades. I read medieval studies at Yale, then Old and Middle English at Oxford – there could have been no better vocational courses for a future children’s writer.
Who was or still is your mentor?
Judith Elliott, my editor at Orion. She created the Horrid Henry books with me. Judith published some of the most innovative children’s books ever, and to have her believe in me as a young writer was immensely inspiring. She relied exclusively on her own taste – unusual in these nervous, marketing-led times.
How physically fit are you?
Reasonably, given that my job requires me to slump in a comfy chair. I cycle, swim and I love walking.
Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?
Ambition without talent is embarrassing but talent without ambition is, to me, like being a great writer who’s never tried to get published. So you need both, but also resilience – that’s crucial.
How politically committed are you?
When I was a teenager I went on demonstrations the way others went to parties. I’ve remained leftwing but I don’t discuss politics as fervently as I used to. The causes I’m committed to now tend to be about literacy, reading, libraries.
Do you consider your carbon footprint?
I do, but not enough. Am I really saving the planet because I hang out my laundry and don’t use a tumble dryer? Pass.
Do you have more than one home?
A house in London and another in the south of France.
What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
The Lewis chessmen: those little ivory figures in the British Museum. They star in my book The Sleeping Army, so I got to hold them; I had to be yanked out of the curator’s office.
What’s your biggest extravagance?
Buying Jean Cocteau’s art.
In what place are you happiest?
At my house in France with close friends and family.
What ambitions do you still have?
To continue scaring myself by writing books I think might not work. I’d also like to really terrify myself and try to write a play or a film.
What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
Combining making a living as a writer with bringing up my wonderful son Josh.
What has been your greatest disappointment?
The Horrid Henry film, which, I hasten to add, I had nothing to do with.
If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would she think?
She’d be thrilled I’d become a writer but amazed that I wrote children’s books.
Do you believe in an afterlife?
No, but, even though I hate being wrong, I wouldn’t mind being wrong about this (unless the afterlife is accurately described in the Norse myths). I like the medieval idea of endless feasting.
If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
Nine. I’d make it more but the Evil Eye might be an FT reader.
Francesca Simon is supporting the Ocado Poems for Peace campaign. For more details visit www.ocado.com/peace. Her latest book, ‘Horrid Henry’s Nightmare’, is published by Orion Children’s Books
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