We spoke to Rachel Hamilton, a graduate of both Oxford and Cambridge whose first book was runner up in the Emirates Festival of Literature’s Montegrappa First Fiction competition. Seven books later, Rachel divides her time between the UK and UAE, creating stories for 5–13-year-olds and talking to them about the joys of reading. Rachel loves to make people laugh, especially when it's intentional rather than accidental.


You’re the author of some of the most fun and creative children’s books out there, one of which was published with us in the UAE (The Falcon Who Found His Wings), did you always want to write for children? How did that journey unfold for you?

I always wanted to write, but it was only when I had my own kids that I knew I wanted to write for children. I loved telling bedtime stories and it wasn't long before I started making up my own. One day, I began a story about a toilet that exploded leaving only a pair of smoking shoes behind. As the kids and I spent the next few nights worked out whose shoes they were, and what had happened to their owner, I thought it might be fun to write it all down and find out if it made other children laugh too. I entered the story into the Emirates LitFest's First Fiction competition and less than two months later I had a literary agent and a two-book publishing deal. You could say I wrote my own happily ever after.


Tell us more about The Falcon Who Found His Wings;

  1. What inspired you to write it?

I've always wanted to write a story rooted in the Middle East. Many of my stories are set in England, because I grew up there, but I've lived in the UAE for more than ten years, so I also consider the Gulf region to be home and wanted to celebrate it in a book.

  1. How long did the process take?

This was a quick one, it took me around a month to write the story.

  1. What key themes do you explore in it?

It's a story about following your dreams and not letting anyone tell you that you can't. It also touches on prejudice and bullying.


What major challenges did you face while writing it?

None really, it was a really enjoyable experience. 


What is your typical writing process? Where do your ideas come from?

I work from home and books are my full time job - either writing, editing, reviewing or representing them. So, in theory I have a lot of time to write, but I also have a lot of distractions – different projects on the go, two teenagers in the house (one home-schooled), various events and activities, and this week it's half term too. So, the way I'd describe my typical writing process is a multi-tasking scramble!

I'm not a great sleeper – my mind is always busy – so I find my best time for writing is when I wake up at around 3am and the house is quiet. I used to lie awake worrying about not being able to sleep. Now I just grab my laptop and type away for a few hours. I'm sure it's not the healthiest way to get things done, but it seems to work for me.

My ideas come from everywhere. Anything can trigger them and I'll just fade out of real life for a while and imagine other people and places. I used to get told off for daydreaming when I was younger – but now I can just say I'm coming up with story ideas! I'm constantly thinking 'What if…?'


What do you enjoy most about writing and is it geared towards stories for children that is what’s enjoyable?

I love the idea generation and the planning – living in different worlds inside my head and trying to figure out how all these characters and universes and storylines fit together


What were some of your favourite books growing up?

My favourite books were Not Now, Bernard by David McKee, Matilda by Roald Dahl, and the Chrestomanci series by Diana Wynne Jones. Roald Dahl and Diana Wynne Jones were huge inspirations when I was young – they have this amazing ability to make you feel all the emotions at once. I've always loved a book that can make me laugh and cry and think – often all at the same time.


Aside from being great at written storytelling, you’re a wonderful oral storyteller too! Does that require a special skill? How do you harness it? Is it innate or acquired for you? And is it a must for writing children’s stories?


I wouldn't say I was wonderful, but I do love telling stories. It started when I was younger, as a kind of therapy. I'm very clumsy, so I was always doing embarrassing things like walking into lampposts or falling off buses (true story). I found that turning those things into funny anecdotes made them less painful and more entertaining. I don't know about special skills you need for storytelling, but the most important thing is to be aware of your audience. Make sure they're following you and be ready to adapt what you're saying or how you're saying it if they're not. Be aware of the impact you're having on them and their mood.


Do you write with a young child or an animated character’s voice in mind? Or do you use your own voice?

I think it's basically my own voice tweaked slightly to become more childlike (or unicorn-like!) Like most children's authors, I find it easy to remember what it was like to be the age of the audience I write for. I don't think I ever actually grew up!


What has been your greatest achievement to date?

It was probably getting that first book deal. I had dreamt of being a published author for most of my life and to finally achieve something I'd been dreaming of for over thirty years was special. The feelings of seeing my book in a bookshop for the first time, or of walking on to a plane and seeing a little boy reading it and laughing out loud, were indescribably brilliant.


What have been some of your readers’ responses or reactions towards your books? Was there anything that was surprising to you?

I'm thrilled any time anyone reads one of my books. You put a lot of yourself into every story and to know that you've made someone laugh – or cry – or think – is an incredible feeling. I was pleasantly surprised to win two prizes for The Case of the Exploding Loo, and what made them absolutely perfect was that they were voted for by kids rather than industry peers. So, I knew the most important people liked what I'd done.


In your opinion, what makes the perfect children’s book?

Ooh, tricky. I'd say the perfect children's book is one with uniquely memorable characters, presented in ways that makes the world feel alive and full of possibilities.


What advice would you give young writers following in this path here in the UAE?

Keep reading, keep writing, and enjoy every moment.


What are you currently reading or have read recently?

I love Lucy Strange's stories, and have just finished The Ghost of Gosswater, which was as brilliant as all her other stories and super-spooky! My next book will be Boy, Everywhere by AM Dassu about a refugee called Sami who is forced to travel from a comfortable life in Damascus, via a smuggler's den in Turkey, to a prison in Manchester. I have heard amazing things about it and can't wait to get started.


Do you have another book in the pipeline?

I always have a book in the pipeline! I can't say much about it yet except to say it contains wishing wells.


If you could choose three people to invite to a dinner party, who would you pick?

In my experience, you have to do a lot of talking and a lot of listening at dinner parties. So, they would have to be people who make me laugh and have a lot of strange and interesting things to say. So, I'm thinking Trevor Noah and Hannah Gadsby, and I'd like to bring Terry Pratchett back to life – ideally forever, but for my dinner party would be a good start.


What is your life’s mantra?

Be kind. Have fun.