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Interview | Kristien Potgieter

Today, we're diving into a world of twirls, leaps, and enchanting stories as we chat with the fabulous kids' author Kristien Potgieter.

Kristien Potgieter was born and raised in Johannesburg. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University and an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, where she was the 2015–2016 Booker Prize Scholar. Her children's book, Bongi Ballerina, just hit the shelves. Let's hear more about the story:

Bongi hates ballet. Why did you choose ballet as a sport?

Bongi may hate it, but I love ballet! I took ballet lessons throughout my childhood and into adulthood, and only really stopped when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, but would love to return at some point. I also would have loved to have been a professional dancer, but soon found that my talents lay more with language and writing – so I became a professional editor and writer instead. But I've never lost my love for ballet, as I hope "Bongi Ballerina" shows. Ballet stories are also a staple of children's literature, and I grew up reading stories about ballet, though they were usually set in the UK or the US, so I wanted to write a ballet story with a South African setting and characters.

If you were a character in Bongi Ballerina, who would you be and what would you do in a ballet class?

I used to work very hard and seriously during ballet lessons, much like Tamzin, but I was never the star dancer of the ballet class like she is, and I'm also not sporty like Sophia or outgoing like Bongi. So I would probably be Nthabiseng – I can be quite shy until you get to know me, and I've always loved reading and still often take a book with me wherever I go, just like she does.

Tamzin, Bongi, Nthabiseng and Sophia

Tamzin, Bongi, Nthabiseng and Sophia

Kristien and Luna (Photo provided by author)

Kristien and Luna (Photo provided by author)

How do you maintain a childlike sense of wonder and curiosity when writing stories that resonate with young readers?

I think it's important to remember that kids, while they haven't been around as long as us grown-ups have, also have preferences and opinions about things, and, even if those aren't necessarily based on experience, they're also valid and deserve to be listened to and respected. So to an extent it's a matter of being willing to put your cynicism and life experience as an adult aside and really listen to the child's perspective. I always try to remember this when I'm writing for children, so as not to force my arguably more world-weary perspective on my child characters. I also just find children endlessly fascinating and hilarious, so maybe that's part of it – I'm very curious about what preoccupies the minds of children and how they see the world, and I think you have to be in order to write for kids. You can't just dismiss them the way so many grown-ups seem to do.

Can you share a behind-the-scenes glimpse into your writing process? How do you transform your initial concept into a fully-fledged children's book?

I write notes and ideas for scenes and characters by hand, usually in whichever notebook I currently have on the go or in the notes app on my phone. This part is messy and all over the place but fun! I also like making lists about my characters that include things like physical appearance, interests, family background, etc., and I spend a considerable amount of time just thinking about the story during this planning phase. At some point, I'll feel ready to write a first (and very rough) draft of the story, usually by hand, and then afterwards I'll type this up on my computer, while simultaneously doing a lot of editing to shape it into a proper narrative. From there it's edit, edit, edit

Lastly, please answer these ten this or that questions:

  • Morning person or night owl? Morning person
  • Sneakers or sandals? Sneakers
  • Sweet or salty? Salty
  • Summer or winter? Summer
  • Singing or dancing? Dancing, definitely! I'm not a singer at all!
  • Dogs or cats? Cats – my cat Luna is my trusty companion.
  • Coffee or tea? Tea
  • Comedy or action?Both – I'll watch anything as long as it's well-made and entertaining.
  • Beef or chicken? Chicken
  • Pink or blue? Pink, always pink!