Aged six, Jacqueline Wilson already knew she wanted to be a writer and in the years that have followed, she has proved to be one of the most successful contemporary children’s authors.
Wilson’s novels tackle the real, modern-day lives of children in Britain, and by dealing with the more ‘taboo’ subjects in her books, while still keeping the stories fun and entertaining, she seems to have struck a chord with youngsters.
She explains: “I think the books deal with the sort of issues that children are interested in nowadays that they are aware of, whether we like it or not.
“And although I deal with quite sad subjects sometimes, I try very hard to have a lot of humour in the books too. With one exception, they always have a happy ending, so I like to feel that I’m not traumatising the nation’s children. I’m actually reassuring them and saying that, you know, bad things can happen, but hang on in there and things will turn out for the better after all.”
Wilson puts a great deal of work and research into ensuring she hits the right spot with her readers and continues to tackle topical issues.
Wilson tells Licensing.biz: “I’m a woman of a certain age, shall we say, and my daughter is long since grown up, so I have to be out there. I have to be totally in touch with young girls and boys too, as I do have quite a lot of boy readers as well.
“I love doing these book tours, where I spend around three weeks being taken all over the country, giving talks and doing book signings. While I am doing this, particularly in the long signing queues, I tend to chat to the kids and ask them all sorts of things while I’m signing the books and this keeps me in touch.”
As well as her book tours, Wilson receives around 700 emails each month and a huge jiffy bag of fan letters every other day. She adds: “I feel I could go on mastermind answering questions about the likes and dislikes of young girls.”
Despite her huge success as an author though, Wilson never intended to create a brand around her name and her work. She says: “I think few authors set out to be a brand and at the start of my career, I was just thrilled to bits to be published and never thought I would be popular, so I wasn’t one of these incredibly competitive, ambitious writers at all, absolutely determined to make the best seller charts.
“But since, well I suppose in the years since Tracey Beaker, which was really my breakthrough novel, and since I have become lucky enough to be really successful, I find I have time to become competitive and very determined to hand on in there and to write the best books I possibly can and it’s basically altered my life, in a very pleasant way.
“So I’m rather glad now that I wasn’t an overnight success and had years of just peacefully writing in completely unknown solitary splendour and it’s rather strange now to have become a reasonably public figure and with a recognisable brand.”
Once loyal fanbase for the books had built up, they began to be adapted into TV series and features. CBBC created The Story of Tracey Beaker, which ran for five series from 2002 to 2006, and was recently reincarnated as Tracey Beaker returns, which aired earlier this year.
Wilson offers: “I think the TV series very much helps to keep the brand alive. Tracey is a character that, without me really trying to think ‘ooh lets think of a character that will really chime with lots of people’, has become enormously popular.
“Popular with children because she is naughty and I think, hopefully, most adults also take her to their hearts. Being realistic, it has certainly helped my career enormously and I’m very pleased with the whole Tracey thing.”
But it hasn’t just been Tracey Beaker who has become a star - A one-off, 100-minute feature based on Double Act also aired on Channel 4 in 2002; A mini-series based on The Illustrated Mum, and starring Michelle Collins, aired in 2003 on Channel 4; ITV ran a mini-series based on Best Friends in 2004; Girls in Love has seen two series on ITV during 2003-2005 and a one-off programme based on Dustbin Baby aired on the BBC in 2008.
Alongside the strong content and the TV adaptations, the instantly recognisable design of the books, has helped Wilson become a recognised figure and brand.
She explains: “I think it’s helped that I’m sort of artistically married to Nick Sharratt, who I think has got such a clear and brilliant way of illustrating, so that the moment by books are on the shelf, they are instantly recognisable.
“You can’t possibly mistake them for anyone else’s and now Nick has a particular little stripe running across the spine so that when they are sold in WH Smith, Waterstone’s etc, you can see that they look like a complete set and his very distinct style of illustration, makes them look complete. So if you want a Jacqueline Wilson book - whoops, there they are.”
Once the brand became established, Wilson began to be approached by individual companies about licensing it to a range of other products. While Wilson found this flattering, she is quick to admit that the commercial side of the business is neither her, or Sharratt’s forte.
Having decided to launch a licensing programme, Wilson teamed up with Ian Downes at Start Licensing to take care of the deals. Currently, a number of licensees are on board, including DC Thomson for a monthly magazine; Portico Designs for greeting cards and stationery; P2 Games for a Nintendo DS game; Winning Moves for playing cards and Top That Publishing for book kits.
Having started her career as a journalist at DC Thompson, Wilson is particularly proud of the magazine: “I’m thrilled to bits with the magazine. I particularly liked the fact that they [DC Thompson] had the idea for a magazine for girls who like reading. I think this type of girl has been overlooked by most of the other magazines, which are heavily into the way you look, and boys, or how to get a boyfriend or whatever. It’s the sort of magazine I’d loved have had when I was a child.”
Both Wilson and Sharratt are very involved with their licensed products. Wilson explains: “I have had a very hands-on approach with the delightful people running the magazine, because I write my own page of editorial letter content, I write my own writing tips, Nick does his own drawing tips, so we feel heavily involved, but basically they do all the hard work.
“But everything is run past us and we have to approve absolutely everything. It’s just been the most delightful arrangement.”
When new deals are in the pipeline, Wilson is also key to the decision making in order to keep the brand relevant and in turn, successful. She comments: “I get an instinctive idea of the sort of things that will go down well. Things like stationery and greetings cards, simply because of the volume of post I receive, I know that in spite of little girls loving to send emails, they still do like letters and notes and stickers and fancy pens and all that sort of paraphernalia and sending special cards to their friends.
“So I think, girls are very much into friendship still and it figures so very importantly in their life, so at the moment, there is a friendship bracelet going into Marks and Spencer and these are the sort of things I just know young girls will love.”
Interest in the Jacqueline Wilson brand is showing no signs of waning and there are plenty more deals in the pipeline and ideas waiting to be realised.
Wilson explains: “In discussion there is a lot of very exciting personalised product range based on appropriate book covers of mine, so I’ve seen prototypes based on a character called Lizzy Zipmouth and there’s a Lizzy Zipmouth little backpack, which looks wonderful and very cute and there a lots of ideas for ceramics and nightwear and confectionery, picking up on different things that Nick [Sharratt] has done in the past and giving them a new twist, which I think will be brilliant.
“That Company Called If are doing a whole range of bookmarks and booklights, in a different way that I know little girls will want very much to collect. These are kind of the traditional quality things that I think will be very popular.
“I’ve always fancied the idea of little tiny, quite inexpensive models of my characters because sometimes children customise little dolls or little toys to say this is so-in-so from one of my books. So something little so that it could go in a pencil case or a pocket, I think would go down very well. We’ll have to wait and see if anyone takes me up on that idea.”
We’re pretty sure someone will…