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Interview with Donna Vann

The smell of pencils and paper is the smell of my childhood. Every day after school I would walk down the long hill to the centre of our small Texas town, where my mum managed a shop selling stationery and office machines. So it’s not surprising I have a complex relationship with office supplies.

Donna with writing tools

For many years now my favourite pen has been the Pilot G2 Premium Gel Rollerball, Fine, in blue (available in the UK from Viking) which I purchase by the box. This versatile pen goes in my handbag, car, desk, bedside table, and book signing bag. It has just enough ‘drag’ to make me feel like I’m physically contributing to the writing process, but not so much that it distracts. When I’m tired of sitting at my desk and want to stand and move my arms a bit, a Uniball Vision Elite 0.8 on A3 sheets of paper works well for mid-book brainstorming. It writes a bold line and makes me feel creative.

When free-associating on a roll of paper from Ikea children’s section, thick/thin markers do the job. My current set say ‘United Office’ but I’ve no idea where I got them – maybe The Range or Asda. The roll makes a great show-and-tell for school visits.

Pencils are important too, mostly for editing. Roald Dahl wrote all his manuscripts in longhand with Dixon Ticonderoga pencils, starting each day with six perfectly sharpened ones. Those were the pencils of my US childhood but I’m not sure they are available in the UK. My choice here is the Staedtler HB which are available at Smiths, but I prefer to get them from my wonderful local independent bookshop.

Notebooks. My name is Donna and I own too many notebooks. Most of these I buy at The Works, where the price is right and you can sometimes find treasures. They have to be a satisfactory colour and design, have a saying that is appropriate to me and not overly twee, and not be too girly or glitzy. The smallest ones go in my handbag, the mid-size are my ‘Think Books’ which lurk in every room and in my car, while the largest are used for pasting up picture book dummy texts. ‘Think Books’ are spiral-bound, so pages can be torn out and added to project folders. Every trip to the local shopping centre means a stop at The Works. Just In Case.


My eight children’s books have been traditionally published in the religious market; currently I’m seeking representation for picture books and Middle Grade novels for the trade market. In 2015 I stepped aside briefly from children’s writing in order to self-publish a fictionalised memoir of my dad’s life, after learning to my amazement he had been born into a Yiddish-speaking Jewish family in Russia. I also discovered that instead of one sibling, I have five, as he was married three times previous to marrying my mum.

Dad, man of mystery

DAD, MAN OF MYSTERY tells the story of Don Reid/aka David Ratzer, who changed his name and left his Jewish heritage behind after becoming tangled up with the FBI and (we suspect) becoming an informer for them in 1930’s Chicago. I’m always up for the challenge of writing something completely different, so this was a fun and fulfilling project which has enriched the wider family.

DAD, MAN OF MYSTERY (published with Lulu) is available on Amazon, along with my children’s books.




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