FAQs on writing

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My first creative writing, 1986

What made you want to become a writer?
I never planned to become a writer. I failed English Literature at G.C.E. so I thought I wasn't good enough to do anything in that line. As a teacher, I used to devise my own worksheets for lessons. I always tried to make interesting and quirky, so maybe the seeds of creativity were sown then. It was not until I was much older - in my early thirties - I couldn't suppress this niggling in my brain to have a go at creative writing properly and I joined a creative writing group. The group folded after a few weeks but that was it, a button had been pushed and I couldn't stop. I think writing found me, in the end.

Where do your ideas come from?
All over the place. Some come from news items (Vicious Circle) some from real events that happened to me or places I have visited (Simone's Letters, Saturday Girl, Jade's Story) and some come out of nowhere.

Do you sometimes read other people's books for ideas?
No, not consciously, but I'm sure something must rub off occasionally, even if it is just a word or phrase.

A fantastic school visit

What is the best thing about being a writer?
Meeting other writers. Having the freedom to decide my day. Hearing from readers who have enjoyed my stories. Meeting other people who love reading books.

What's the worst thing?
Giving up a day of writing to go into a school where the teachers don't really want a writer at all, they just want to be able to tick off a box for the inspectors. I have experienced teachers marking while I give my talk, putting up displays and working on their laptops! It really is disheartening because you know they are not going to do any follow-up with their group. Having said that, most schools are very welcoming and some are fantastic.

What is it like being famous?
Pass.

What is it like being rich?
Pass.

Do you ever use anyone you know in your books?
I tend not to because real characters seem to take over from the fiction you are trying to create. I have occasionally used real people's situations. For instance, in Simone's Letters, Simone is constantly playing 'piggy-in-the-middle' to two friends who don't like each other but do like her. I once taught a ten-year-old girl who found herself torn like that. Break times were a real problem for her as the two friends wanted her to do different things and she became really fed up of the squabbling.

What is the favourite of all the books you have written?
I'm proud of all my books and still stunned at being on the shelves at all!

Vicious Circle illustration, by Daniel Norman

Who does your illustrations?
My publisher, Oxford University Press, chooses the illustrator for me. I have been very lucky in that I like all my covers. The award-winning and talented Sue Heap has done all the artwork for the three Simone Stories and I am also particularly fond of Daniel Norman's original cover to Vicious Circle as it was the first cover designed especially for my first book.

Which other writers do you admire?
So many! I read as much children's fiction as I can. Old favourites include Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, Run for Your Life by David Line, The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall, Private Keep Out! by Gwen Grant, The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend and the Fudge stories by Judy Blume. New favourites include Holes by Louis Sachar and Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos.

What do you think of Harry Potter?
I really enjoyed the first Harry Potter book - Philosopher's Stone - and the sequels, too. They have everything a child's book should have - characters to love, characters to despise, imaginative detail and a romping story line. I don't know why the publishers have given adults different covers, though. If grown-ups want to read children's stories they should come out of the closet and do so with the original covers!

What advice do you have for children who want to write?

Be prepared to polish your work.
Don't be resentful if someone offers you advice - it's part of the process.
Read lots of books as well.
Check out the Internet for websites who will publish children's work.
Local library services sometimes run writing workshops for children during the holidays. Find out who is your Literacy Development Officer.
See if your school library stocks Young Writer. It has competitions you can enter.
Read publications like Authorzone in your library. Authorzone is full of interviews with children's writers and tells how the writers started.
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