FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT WRITING
When did you know you wanted to be an author?
I first knew I wanted to be a writer when I learned to read. Then, when I was about twelve years old, we were given a term long assignment to write whatever story we wanted about the second world war. I interviewed friends of my parents who had lived through the war, as well as my grandmother, and then I set about writing the story. I don’t remember anything about the story, except that my hero survived the war only to be killed by a bull as a he walked across a field! But I do remember how much I loved writing it. From then on, I was hooked.
What’s a typical working day like for an author?
It varies. I aim to write a minimum of 1000 words a day, which doesn’t sound very much but soon adds up. I write longhand in a large Moleskin notebook. I try to write first thing in the morning (well, after breakfast) but that's not always possible. I write in my study, at the London Library, in cafes, on holiday, in bed, on trains... Sometimes, if work is very busy, I hardly get to write at all. But then sometimes I take myself off to a friend's house in the country and I write for fourteen hours a day, stopping only to make tea or go for walks. Those are my favourite times.
Where do you get your ideas?
You need to be very careful around writers, because almost anything you say might end up in a book… Every time someone tells me something unusual or funny or sad, a part of my brain starts trying to turn it into a story. Places I've been to, books I've read, things I've seen... often ideas seem to come from nowhere, but usually if I think about it I can trace their genesis to something which happened in real life.
When you have finished writing a book, who is your first reader?
My agent, Catherine. Who I secretly refer to as Catherine the Great. Except now I’ve written it down, it’s not secret anymore!
Are you influenced by any other authors?
Of course! And so I should be. It’s by reading other writers that you learn how to write yourself. That said, it’s important to keep developing your own voice and style.
Which were your favourite books when you were a child?
All the Narnia books. All the Anne of Green Gables books. All of Enid Blyton’s Adventure series, the Famous Five, Mallory Towers. Tales of Greek mythology. Walter Farrell’s Black Stallion series. My Friend Flicka. Little House on the Prairie. Lots and lots of what used to be called penny Westerns. There were fewer YA books around when I was growing up, so I moved straight from children’s books to a strange mix of classics, detective stories and romantic sagas.
What ingredients, in your opinion, does a good book need?
Characters you love and a cracking plot.
Do you have any tips for new writers?
Write a little bit every day and give yourself plenty of time to re-read and edit what you’ve written. Enjoy it. Don’t stop believing.
What do you like to do besides write?
Read. Go for long walks. Swim in the sea. Look after my garden. Plant trees. Talk to my cat. Spend time with my family and friends. Go to the cinema. Think about one day learning Italian.