Where do you find your ideas?
From many places - could be something I’ve seen on the television or read in the papers. Or a remark overheard on a bus or a train. Even catching a few words from people passing by can spark an idea. I might also remember things from my own past and build around them - like the time my mother invited some neighbours for Sunday lunch. To make a good impression she bought the biggest, juiciest chicken from our local butcher. She spent hours preparing the meal only to discover that the family were vegetarians! When I was writing that story I changed the neighbours to American relatives and the chicken became the beloved family cockerel that had to be sacrificed to make the impression on the visitors. I called the story Backyard Majesty and luckily for me it was considered good enough to win a Hennessy Award.
How long does it take to write a book?
It absolutely depends on the type of book and the age group I am writing for. The Milo stories took three months each but my teen books Esty’s Gold and The Rabbit Girl took nearly a year each.
How do you find your characters?
Everywhere and anywhere! Schools, supermarkets, trains. I don’t put people I know into a story, but I might use some of their personal traits.
When you start writing a story do you know how it is going to finish?
Usually I don’t. According as the main characters and the story develop, the ending will present itself. I remember a famous writer saying to me years ago that when you start writing a story the strongest character in the story can take over your mind and what is going to happen, and how the story will end. I didn’t believe that until I started writing myself. The exception in my stories is The Rabbit Girl - I knew the ending long before I started writing it!
Of all the books you wrote which is your favourite?
Whatever book I happen to be writing.
How many languages have your books been translated into?
Do you have to do a lot of research for a book?
Some books required lots of research. For example Esty’s Gold is partly set in Ireland and partly in Australia. To make sure it sounded authentic I went to Ballarat in Australia. The Rabbit Girl also needed much research and help from libraries in London. I also visited The Lake Country and The Imperial War Museum to get my facts right.
What advice would you give a student who wants to be a writer?
Always carry a pencil and small notebook in your pocket. You never know when a good idea or event will come to your mind. You can use them in stories or poems at some stage. Artists are always sketching scenery, animals and people. Think of yourself as an artist with words.