I write fiction for children aged 7-11. My books all feature ordinary children to whom something magical happens. The Girl with the Broken Wing was one of Richard and Judy's 'Best Children's Books Ever', and The Boy in the Biscuit Tin was shortlisted for the Galaxy Best British Children's Book Award.
Alongside writing I work as an editorial consultant and teach creative writing to adults and children. I'm also a consultant fellow in academic writing for the Royal Literary Fund and have worked as a writer-in-residence for the RLF at Worcester University, Cardiff Metropolitan University, and Aberystwyth University. I'm currently writing a book for adults which examines the parallels between Eastern philosophy and the psychology of creativity.
How did you first get published?
My first book was a picture book, Tina and the Penguin, which was inspired by a newspaper article about a boy taking a penguin home from the zoo, on a school field trip. I sent the story off to a competition in a magazine, and was a finalist. The 'prize' was to have your book looked at by a publisher (Kids Can Press) who, after asking me to rewrite some of it, published it.
Later, during a school visit in my home town, I met the actual teacher who had taken his class to the zoo! He said when he'd spotted the penguin, they'd turned the bus around and taken it back again.
What are you working on now?
A book called Magic in the City that will be released in 2017. It's about an out-of-work magician who gives three of his magic props to some children, who discover that they can do real magic with them.
Did you write for fun when you were at school?
Yes. And at home on the weekends. I think I started writing my own stories in an attempt to copy authors I had loved reading, like Enid Blyton and E. Nesbitt, to be able to continue being in their 'worlds'. I take some of my early attempts on school visits with me to show the children what I was writing at their age.
Have you always earned your living as a writer?
No. For years I despaired at ever finding a job I liked, or something I was cut out for. I must have had about 20 different types of job, travelled a lot, and felt a bit without a purpose. But now it feels as though it was all meant to be 'grist for my mill'.
Was it difficult to get your first book published?
I did send a lot of short stories off to magazines first, and got lots of rejections. Even after Tina and the Penguin was published I still got rejections for other picture books, and just kept sending things out hoping that I'd get lucky again sooner or later. I do have a thick wad of rejection letters, but some of them had helpful comments or asked to see other work, so I felt that if I kept trying I'd eventually get somewhere.
Which is your favourite of your own books and why?
Most authors would probably say that it's their latest one, or the one they haven't written yet, because you hope to keep on getting better with each book.
Which is your favourite children’s book written by someone else?
Can I have three? The Magician's Nephew, by C.S. Lewis, or The Ogre Downstairs, by Diana Wynne Jones, or The Phoenix and the Carpet by E. Nesbitt.
How long does it take you to write a book?
A few months to get a finished draft, which is usually laborious, a journey where lots of false turns are taken and things are completely rewritten, and then a few more months for edits etc.
Do you use a computer or write first drafts long hand?
Straight onto computer.
Do you have a writing routine or do you just write when you feel like it?
When I'm trying to meet a deadline I'll be up at eight, write until lunch, have a bite and then go back and carry on and then maybe even go back again in the evening. I get a bit consumed by it. Otherwise, maybe just mornings, but all the time I'm thinking and taking notes, even while watching TV or supposedly relaxing. I don't think I ever relax.
Rewriting - do you love it or hate it?
Love it. Plotting is the hardest thing, so when the plot is in good shape I can breathe more easily. I like getting it as tight as possible, so there's not a word extra. I like it to be able to read well aloud. I like polishing it.
Have you ever belonged to a writers’ group?
Yes, and it was very helpful. I am greedy for criticism, and feel I can see immediately if the criticism is 'right' for my story. I feel it often takes someone else to point out the faults in my story first. The praise was a boost, as well! It was good to have to produce something each week, to read out, and reading aloud was a good confidence booster since I was so nervous at having to do it at first.
Why do you like writing for children?
It's just my voice, that's how it comes out. I loved being age 7-11 myself, and believe that it is the 'golden age of reading'. There is such joy in being able to escape into another world where anything is possible and things are charming and magical.
How do you get your ideas?
I think they're inspired by magical places that I remember from childhood. Quirky characters in unusual situations spark the story, and it grows bit by bit.
Do you draw the pictures for your books?
No, I'm not good enough!
What advice would you offer anyone who wants to write for children?
Write what you want to read, in your own child's mind. Be prepared to write much more in a first draft than you eventually keep. Follow your hunches. Read, and keep writing. If you keep writing, without worrying too much about whether it’s any good or not, bit by bit you will improve, and you'll hardly notice how far you've come until you look back at your early work.