How old were you when you began to write and what was the first thing
I was 9. I wrote a poem at school and finished it off at home. My teacher loved it! That success inspired me to carry on writing. I wrote more poems. I went on to write my first novel aged 11. I’ve written ever since.
Did you like reading when you were little?
I used to collect little boxed sets of fiction books and read them under my covers at night with a torch. The Peter Rabbit series was my favourite – I think because there were so many of them and I just kept finding more! The books were tiny and I loved the feel of them. Although I don’t think you should read under your covers at night because it’s not good for your eyes, back in the days, it did mean that I before I went to sleep, I was able to escape into a magical world.
Who’s your favourite author and what’s your favourite book?
Roald Dahl and Matilda – in fact any of his books. They are funny and exciting. His language is incredibly imaginative and his characters are real and AWESOME – and yet so grounded.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
My son used to ask me this question! It would have to be to be able to fly: to swoop over houses, see forests, look at lakes from a great height, see the moon tracing a silvery path across the water from a great height in the middle of the night and to see lights twinkling in houses below. Can you imagine how cool it would be to zoom from one country to another under darkness and see what is going on down below? I think that would be amazing.
When did you take the plunge and go it alone?
I’d spent a lovely time with my daughter when she was little drawing snails, talking about giant snails and making up stories – all because somebody gave us a baby giant African land snail when we moved into our village. ‘A strange welcoming present!’ you might think. Well, it was. We turned our first story into a book to raise money for the local church. People bought it for silly money – and it was home-produced on the computer, had a plain spine and no blurb even on the back. Ugh! Imagine that! Anyway, those people came back. They wanted the next book (which of course we already had in our head). That’s when I realised I had to try to get Snail Trail published.
Which is your favourite book from those you have written?
It has to be Snail Trail. Without it, the others might never have been written.
How long does it take you to write a book?
Well, Snail Trail was written very quickly, only because Amy and I had been talking about the characters and the plot for some time. So we spent a lot of time thinking and planning. I work very visually. I draw lots of mind maps. I had a sheet of A4 in front of me when I was writing Snail Trail, stuck to the side of my computer. On that sheet was a rough outline of the story, the days, the times, where the cliffhangers would be – and so on. With that detail in front of me, I was able to focus on telling the story and getting it to a timely resolution.
How do you write?
I use mind maps and sketches. I spend a lot of time on sequencing … and I have loads of bits of paper stuck to the edges of my computer when I write. They remind me of important words and themes… though I also do write in long hand. Most of my characters are based on real people so I don’t need character sketches: the characters are already in my head. If your characters are made up, then you will need to write down their profiles, even draw them if, like me, you work in a visual way.
What’s more important: a story setting or the characters?
Without the characters there would be no story, but story settings play an important part in my books. So, for me, they are both as important as each other.
Have you got any stories you want to get published?
I’ve got a story that my daughter tells me is her favourite. I’d like to get it published. It’s nothing to do with Old McSlithers, but there is an annoying, though important, snail in it. I’m working on re-writing it right now and of course it has some gorgeous illustrations from Amy.
What do you think of portals?
Portals have always been around in the book world. Think of the wardrobe in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and children’s television has many examples, not least of which is Dr. Who and his Tardis. This whole idea that you can go into a wardrobe or a Police Box and find yourself in a different world, opens up so many opportunities to children’s imaginations.
Do I use portals? Not often. Most of my books are set in the real world but the book with the annoying snail in it has a portal. I didn’t realise that until I began to re-write it, though. Funny that!
Do you have any pets?
Err …. are you serious? We have, like, hundreds of baby giant African land snails, a few tropical fish, some tiny pygmy shrews that seem to run around our garden in the middle of the night (have you ever seen one? They are soooo cute!) – oh – and a dog called Lola. She’s completely bonkers. And of course we used to have loads of rabbits and guinea pigs. I’d quite like another guinea pig: they can be such characters with their tiny eyes and broad, squidgy bottoms. If we got another guinea pig I’d worry that Lola might not be too happy. But maybe a dog can befriend a guinea pig. What do you think?
What’s your perfect Sunday?
The boys coming back from rugby covered in mud; Amy sitting on her bed working on her latest animation project, Lola lying on her feet … the snails tucking into cucumber. Then Sunday lunch followed by a film and a snooze by the fire afterwards – altogether of course.