These are some of the questions I often get asked:
Q How long does it take you to write a book?
A This is probably the most common question children ask me (second only to 'Do you make a lot of money?' - the answer to which is usually 'Do I LOOK like I make a lot of money?'), and it's a difficult question to answer because it depends on how long the book is and how much time I get to write it. I spend a lot of time doing author talks and teaching, so my writing time is quite short.
I think you'd be surprised at just how long even the simplest little book takes to write. The fewer the words, the more each word counts - so short books can be quite difficult to get right. And with long books I usually need to do a lot of research which can take as long as the writing of the book.
Q Where do you get your ideas?
A Almost always from the people I meet. I think all my books are character-led. I often see someone, or get to know someone, who inspires me to dream up stories for them. It's a case of getting under the skin of characters - of trying to imagine how they'd react in any given circumstance.
I'm a very visual person, so when I start trying to write about characters I like to draw them first.
Here are some of the illustrations (unpublished, sadly!) that I've done of my characters. (link)
Q Who's your favourite children's author?
A This always makes me cringe ..... OK - I really like authors like David Almond (because he's so good at getting under the skin of characters and he's so sensitive) and Nicola Morgan (because I think she's very courageous in the way she writes and the issues she tackles, and she's sensitive too) and Julia Donaldson (because she's so good at writing really good poetry and seeing patterns in stories) and Geraldine McCaughrean (because she is just SUCH a brilliant story-teller) ... but my all-time greatest influence is the 'Winnie the Pooh' books by A.A. Milne.
I grew up with them and loved them as a small child. Then, when I was about 16, I found them again and realised they were very funny in a brilliantly understated way.
I like to make my stories funny, and I like characters who are a bit unusual ... quirky. My characters always have great aspirations, and in the stories they achieve their goals even though it isn't easy for them. That's autobiographical - I haven't found it easy to realise my ambitions, and most people I know have struggled too.
Q What are your hobbies?
A I like music. Listening to it, and also trying to play it. I play penny whistle (not very well) and recorder. I like the feeling you get when you play with other people, particularly when you harmonise.
I also like gardening. I have two ponds in my garden (it's a tiny garden so it's mostly pond!) and I have frogs in the ponds. I adore frogs! I also like all kinds of creepy-crawlies, like spiders and beetles.
I like painting and drawing. If I could have my life again I think I'd be an illustrator.
And I like reading, playing with my cat Lily, walking in the country, and being with friends.
Q What's your favourite book that you've written?
A Another very popular question - and again I usually say it's the one that's just out. I like all my books for different reasons - some, like 'Speak up Spike!' is special because the illustrations are so good; 'The Pen-pal from Outer Space' is special because I like the story and the illustrations, and it was the first book I got published by a big publisher.
I'm looking forward to my next book which is called 'Bryony Bell Tops the Bill'. It's published by A & C Black and is coming out in 2004. Bryony is a character I really like because she's so determined to be a STAR! (and - being a story - she succeeds brilliantly).
The most thrilling thing about being a writer is having a book accepted (the most HORRIBLE thing is having it rejected - and it never gets any easier!!). Then, you go into a relationship with an editor and the book always changes quite a lot. I like working with editors. The writing is quite a lonely business, then it stops being just 'you' and becomes a joint venture - which is nice.
Q Do you have children?
A No, I don't. I love meeting children through my books though, and I really value what they say.
Q What's the best thing about being a writer?
A That's an easy one. It's everything to do with writing - getting paid to do what you most want to do and meeting wonderful, interesting people. It's not the money though .... sigh!
Q Is there anything you ever did that you regret and would never ever ever do again?
A Yes, I'm afraid there is. I did it on the spur of the moment. Everyone else was doing it, so I just joined in without thinking of the consequences. It was fun at the time, but afterwards I really regretted it and would never EVER repeat it. I suppose it could have had serious effects on my health, which I didn't even consider. But I was lucky. I survived. It could so easily have been a different story, and I wouldn't recommend anyone to try it. Click here to find what it was ... if you dare!