Where I Work
I write most days, in a little office at the top of the house. It has fairy lights in the ceiling so when I turn a switch, it’s like the stars coming out. The room is full of bits and pieces. A witch hat, a broomstick, photos, singing witches and teddies, lovely letters from children and thousands of books.
My cats, Heathcliff and Jeremy, like to visit, and usually jump up and walk all over my computer keyboard, which isn’t very helpful.
I was born in Plymouth, Devon, in 1946. I was an only child. We didn’t have a television and nobody had computers in those days, so I played out in the street with my friends (not many cars then) and went to the library a lot, because I loved reading books. I tried writing my own stories too.
School was very different in those days. The teachers were a bit mean sometimes. I got into trouble because I daydreamed too much. My mum was a music teacher and taught me to sing and play the piano. I was put in for lots of music competitions, which was great because I got time off school. My dad was a retired teacher. He encouraged me to read a lot – not that I needed encouragement. I always had my nose in a book.
When I left school, I came to London to train as a teacher. I taught in primary schools for years and years. I liked teaching drama, music and English – and I loved reading stories to the children. I wasn’t so good at teaching maths or science.
I did some acting and music in my spare time and carried on writing stories, just for fun. I never thought about trying to get published. I met Mo, my husband, in a club when he was playing in a soul band. We later formed a soul band together and played in the evenings and at weekends. We never became rich or famous, but we had a lot of fun.
I do like eating. My motto is Never Refuse Lunch. My best food is cheese, but I’m only allowed it for a treat. I really can’t stand oysters. But my worst food is offal. I won’t make the obvious joke about offal being awful. Oops, I just did, never mind.
Offal, for those of you who don’t know, is the insides of animals. The yucky bits. I like sausages, though. They’re full of yucky bits, of course, but ground up small so you can’t tell. So I eat them. But I will not eat tripe, kidneys, parson’s nose or baboon’s bum. And I hate blancmange. Even the word. If I come to your school, don’t ever say it to me.
When Did I First Get Published?
I got my first book published in 1985, just before I had my daughter. The book was a collection of songs called Phantasmagoria. I still write music books, along with plays, poems, novels, first chapter books and picture books. I never ever get bored.
Listening to Music
We’ve got a really big collection. I find the equipment a bit complicated to work, so my husband usually chooses, which is fair enough. Anyway, we mostly like the same things. We play a lot of soul, blues and jazz. I play the piano sometimes. We have a singsong when friends or relations come round. When not arguing about which way to go, we sing in the car and get funny looks at traffic lights.
I read a lot. All sorts. Children’s books, grown-up books, all sorts. I do like fantasy. And good science fiction. And funny stuff. My favourite books as a child were the William books by Richmal Crompton, Lord of the Rings and The Swish Of The Curtain by Pamela Brown, which is all about acting. I have a dread of being stuck somewhere boring without a book i.e. on a slow night train, broken down on a motorway in the fog, or – oh, horror! – wrongly arrested by mistake and thrown in a cell where I have to wait until my husband can organize bail.
I love travelling. I have been to Hong Kong, China, the USA (New York, San Francisco, Los Vegas and the Grand Canyon]Thailand, Corsica, France, Germany, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Holland, Spain, Cyprus, Italy, Goa and several Greek islands. Also went to Slovinia to see some snow. That’s a lot of places, but I’m old, so I’m allowed.
Hmm. This bit is blissfully short. I swim in the summer and try to walk every day. That’s it. I know, I know
As a family, we just love to party. Particularly if there’s an excuse to dress up.
My Bad Habits
I can be lazy. I don’t do enough exercise. I try and get out of cooking, although I love eating. I get grumpy when books aren’t going well. I eavesdrop on private conversations and sometimes use them in my books. Sometimes I forget to brush my hair. My husband empties the rubbish and clears up the cats’ fur balls. I am unsympathetic when other people are ill but moan a lot when it’s me.
My Work Routine
I write five days a week, sometimes more, in my little office at the top of the house. It used to be a big tip (I’m naturally untidy) but I’ve had it decorated and am trying to keep it looking nice, now it’s got a starry ceiling and everything. Sometimes I just sit and dream up ideas.
The cats come and visit. Charlie, my old cat, used to sit on top of the computer monitor and talk to me, but he’s gone now. He would leap down onto the keyboard and mess up the story I was working on. Now it’s Jeremy, dragging poor little furry or feathered things through the cat flap. Or Heathcliff, who sheds hair all over my chair and sneakily tries to drink my water.
I’m not always at home. I sometimes go and talk in schools and libraries and places, which is great because I can try out new things and see if they work. I love it when children write letters to me – it makes my day. I hate it when they forget to put their address, because I can’t write back.
My Wonderful Agent
My wonderful agent is Caroline Sheldon. She took me on when I was writing my very first Pongwiffy book. We have worked together for nearly thirty years. She deals with the scary business side of things and is the first to read everything I write (after my husband and daughter). She regularly buys me lunch, which I never refuse, and always admires my shoes.
You can check her out by viewing the The Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency website (http://www.carolinesheldon.co.uk) or emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org
BOASTING – my show-off corner
If you don’t like boasting, skip this bit, because here goes.
Sometimes I get shortlisted for awards, and occasionally (hooray!) win. Not often, though. (Booooo!). Four times, I think, unless I’ve won something else and no one has remembered to tell me. Anyway, four’s all right as it’s a very competitive world out there and there are some wonderful children’s writers, so I’m dead chuffed. I have won the following things:
- The 1993 Nottinghamshire Book Award for Pongwiffy and the Spell of the Year
- The 1999 Times Educational Supplement Junior Music Book Award for Three Rapping Rats
- The 2005 Spoken Word Award for the audio version of The Silver Spoon Of Solomon Snow , read by Rik Mayall.
- The 2008 Stockton Book of the Year with Clover Twig and the Incredible Flying cottage. I was so happy, I kissed the mayor!
- In 2004, the Pongwiffy series was adapted for television by the animation company Telemagination. That’s not an award, but I thought I’d mention it anyway. Sadly, no film deals. Yet.
1 nice husband – MO, retired engineer and ex bass player. He helps me with computery things because I am rubbish. He’s a good cook too.
1 nice daughter – ELLA who is currently working as a producer for ITV.
2 nice cats – Heathcliff (white with black bits) and Jeremy (black with white bits)
1 nice extended family – 3 nice grown up step children (Dave Dan and Zoe), nice stepdaughters in law (Shella and Anne), nice step grandchildren (James, Zak, Luke, Dillan and Anjouli), various nice cousins including special cousin Dawn and a collection of aged aunties, all nice.
I watch a lot of comedy on TV. I have a weakness for talent shows, although I never vote because I can’t be bothered. I love big fantasy dramas, like Game of Thrones, and enjoy wildlife and science documentaries.
- Writing books for children
- Reading – any time, anywhere
- My family
- My friends
- My fans
- Animals – especially my cats
- Eating – especially cheese, though I shouldn’t
- Kids who tell jokes
- Good comedy on the tele
- Snow. We hardly get any in London, so I spend all winter sulking
- Holidays by the sea. That’s because I was brought up in Devon
- The colour Red
- High heeled shoes
- Going to the cinema
- Libraries. They’re free!
- Coming home after being away
- Playing games like cards and Scrabble but only when I win
- Lying in a hammock on a tropical island with a book and a pretty drink with an umbrella in
- Oysters/kidneys/liver/baboon’s bum/pink blancmange
- Wars and people being mean to each other
- Waiting for a bus in the rain, without a book to read
- Being ill in bed
- Crocodiles. Sorry, don’t like ‘em. Brrr
- Saying goodbye to people I love
- My house catching on fire (it did, once!)
- Arguments, especially ones I lose
- Monopoly. I’ve played it once too often
- Losing my purse/car keys/knickers
- Trying to read a map and drive at the same time
- The cats getting ill. Or people
- Slugs. Sorry, don’t like ‘em either
- Scratchy jumpers that make you hot. With a horrible pattern on
- When I get all my warm clothes on, plus boots, then go out and it’s stopped snowing
- Forgetting the punch line of a really good joke
- Jumping out of an aeroplane. Never have, never will
- Nightmares about being chased by slugs/crocodiles who want to force feed me pink blancmange. And it’s all in slow motion and I try to fly away but can’t and I’m running and running… arrrrgh… save me from the blancmange