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FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions, courtesy of Grimsdyke First and Middle School, Pinner, NW London.

Q. What made you want to be an author?
A. I've always loved telling stories! My first stories weren't even written down - they were told to my little brother at bedtime. He was 4 and I was 7. Later, my parents bought me a typewriter (no computers in those days!) so I used that to make my stories look neat. But I didn't dare send anything off to a publisher until I was about 30 - and then it took me another 7 years to get my first book published.

Q. How long does it take you to write a book?
A. About six months at the moment. But that doesn't mean six months solid writing - I also need time to develop ideas, plots and characters in my head. Really, it's a 'how long is a piece of string?' question, because some books come together easier than others. I suspect they will take longer as I get older!

Q. Which book is your favourite?
A. This is like asking a mother to choose between her children if she has more than one. I like different things about different books. But my favourite is always the NEXT one, because that still has the potential to be the most best-selling, award-winning, perfect, exciting, BRILLIANT book in the world…. not that it ever is, but then there's always the next one…

Q. Who is your favourite author?
A. This changes over time. I used to like Anne McCaffrey, who wrote all those wonderful dragon books, then it was Ursula Le Guin for a while, and most recently Philip Pullman… but it depends what mood I'm in, and I like to try different authors and different types of books because I think there are an awful lot of good books out there that don't get noticed simply because they happen not to be the latest trend.

Q. Where do you get your titles from?
A. Titles are fiendishly difficult to get right! They're important, because a good title can sell a book, but I often change my titles several times while I'm writing the story, and sometimes my editor changes it after that. SONG QUEST started out as 'Song Magic', and SPELLFALL was originally 'The Spellfall Solution'. THE GREAT PYRAMID ROBBERY was the exception - I had the title before I wrote a word, and everybody loved it.

Q. What research do you do?
A. This depends very much upon the type of book. For a purely imaginary-world fantasy like SONG QUEST, I don't do very much research but need to spend time inventing the world instead, and this can take longer than reading about a world that's already there. For SPELLFALL, I had to research computer viruses and bio-chemical warfare. For my Seven Fabulous Wonders series, I'm doing lots of historical research and also research into the myths and legends of the time.

Q. When you start writing, do you already have the plot in your head?
A. I have a sketchy plot, which usually changes as the characters decide they want to do something else. I don't think it's a good idea to have things fixed too rigidly, otherwise the characters might end up acting falsely because you've forced them to do something they wouldn't do if they were real people! This means I have to do several drafts of the book before it makes sense, but that's the way I work. If I planned things too much, I suspect I wouldn't want to finish the book because part of the fun is feeling my way through the story.

Q. Do you meet other authors?
A. Yes. Being an author is very isolated, and meeting with others to have a good moan now and again is one of the ways we keep sane! (No, I don't know JK Rowling.)

Q. What was your favourite subject at school?
A. Art was the most fun. I hated English at secondary school, because we had to dissect books and this took all the fun out of them for me. I remember having to read and digest and analyse 'The Hobbit', and hating every minute of it, although I read it again about twenty years later and thought it was brilliant. I was better at Maths, and went on to do a Maths degree at University.

Q. Who illustrates your book covers?
A. Not me! The publisher finds an illustrator and does the design, and then sends the cover to me and asks me if I like it… at this stage, a lot of work has already gone into the cover and I'm not sure what they'd do if I said no! I've been lucky so far and liked all my covers.

Q. Do you have any children?
A. No.

Q. Have you ever been on television?
A. I usually say no to this question, since I haven't been interviewed on TV yet… but actually, I HAVE been on television. During my time as a stable lad in a racing yard, I've been caught on camera several times leading a horse around the paddock before a race and into the winner's enclosure afterwards. I used to look after a horse called 'Third In Line', who used to win quite a few televised races. I've also been interviewed on the radio a few times.

Q. Do you have any hobbies?
A. I love skiing. I go regularly to the dry slope at Gloucester and try to get away to the Alps sometime during the winter. In the summer I like cycling, which helps keep me fit. I used to do a lot of folk dancing, but not so much these days because of having to travel to get to the dances.

Q. Have you won any awards?
A. Yes - SONG QUEST won the Branford Boase Award for an outstanding first novel for children.

Q. Where did you go to school?
A. I went to infant school in Redruth (Cornwall), then Oldway County Primary School in Paignton (Devon), then Torquay Girls' Grammar School (also Devon), and finally the University of Bath (Somerset).