1. Where do you get your ideas from?
I don’t really get ideas. I get characters. One day one pops into my head and won’t go away. I can’t stop thinking about her or him. They grow and grow until I think I know everything about them. That’s when I start writing their story. But then I discover I didn’t know them as well as I thought I did after all, because they keep doing things that surprise me. They don’t always have to be the main character in the book by the way. I got the idea for ‘Pride and Penalties’ from the character of Gran. In the 1908 Olympic Games, England played Australia in the rugby final. It was a completely Cornish team because Cornwall had won the County Final and had been selected to represent England. I wondered what it would be like to be the granddaughter of someone who’d played in that team all those years ago. I bet Gran would have longed for a son or grandson to carry on the tradition and play rugby for their country. But she had a granddaughter instead. That’s where the character of Spider eventually came from.
2. How do you plot your stories out?
With difficulty! I’m sure your English teachers would disapprove of me! I do try! I write a synopsis of what I think is going to happen, but however carefully I work out my plot, like I said, my characters keep doing things I hadn’t planned for them. They seem to develop a life of their own and go their own merry way. The worst one for this was Jem in ‘It’s a 50/50 thing’. I kept trying to end the book but he kept on getting up to more and more mischief. That bit on the train at the end was nothing to do with me! Sometimes a character I hadn’t expected to be very important becomes more and more interesting. Like Izzie in ‘It’s a 50/50 thing’ or Felix in ‘Love ya Babe’. I love both of them. They’re only little kids and they’re not the main characters but they get on with their lives, coping bravely and often comically in the background, in really difficult circumstances.
3. What do you think of your covers?
Now there’s a question! I’m absolutely in two minds. On the one hand they’re bright, bold, attractive, colourful, contemporary, eye-catching, easily identifiable and they certainly stand out. Which is great. On the other hand, they’re a bit girly and I’m terrified they’ll put boys off reading the books. Cape Cornwall School reading groups did an experiment where they covered them in brown paper and read passages out to an audience and asked who would read these books. All the girls and all the boys put their hands up. Later on they showed the same group my books with their normal covers and asked who would read them. Hardly any boys put their hands up. That’s what worries me. The other thing is, because they all have the same look, sometimes people assume it’s a series instead of individual, stand-alone books about different characters. When you start out as a writer, you don’t realize that if you’re successful and find a publisher, there are all kinds of decisions to be made. The book jacket is just one of them!
4. When did you start writing?
When I was at Primary school my very favourite thing was story-writing. At secondary school I wrote some very gloomy poems indeed for the school magazine, then I cheered up a bit in my student days and wrote wordy, flamboyant poems in the style of Dylan Thomas whose work I admired. When my children were little I wrote short stories and when I was teaching I wrote plays for the students to put on. But it wasn’t until my children were teenagers and I’d stopped teaching that I had the time and energy to write ‘proper’ books!
5. Which is your favourite book that you’ve written?
It’s always the one that I’m working on at the moment. I really get into the world of my characters and become very excited about what’s happening to them. It makes sense, I think. I mean, if I didn’t feel excited myself, how could I possibly expect my readers to be? I even dream about them! I feel so lucky. I actually get paid for being in a world of my own, something I was always been told off for when I was a child!
6. Who’s your favourite writer?
It keeps changing. I was brought up on Enid Blyton who helped me to develop a great reading habit which has lasted me all my life. I used to borrow her books from the library every week and get a bag of chips on the way home. Maybe that’s why I liked her so much! I liked the Just William books too, I was a bit of a tomboy. Then at the age of 9 I went on to my mum’s Catherine Cookson novels, which were far too old for me! I probably didn’t really understand what was going on in them. But by the age of 11 I had discovered authors like Richard Llewellyn and Alexander Cordell and I was off. Nowadays I love reading contemporary authors, there’s so much good stuff out there at the moment. If I like a book I get very enthusiastic about it and bore people to death going on about it until I get on to the next one. I loved Khaled Hosseini’s ‘The Kite Runner’ and ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’. I hope he writes another one. Most of the books I like are character-led rather then plot-driven. If I don’t care about the characters, I find it difficult to get into a book.
7. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
- Write! So many people say they would like to write but they don’t. They make excuses, saying they haven’t got enough time, but you always find time for things you really want to do. Okay, you may not have time to write your best-selling novel yet, but write something every day and one day you will.
- Show don’t tell. The old chestnut! It’s so much more fun for readers to work something out for themselves than be told. It’s a bit like lessons. The best ones are always the ones where you find things out in an active way rather than sitting still and being lectured at.
- Always give your reader a good reason to turn the page or move onto the next chapter.
- Write about the world you know. It’s more interesting than you think. People like to read books to confirm their own thoughts, feelings and experiences, to say, I know what that feels like!
- Write about what you imagine. People like to be taken to other worlds too. Then they can say, Wow! I’d never thought of that!
- Don’t explain too much. Give your readers credit for being intelligent.
- Read! Read! Read!
8. How long does it take you to write a book?
It depends. About 6 months from beginning to end, but sometimes the idea–or rather the character–is floating about in my subconscious for ages before that. The quickest one I wrote was ’32C, That’s Me’ which was weeks, rather than months, but I’d been mulling over it for a year or two before I put pen to paper. Actually, I mean before I sat down at the computer. I never write with a pen, unless I’m scribbling notes. The really good thing about writing books is, it’s not just about sitting down and typing it all out. The thinking time is just as important. In fact, it’s even more important. At least, that’s what I tell my husband when I’m lying on a beach or going for a walk or sitting down in a world of my own. I’m not being lazy, I’m thinking out my next novel!
9. How old are you?
I was born in the 1950s so I guess that makes me ancient. I don’t feel ancient though. I don’t really feel very much different from when I was 14. Well, maybe on the outside! I suppose being a mum and a granny is actually quite grown up, if I think about it. When I get really old I’d like to be like my own mum. She flew for the first time when she was 83, all the way to Australia by herself.
10. How much do you earn?