Frequently Asked Questions

Where do you get your ideas from?

I get them in various ways: from incidents that happen to me or other people, from my own life or someone in my family, past or present, and also from places where I live or have lived.

Some, like the Kevin and Sadie series and The File on Fraulein Berg are due to the fact that I grew up in Belfast. I have to confess that I was one the three girls who thought her German teacher was a spy and followed her round Belfast making her life miserable!

What to do about Holly is set in Edinburgh and the Cairngorms - I spend time in both. Also, this particular story features a children's writer who has just been giving a talk in a school ...

I am fortunate to spend some of the winter months in Spain every year - hence my interest in that country, which has resulted in Tell the Moon to Come Out and my adult novel Encarnita's Journey.

My grandparents ran a pub in Green Lanes in Stoke Newington in London in the early years of the 20th. c. - that led to me writing The Eleventh Orphan.

My father, who was in the Royal Navy, went on a year-long round-the-world cruise with the British Fleet in 1924 and left a diary charting every detail of their voyage. I used that as the basis of my adult novel After You've Gone.

Tug of War and Dreams of Love and Modest Glory draw heavily on the history of my husband's Latvian family, which was forced to flee in the wake of the Russian invasion during World War11.

I got the ideas for Tilly and the Wild Goats and Tilly and the Badgers from articles in the Scotsman - newspapers are a good source of ideas.

How long does it take you to write a book?

It depends on the book, whether I have to do research or not, as I did for The Eleventh Orphan. That took six to twelve months whereas a contemporary novel like What to do about Holly would take less.

I would work on an adult novel for one to two years.

Which do you like best - writing for children or adults?

I like both because I like variety. I don't want to be writing the same stories over and over again. I love new topics to explore. I enjoy research.

Do you write more than one draft?

Always. At least two.

Do you write on a computer?

I make notes and often write the first chapter in a notebook but after that I move onto my computer.

When did you start to write?

I began when I was eleven years old. See ABOUT ME.

Do you get any say about your book jackets?

Yes. My publisher sends me some roughs and asks for my opinion.

What did you read when you were young?

Just William, the Secret Seven, the Famous Five, Anne of Green Gables, Pollyanna, What Katy Did, The Wind in the Willows, Swallows and Amazons, the Chalet School series, Biggles - everything in my local children's library in Belfast, which was a fairly poor affair, the size of a garage, with a limited range of books, most in a tacky state. But I read them nevertheless. I covered them with brown paper since they had lost their dust jackets and felt a bit greasy and I turned the pages over with a plain white postcard to avoid touching them. They were often spattered with dried egg, tomato ketchup and various other stains. I guess the library had no money to buy new books.

What do you read now?

Novels, short stories, biography, poetry

Do you enjoy writing books?

Yes! Otherwise I wouldn't do it.