Before you write and ask me a question, please check whether it has already been answered here!
Is it true that you're in the SAS?
I'm a member of “the other SAS”. This stands for “Scattered Authors Society” and is a loose grouping of children’s writers and illustrators who live all over the UK. We get together as a group once or twice a year (not always the same people) and have some local meetings too. It’s a really nice bunch of people and if you want to know who is in the group you can click on this link.
How long does it take to write a book?
That's an unanswerable question. It depends how long the book is. The Stravaganzas and historical take at least six months each but a picturebook might be written in a day.
Where do you get your ideas from?
I was born with an inexhaustible store of ideas, which come when I need them. If I hadn’t been, I couldn’t have been a writer.
Young readers' questions
How many books for children have you written?
A hundred! And a few more every year. In my publications list, you can see exactly how many.
Do you like writing books?
Yes. It's the best job in the world, being paid for making things up.
Do you do the pictures yourself?
No. Although I can draw (I took A level Art), I haven't had any art school training. I've worked with some wonderful illustrators, including Chris Riddell, Caroline Binch, Jane Ray and Christina Balit.
How do you make the books?
I don't. Anything of which you need thousands of copies has to be made in a factory. Books are made in a special sort of factory, called a printers. The pictures and words are printed on to one large piece of paper by big machines doing one colour at a time. That paper is then folded and cut to make the pages and put inside the cover.
What is your favourite colour?
Green, but I also love terracotta and all shades of stone, beige and cream. I hate blue except in the sea and sky and flowers.
What is your favourite food and worst?
Indian food is the favourite and I’m very fond of nuts, especially cashews, peanuts, hazelnuts, almonds and macadamias. Not so much walnuts and brazils. I am a vegetarian but, apart from those limitations the only foods I dislike are beetroot, goat cheese and pineapple.
Do you have a pet?
Yes, we always have Burmese cats and currently have three rather naughty ones. They were born in 2005 and are a blue boy, Lorenzo, a lilac tortie girl, Lila and a chocolate girl, Lonza.
Will there be any more books about Grace?
A new picturebook, Grace at Christmas, was published in 2011, to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the publication of Amazing Grace. There are no plans for any more Grace books at present but who know what may happen in the future?
Is there a real girl called Grace?
Grace is really just me, even though she doesn't look like me. The model for Caroline Binch's pictures of Grace was a little girl called Salan. She is a grown-up woman now! I met her when I went to the Gambia to write Grace and Family (Boundless Grace).
Older readers' questions
What made you decide to write for children?
I think I thought it would be easier. If so, I was wrong.
I would like to be a writer. What should I do?
A good starting place is to read my tips for writers.
Where do you write your books?
Three-quarters of each story gets written in my head, so I could be at the bus stop or in the swimming pool or doing the washing up and still be writing a book. When I get round to putting my ideas on to the computer, I do this on my lovely laptop in my green and white study whose french windows open on to the garden.
Who or what was your biggest influence in deciding to become a writer?
The local public library I lived near as a child in Lavender Hill, Clapham Junction, where I went every Saturday with my father. It was shaped like a fairy castle with turrets and produced all the Mary Poppins and Doctor Dolittle books for me, which I adored as a child.
What subject did you enjoy most as school.. and least?
English and sport!
What is your favourite film?
The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Zoolander and the first three Star Wars (by which I mean 4, 5 and 6! Blame George Lucas)
What music do you like?
Anything I can sing or hum.
If you hadn't been an author, what would you have been?
An opera director.
What inspired you to write the Stravaganza sequence?
A trip to Venice ten years ago with my husband and daughters when we took a gondola ride and the gondolier wasn't handsome enough. It started a train of day-dreaming which eventually led to the Duchessa in City of Masks . All the other books grew from that original idea.
Is it possible to get new Stravaganza titles to match the original first three hardback novels?
I spoke to Bloomsbury about this possibility and this is their answer:
No, we're afraid it's not possible. Many major authors regularly get repackaged over a series lifetime in order to keep up to date with the market and changes in book design. Additionally it encourages a new audience of buyers out there who might not have read the books yet.
Are there going to be any more Stravaganza books?
There are now six titles and that is all there will be for the time being.
When will the latest Stravaganza book be published in my country?
I'm sorry, I can't tell you as I'm not given that information. You need to ask the publisher.
Is there going to be a film of the Stravaganza books?
There are no film deals in the offing at present.
- It can take years before a film is optioned, yet alone made, so you must be patient.
- There is nothing I can do to make a film happen! It all depends on a film company agreeing to finance such a project.
What is your favourite book (of yours)?
This is a bit like asking "Which is your favourite child?"! I don't really have one. But I'm especially fond of Dog Powder (Heinemann), Bump in the Night (Collins) and Catwalk (Methuen) which are not so well known as some of my books. And of course I love the Stravaganza novels which, fortunately, are pretty well known.
What are your favourite children's books and why?
The Changeover by Margaret Mahy, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, They do Things Differently There by Jan Mark, The Devil on the Road by Robert Westall, Out of the Ordinary by Anne Dalton, A Pack of Lies by Geraldine McCaughrean, Holes by Louis Sachar – I'd better stop there! I like them all for the same reason: mystery and magic plus humour and humanity.
Who are your favourite children's authors and why?
All of the above plus Russell Hoban, Peter Dickinson, Robin McKinley, Anne Fine, Allan Ahlberg... really the list is endless. There has never been a better time for children's writing and illustrating.
Who is your favourite writer for grown-ups?
Charles Dickens (some people just say that but I've read all his books more than once). I also love James Joyce, Marcel Proust, and, of living writers, Margaret Atwood, Anne Tyler and Ruth Rendell, especially when she writes as Barbara Vine.
What are your favourite fantasy books?
I have so many favourite books that the list is too long to fit here. They are listed near the end of the Writing tips page.