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What made you want to write books?
My favourite thing about books is that they allow you to go to different places and become different people. You can escape your own life and step into someone else’s for a while. Writing books can be even better than reading them because you create the characters and places yourself – you make things exactly as you wish. As well as writing being great escapism, I have always just loved playing about with words and trying to create something beautiful. On a good day, writing feels like the best job in the world!
Where do you get your ideas from?
Everywhere, really, but I would say number one for me is books. Sometimes it’s a word or sentence that triggers something in my head. Sometimes it’s a whole concept or idea. Where The World Turns Wild was inspired by a non-fiction book I read when my eldest daughter was a baby. It was called Last Child in the Woods and it talked about how children today generally grow up with less contact with nature than their parents or grandparents did. I found this incredibly sad, but also there was something about that title I knew I wanted to explore! Who were these last children in the woods?! And what happened to everyone else?
I also get ideas from TV shows, from real life incidents, from my children, from overheard conversations, from places I visit. Ideas can be everywhere!
How do you conquer writer’s block?
This is a brilliant question! If I’m stuck, I go for a walk. I can be struggling at the computer, unable to fix a plot hole in my book, or maybe just unable to get going at all. It can all seem pretty impossible, but if I go for a walk, preferably somewhere green, but sometimes just somewhere mundane like the supermarket or to pick my children up from school, it can be like a cog turning in my brain, and there it is. The next line I want to write. The incident that needs to happen in order for my story to make sense again. Or, if I’m lucky, a whole new idea!
Do you type or write your books?
I do both. I type chapters up as I go, but I also like carrying a notebook around and scribbling down ideas or sentences, on walks or train journeys (when we can travel properly again!), and in cafes (when they reopen!). The good thing about having your work on a computer is that you can make changes easily and keep making your book better and better. The good thing about notebooks is they can go anywhere with you, and you can make a mess in them – lists, doodles, crossings out, things to research…
Where do you write?
I wrote Where the World Turns Wild and Between Sea and Sky in a tiny study in our old house. It was full of junk and barely got any natural light, but that didn’t matter – I could shut the door and write, and take myself off into the forest or onto the mudflats that way. Now I feel incredibly lucky because we recently moved house and, at the end of our new garden, there is an old wooden summerhouse. We have painted it white inside and put in a desk and shelves and pictures, and it’s got windows overlooking the garden. I hear birdsong all day long, and woodpeckers drilling holes in tall trees nearby. I feel very lucky! It’s also a great place to do virtual visits or make videos (and allow for multiple takes, without having to keep my children quiet for too long!). I call it my writing shed. (My children call it the summerhouse and plan to have sleepovers in here with their friends!!)
What kind of book is Where the World Turns Wild?
Where the World Turns Wild is basically an adventure story, but other ways of describing it would be:
- Speculative fiction – this means the author imagines a different kind of world that doesn’t actually exist (yet!). In a book called The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare, the writer Zillah Bethell imagines a future where there are water shortages and also robots. In my book I imagine a world where people live in cities where no animals, trees or flowers are allowed, and outside of the cities the world has grown wild, with lots of trees and wild animals, but no people.
- Dystopian – this is where a society is unpleasant and unfair. It’s the opposite of a utopia. The first part of my book is dystopian because the government is really strict and doesn’t allow any nature, or even books about nature. There is also a horrible building called the Institute where people get taken if they break the rules. It’s a bit like a prison, but even children can be taken there.
- Journey story – my characters, Juniper and Bear, go on a journey to find their parents. I have always liked books that involve journeys.
- Survival story – Juniper and Bear have to look after themselves, find food, stay warm, stay alive.
- Climate-fiction – this is fiction featuring a world that is altered by the climate crisis. Often the biodiversity crisis (global species loss) features too in this type of fiction, eg a world without pollinators and with resulting food shortages. For more discussion about and examples of climate-fiction visit the website for the Climate-fiction Writers League. Many of these books (but not all) are dystopian fiction too.
What kind of books did you read when you were at school?
All sorts! I loved Enid Blyton books, especially the Famous Five and the Adventure books with Philip, Dinah, Jack and Lucy-Ann. I also loved horse and ballet books. Later on, I devoured books by writers such as Helen Creswell, Vivien Alcock, Philippa Pearce, Colin Dann, Louise Lawrence (who wrote a brilliant, but bleak, dystopian novel called Children of the Dust), Mildred D. Taylor, Judy Blume, Susan Cooper, Nina Bawden… I really did love all sorts. I used to go regularly to Doncaster Children’s library and choose my next read.
Growing up, I was particularly attracted to journey books. In some ways, Juniper in Where the World Turns Wild is a homage to thirteen year old Dicey Tillerman in one of my favourite ever books, Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt. Dicey leads her siblings to a place of safety after their mum abandons them in a parking lot.
Some other particular favourites, then and now, are: Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor, The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken.
If I enjoyed Where the World Turns Wild or Between Sea and Sky, what other books would you recommend?
Oooh, so many! I’m going to give you a list. Many of them are dystopian adventures.
- Boy in the Tower by Polly Ho-Yen (A dangerous fungus causes city tower blocks to topple. It’s frightening and deeply atmospheric and moving, and the characters are lovely.)
- The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare (Robots, a world ruled by water shortages, a boy who cannot see colour. It’s beautiful!)
- Scavengers by Darren Simpson (A boy grows up in a city rubbish site without any knowledge of the world outside. It’s incredibly well written and clever, and like nothing else you will read. A future classic!)
- The Middler by Kirsty Applebaum (Maggie, a middle child, grows up in a small town where the eldest children are sent away to fight in a war when they turn 14. It’s dark, claustrophobic, warm and compelling.)
- Where the River Runs Gold by Sita Brahmachari (Set in a world after pollinator collapse, life is hard for Shifa and her brother Themba. This is a book about climate change and social injustice. It’s very hard to put down!)
- Floodland by Marcus Sedwick (Short and brilliant! Sea levels have risen and Zoe searches for her parents in a devastated world ruled by cruel gangs.)
- How to Bee and The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble (The Australian author Bren MacDibble writes stories set in worlds shaped by climate collapse and biodiversity loss. These are compelling adventure stories that make you think).
There are also lots of books which are not dystopian, but where the natural world is really important. Check out books by Gill Lewis, Lauren St John and Julia Green. Also Bloom by Nicola Skinner, which is brilliant and quite bonkers!
Who are your favourite children’s authors?
My favourite children’s writers writing today include Hilary McKay, Gill Lewis, Katherine Rundell, Piers Torday, Polly Ho-Yen, Anthony McGowan, Candy Gourlay, Kirsty Applebaum, Nizrana Farook, Sharna Jackson, Eloise Williams, Nicola Skinner, Kacen Callender, Elle McNicoll… And I could go on and on! It feels like a true golden age for children’s literature.
How long does it take for you to write a story?
It takes me a few months to write a story, but a lot more time going back over it, editing it, making it better and then better again. Also, I’m very lucky as I work with brilliant editors who read early versions of my books and then give suggestions on how to improve them. Two minds are often better than one!
What are your favourite things to do?
Reading, of course! And writing.
I love walks out in beautiful places – in hills or mountains, through forests, by the sea.
I really, really like beachcombing – seeing what curious things have washed up on the beach. Maybe sea glass or driftwood, maybe shells or fossils, maybe old bits of pottery or claypipe.
Other things I love, in no particular order, are trees, swimming, ferns, wildflowers, gardening, photography, glasshouses, fairy tales.
Do you have any children or pets?
Yes! I have four children aged between 6 and 15. We live with two playful and friendly Siamese cats called Pearl and Polly. It’s a busy house, with lots of books!
I am very grateful to my 2019-20 Book Penpals for coming up with these questions – year 5 and 6 children at Dean School in Cumbria, year 6 at Fosse Way Academy in Lincoln, and the year 7 book club at The Carlton Academy in Nottingham.