Tell me what inspired you to write for children?

I started writing when I was a child, so naturally carried on in that genre. (I write for adults too.) Somebody once described my writing as playing with a blend of the familiar and the strange, staying right on the ambiguous edge between them, and I think that suits children’s writing. I like to travel with children into the ordinary world around them, and look at things in brand new ways. Children seem to find it easier to imagine what almost happened in any given situation, and I’ve never lost that way of looking at the world.

How hard was it to get your first book published?

The Lightning Catcher was noticed by an agent on the first round of querying, so I was very lucky. On submission to publishers, my wonderful agents secured interest really quickly too. A previous children’s book of mine didn’t get anywhere, so I think I was just ready with The Lightning Catcher, and the stars aligned, because it landed in front of someone who fell in love with it. After decades of writing, I was so used to rejection as the default state that acceptance didn’t sink in for quite a while!

How long did it take to write?

I began The Lightning Catcher project way back in 2010, but I was working on several other things at the time, so it didn’t get priority until Commonword started their Children’s Diversity Writing Prize in 2012. I raced through the first draft to meet their deadline, and it was chosen as a runner up. The boost this gave me kept it off the back burner for two or three more drafts, until I was tempted back into adult short story writing by the Northern Writers’ Award, which I won in 2016. Being away from the book for a few years enabled me to breathe new life into it, and I was ready to begin querying agents in 2018. After that, further drafts were polished with my agent, so the answer is ten years, but in a very on-off fashion.

How many publishers turned you down?

When I first started submitting, back in the day, I was turned down by countless publishers. However, I didn’t submit The Lightning Catcher to any publishers in its final form, because it was snapped up by an agent.

What kind of reactions have you had to your books?

I’ve had some fantastic reactions; people seem to really ‘get’ the book, which is gratifying, because it’s quite off-beat and you always wonder how things like that will land. I’ve had some heart-warming reactions from children, especially those I’ve met in schools. It’s very inspiring.

What can you tell us about your next book? Which of course I’d be happy to read when ready for reviews.

It’s called The Storm Swimmer and the main character is a girl called Ginika, whose life has been turned upside down, and she spends the first chapter in a very bad mood because of it. She’s lost her home and has to spend the summer at her grandparents’ seaside boarding house. She misses her parents and her friends, but then she meets a boy who seems to live in the sea. Peri leaps and dives through the water like a dolphin and talks like a burst of bubbles. He’s not exactly a mermaid, but he’s definitely something Ginika’s never seen before.

They become friends and show each other their worlds, but she needs to keep him secret so that he’s safe. As the book goes along, we find out whether or not she can do this, and we find out all about Peri.

Do you try and read the online reviews you get on say waterstones website?

Waterstones have a review website?! No, I only read reviews that have been vetted for me. The internet is too wild and nasty to dive straight in. I’ve read the 4 and 5-star reviews on Amazon through half-closed eyes, but quickly came away from Goodreads. Review sites like that are excellent places for readers to talk about books and express their opinions, but in my view, the thoughts aired there are not meant for the writer to see.

Would you ever consider writing for adults?
Yes, I’ve always written for adults too, and have a short story collection coming out at some point over the next couple of years.

What did you do before becoming a writer? Or indeed still do?

I work in academic editing, so I get papers and books ready for publication, mainly in scientific fields. Before that, I worked in biomedical and environmental research. And way before that – before I went to university – I was a hairdresser!

Which author inspires you?

Could I have two please? David Almond for children’s books, and Claire Keegan for adults.

Which authors do you buy immediately without checking blurbs etc?

Sophie Anderson, Katya Balen, Peter Kalu, Nicola Penfold, Bernadine Evaristo, Richard Powers, Nicky Singer, Kate Atkinson, Hilary Mantel, Akala, Rachel Cusk, Patrice Lawrence, Nikesh Shukla, Louie Stowell, David Olusoga, Carys Davies, Octavia Butler, David Sedaris, Derek Owusu, David Eagleman.

Which genres do you read yourself?

All genres, but particularly children’s fiction and speculative fiction.

What is your biggest motivator?

Entering the world of my work-in-progress again, and bringing things into it from all around me.

What will always distract you?

Music and a messy house.

How much say do you have in your book covers? Your current book cover is so lovely!

Thank you! I’m shown the covers at a stage where I can see their potential but changes can still be made. Bloomsbury have chosen Paddy Donnelly to illustrate my books, and his interpretations have been beyond my wildest dreams. They’re so beautiful. 

As a child were you a great reader?

Yes. It’s a cliché, but if there was nothing else on the table, I’d read the cornflakes packet.

Which book shop is your favourite?

Round Table Books in Brixton, and Limestone Books in Settle, North Yorkshire.

What can you not resist buying?

Anything by Richard Powers or David Almond

Do you have any rituals on your writing days?

Not really. I try to get on with it as quickly as possible, because rituals can eat up time, and starting is the hardest part. I also like to be able to write anywhere, which would make ritualing difficult. I do like to read something by a favourite author to get me in the mood, though.

How many books in your own to be read pile? (Let’s have an honest count please)


What is your current read?

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Thank you Fiona, some really interesting questions here! J

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