Which came first, adult or children’s books for you as a writer?

The first novel I ever finished was a story for younger readers. It was terrible, and I shoved it in a bottom drawer hoping it would mature, but I take it out from time to time, and it’s still terrible. Writing takes a lot of practice and it just so happens that the first of my novels that was good enough to be published was a novel for adults. The truth is that I love stories of all kinds and I’ve always written for both younger and older readers.

Which do you enjoy writing most?

In terms of the process, I enjoy both equally, but being a ‘children’s author’ is much more fun than being an ‘adult author’. Writing books for younger readers means that I’m often invited into schools, and it’s so cool to meet young readers and feel their enthusiasm. I go there to inspire them, but they always inspire me. Stories should be exciting and fun, and adults sometimes take it all a bit too seriously.

Which is most successful?

That’s a difficult question to answer because it really depends what you mean by ‘success’. Is it number of books sold? Is it income? Is it awards won? Generally speaking, I’d say my books for younger readers have been more successful as a whole. They have definitely been nominated for and won more awards, but some of my books for adults have outsold some of my books for younger readers.






How hard was it to get your first book published?

My first published novel, Dry Season, was actually the fourth novel I wrote, so you could say that my first book has never been published! A few agents declined to take me on with Dry Season, so I had a handful of rejection slips, but once I had secured an agent she sold the book to Orion within six months or so.

How many publishers turned you down?

I honestly can’t remember. There were a few, though. I kept the rejection letters for a while but threw them out when I was tidying up. I didn’t see any reason to keep hold of them. A couple of publishers also turned down my first novel for younger readers, My Friend The Enemy, but I’m pleased to say that the reason was because they already had similar stories on their list.

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

Yes, I look at reviews, but it can be a painful experience. It’s lovely to read a glowing review, but it’s the vile ones that you remember. Bookselling websites allow more-or-less anyone to leave a review, and reviewers can say more-or-less whatever they want. Occasionally a reviewer goes out of their way to write something unpleasant, as if an author has written a book specifically to annoy them. I don’t mind a reviewer saying they haven’t enjoyed a book, that it’s not for them, but it’s unnecessary to be personal and hurtful. I’ve even read reviews of my books that reveal the twist ending, spoiling it for anyone else who might want to read it.

What did you do before becoming a writer?

I reckon I’ve always been a writer! Before becoming full-time, though, I crunched numbers for a design company that sold large-scale Christmas displays and installed them in shopping malls. People used to ask me if it was like working for Father Christmas, but it really wasn’t. The office I worked in was close to the showroom and by the time December came around I was sick of Christmas songs and decorations!

Which author inspires you?

The one who got me writing was Stephen King. As a teenager I devoured his books as soon as they were published, and it was reading those stories that made me think I could become a writer. Generally, though, I think I’m more inspired by stories and settings and moods, than I am by specific writers. I watch a lot of films, too, so I also get inspiration from there. Basically, I’m a story addict!

Which genres do you read yourself?

Oh, all kinds. I love horror stories, adventure stories, stories with great locations and great characters. I read a lot of MG and YA books partly so I know what’s going on in that world, but also because they’re great books with fantastic stories in them. I like to think I’d read more or less anything. I also love graphic novels.

What is your biggest motivator?

Great question! Wow. I reckon that probably depends on my mood. Sometimes it’s just the need to tell a story. Sometimes it’s because my agent or publisher has given me a deadline. Sometimes it’s because the bills need to be paid and panic sets in! Seriously, if you want to be rich, don’t be an author.

What will always distract you?

Noise. I can’t write if there’s a lot of noise and people talking. When all is quiet, though, I’m actually pretty well disciplined, so I just get on with my writing.

How much say do you have in your book covers?

Chicken House is a fantastic publisher to work with and they always send me preliminary ideas. I’m not a designer, so I usually go with their judgement, but if I’m particularly unhappy about an aspect of the cover, Chicken House always listens and finds something we are both happy with. There are other factors though . . . it’s particularly important that bookshops like the cover and see it as a book they would stock. As I understand it, Waterstones has a big impact on this part of the process!

As a child were you a great reader?

I didn’t consider myself a great reader at the time, but yes, I suppose I probably was. I always had a book, and reading was incredibly important to me. It was both my entertainment and my escape. I don’t really remember reading a lot of children’s books – maybe a couple of Famous Five, and I loved The Three Investigators – but my parents were readers, and there were a lot of books in the house, so by the time I was 11 or 12 I was reading thrillers and . . . oh, and I LOVED Tintin, too, so maybe that’s where my love of adventure stories has come from.

Which bookshop is your favourite?

Good question! Sadly, there aren’t a lot of bookshops around these days. I go to Waterstones in Newcastle – where there’s a great bookseller called Johnny, who is amazing with the kids and is a font of knowledge about MG/YA books and all things Spiderman. Forum Kids in Corbridge is a dream – exactly how a bookshop should be. It’s fun and bright and welcoming, and the booksellers are fab. For comics and graphic novels, I go down to Travelling Man.

What can you not resist buying?

If I had endless funds, then the answer would be ‘books and graphic novels’ but if I didn’t resist them, I’d be in big trouble, so I resist all things. I have pretty strong will power.

Do you have any rituals on your writing days?

Every day is a writing day but no, I don’t have any rituals. I think if you have rituals, then not performing your rituals can cause stress, so I just don’t have any. Writing books is my job, so I don’t wait around for the muse; I sit down and get on with it. Sometimes the writing is good, sometimes it isn’t, but as long as I write something down, then I have something to work with. The only thing I really need is some peace and quiet. Tea and toast helps, too. And biscuits.

How many books in your own to be read pile?

About six or seven at the moment, I think.

What is your current read?

Ah, I’m smiling to myself now because I’ve just started re-reading a book I read a long time ago. As it was Halloween, I thought I’d read something appropriate so I picked up The Howling by Gary Brandner. It has a great cover, but I’m surprised how dated the writing feels now. I’ve just finished reading Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick, which is fantastic and I loved it. I loved the writing, the setting, the characters, the way the story unfolds . . . brilliant. Before that I read The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas, which was also a superb book!

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