Tell me what inspired you to write The Mystery of The Colour Thief?

I was volunteering as a school governor at an inner city primary school, where the headteacher had recently introduced an in-school counselling service. She was telling us about its positive effects, and mentioned a pupil who had come to her office saying the sessions had made ‘the colours return’ in her life. Her words stayed with me for weeks afterwards, and one day when I was on the bus, the idea for ‘The Mystery of The Colour Thief’ came to me, almost fully formed. People often talk about ‘feeling blue’ or ‘seeing red’ but I think the idea of colours disappearing from your world is such a powerful image of hopelessness, and one that I really wanted to explore.

How hard was it to get your first book published?

‘The Mystery of The Colour Thief’ was actually not the book that I initially sent out to agents. I approached them with a different story, which now forms a part of the narrative of my second book, ‘Girl 38.’ Kate, my lovely agent felt that there was something special there, but it wasn’t quite in the right form, so we decided to park it. When the idea for ‘The Mystery of The Colour Thief’ came along, we pitched it to several publishers and I was so excited when Fiona from Head of Zeus said she was keen to take it on.

How long did it take to write?

I didn’t write ‘The Mystery of The Colour Thief’ all in one go. It took several drafts, over about 2 years, as I was working full time in a busy job. I initially drafted it in note form, partly in Word and partly on my phone (as I sometimes got inspiration on my commute to work). Then I spent several months getting my head down and editing it to get it in the best possible shape.

What kind of reactions have you had to this book?

I’ve had some wonderful feedback about ‘The Mystery of The Colour Thief’ from both bloggers and children’s literary reviewers. It was incredible to have reviews in The Financial Times and The Huffington Post, and it was a truly surreal experience to be shortlisted for The Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. It was amazing to see my book in the windows of bookshops. But there’s nothing quite like getting a review from a young reader. There were a few children who took the time to write to me saying that the book really resonated with them, which was really special.

What can you tell us about your next book?

‘Girl 38’ has just come out last month. It tells the story of Ania, the elderly next door neighbour of the heroine, Kat, who initially appears to be eccentric and even quite frightening. But Kat unexpectedly befriends her, and Ania tells her about her haunting journey to find her best friend Mila, who she was separated from during the Second World War. The girls were rounded up and taken to different camps. But Ania got help from an unexpected source – a German officer named Sommer who used his connections to help her in the search for Mila. Ania’s story is largely based on my grandmother’s own experiences as a teenager living in Eastern Poland during the war.

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

I do – I’m excited and intrigued by them. There are some lovely ones, and some which are not as positive as you’d hope. I try to tell myself that people all have different opinions, and you can never expect everyone to like your writing. But I always take constructive feedback on board.

How was it to be shortlisted for the Waterstones prize? Did it lift the profile & sales of your book?

It was an enormously surreal feeling and we celebrated at home with loads of wine. It has definitely boosted the profile of the book and hopefully the sales (it’s still too early to know how much).

Would you ever consider writing for teens or adults?

I would definitely consider writing for an older audience, but at the moment, I feel very at home in middle grade fiction, probably because I’m still that age at heart.

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

I work for a company that supports headteachers and other senior leaders in schools across the UK. Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of interviews with heads who have been doing innovative and amazing things in their schools, so that this practice can be shared with others.

Which author inspires you?

Jacqueline Wilson has always been my hero – I recently received a note from her wishing me luck with my writing, and I felt like I could die happy.

Which genres do you read yourself?

I’m into all kinds of genres and open to anything. I’ve recently been enjoying some gothic thrillers, including the chilling ‘Wakenhurst’ by Michelle Paver.

What is your biggest motivator?

Young readers. I absolutely love receiving feedback from them (both good and bad) on anything I’ve written.

What will always distract you?

My children – I have 18 month old twins who are at the stage where they’re running all over the place, and often in different directions.

How much say do you have in your book covers?

It’s usually a joint decision between me, my editor Fiona and the Art Director, Jessie – who is wonderful at coming up with imagery that she thinks would work for the story. She has so far chosen two very different, but equally brilliant illustrators for ‘The Mystery of The Colour Thief’ and ‘Girl 38’.

As a child were you a great reader?

Yes, I was a total bookworm. I was lucky enough to have a dad who was a bookseller, so most half term holidays were spent in the children’s section of a bookshop, reading my way through the shelves, promising I wouldn’t break any of the spines. Apparently I was a very easy child to look after, as I just had to be given a good book.

Which book shop is your favourite?

Ink@84 which is a lovely little independent bookshop near my house in Highbury/Finsbury Park. They do great author events and film nights.

What can you not resist buying?

More and more books. We’re running out of bookshelf space and I’ve had to give some away to friends.

Do you have any rituals on your writing days?

I don’t really have writing days – It’s really whenever I can grab a few hours to write. A double espresso helps, as does a good cheese sandwich, and of course switching off the internet to avoid procrastination!

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

Currently six. Two of them are children’s books.

What is your current read?

‘How to be both’ by Ali Smith. It’s a fantastic book formed of two halves, each set in a very different time period. I read somewhere that there were different versions of the book published, some with the two sections printed in reverse – very intriguing. The book is part of a birthday present which I received from my school friends. I get a book a month in the post for 6 months, sent by The Willoughby Book Club. It’s a complete surprise what the book will be, but so far I’ve not had one that I’d previously read!

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