Tell me what inspired you to write for children?

I wasn’t really “inspired to write for children”. What happened was that I had an idea for a story (Time Travelling With A Hamster) that was suitable for children, and I wrote it thereby becoming a “children’s author”.

How hard was it to get your first book published?

I feel a bit bad saying this, but not hard at all. I sent TTWAH to half a dozen agents who turned it down and then I left it alone for a few months. The next agent I showed it to (Peters, Fraser & Dunlop) took me on and they sold it almost immediately. I realise my experience is not typical, but for “years of persistent struggle” stories, you’ll have to ask someone else!

How many publishers turned you down?

Umm…none. (Sorry!)

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

My wife reads them more than I do. If there’s a particularly nice one, she’ll point it out and I’ll read it, then end up reading the others as well.

Would you ever consider writing for teens or adults?

Yes, but I’m busy with children’s books at the moment. It is nice to have a “fan base”, and my contract demands a book a year which keeps my mind off other things. I seem to be carving a little niche for myself in the very competitive children’s book market and I’d like to maintain that.

What did you do before becoming a writer?

Immediately before, I was a full-time dad which is fun, and a huge privilege but not very demanding, intellectually. Cleaning the house does not, I found, take very long. At least, not the way I clean it. So I found myself with enough time on my hands to begin writing.

Which author inspires you?

I might not have got round to writing Hamster if I hadn’t read R.J Palacio’s Wonder. I simply had not considered writing it in the first person, but when I saw how convincingly she had written in the voice of Auggie I thought I’d give it a go.

Which genres do you read yourself?

At the moment it’s mainly middle-grade. I just got too embarrassing meeting these other children’s authors who had all read Hamster and I hadn’t read theirs, so I’m trying to catch up. Other than that, my tastes are fairly catholic. I heartily dislike long-winded literary fiction or anything that is regarded as “important”.

What is your biggest motivator?

A deadline.

What will always distract you?

Twitter. Questionaires from book bloggers.

How much say do you have in your book covers?

I’m not sure, actually. HarperCollins always send me the designs and so on for my approval, but seeing as I always enthusiastically approve of what they suggest, it’s not much of a test. The illustrator of my covers, Tom Clohosy Cole, is brilliant so I have very little do to apart from say “I love it!” I take the view that they all know a lot more about book marketing than I do, so I’ll trust them.

As a child were you a great reader?

Yes. I could read pretty fluently before I started school, taught by my mum. Then it was Enid Blyton, mainly. I worked my way through the Faraway Trees, Secret Sevens, then Famous Five, Mallory Towers, St Claire’s (vaguely aware that they were “girls’ books” but not caring much), the “Mystery” series. I adored the Jennings books by Anthony Buckeridge, and devoured non-fiction too. I read comics: The Beezer, The Topper, The Beano, Whizzer & Chips, Shiver & Shake – always the funny ones, never the adventure ones like The Eagle. I was (and remain) a devoted fan of the comic artist Dudley D. Watkins who drew Lord Snooty in The Beano and the Scottish strips Oor Wullie and The Broons. I read exactly none of the children’s classics. Wind In The Willows, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, Treasure Island, The Lion, the Witch & The Wardrobe – all would have to wait (and in the case of the Narnia books are still waiting.)

Which book shop is your favourite?

I live near to Waterstone’s Kensington so that’s the one I visit the most: two floors of joy! They hosted the launch party for Time Travelling With A Hamster which was nice of them.

What can you not resist buying?

I have a weakness for crumbly fudge. NOT the chewy kind – yuk. If I see it on sale (and it’s not all that common) it’s a struggle not to buy some, especially if I’m on a “no sugar” kick which seems to be always.

Do you have any rituals on your writing days?

I try to avoid rituals, or any other kind of “mystification” of the writing process. It is work. It would be ridiculous if I couldn’t write anything because I’d lost my “special tea-cup” or anything daft like that.

How many books in your own to be read pile?

At any time, I have about a dozen unread books around the house.

What is your current read?

Right now, I’m reading Matt Haig’s How To Stop Time. I waited until The 1,000 Year Old Boy was completely finished before opening it, just in case it distracted me, because the subject matter is quite similar. It’s fun seeing the cross-over of ideas, and the different way he approached various issues which are common to both our stories. Needless to say, it’s completely different.

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