Frequently Asked Questions

Here are the answers to my top ten most Frequently Asked Questions.

What was your favourite book as a child?

I had lots of favourite books. I remember a fabulous Fairy Tale book with a three dimensional picture of Cinderella on the front and a brilliant book by Gyles Brandreth called ‘The Big Book of Secrets.’ It was all about spies and secret information and might be the book that sparked the first ideas about SECRET BREAKERS. I remember my dad made me a ‘book safe’ like the one Gyles Brandreth described. He hollowed out the inside of a big hardback book and I could put secret things inside it. ‘The Big Book of Secrets’ also explained about invisible ink and my Mum and I used to write secret messages to each other in lemon juice and then heat the paper to show the writing! My favourite story books when I was growing up were ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe ’ and then ‘The Hobbit.’ I got a bit obsessed with JR Tolkien and how he invented a whole universe with special languages, rules and histories. I’m still fascinated by the work of the group of friends called The Inklings which included Tolkien and Lewis.

“…I got a bit obsessed with JR Tolkien and how he invented a whole universe…”

Who is your favourite children’s author?

There are so many fabulous children’s authors about now! In my job as a teacher I get to buy books for the school library and this is such exciting fun as there’s so many great books to choose from. I love the Harry Potter series. I think J.K. Rowling is a genius and I went to all the midnight launches of her later books with my husband and daughter. (Yes, we dressed up!). We had to buy three copies of ‘Deathly Hallows’ so we could all read it at the same time. It took us a day and we didn’t go out or answer the phone until we’d finished it. I love books where the author creates a whole world with rules and histories and I love stories that make you think about big ideas! Apart from JK Rowling’s books I love books by Andrew Norriss and Ali Sparkes and one of my all time favourite books is ‘Tuck Everlasting’ by Natalie Babbit. Sheryll Jordan from New Zealand has also written a beautiful book called ‘The Raging Quiet’ for teen readers. It is especially fascinating to me as it is about language and deafness.

“I think J.K. Rowling is a genius…”

Where do you get your ideas from?

Everywhere! I carry a notebook with me nearly all the time and I jot down interesting things I see or hear. I keep loads of exercise books at home too, with notes in about books I read and programmes I see on the television. I am always thinking about story ideas and the hardest thing is actually picking one idea and sticking with it because it means you have to leave all your other ideas alone for a while. Because ‘SECRET BREAKERS’ is a series I got to build in lots of ideas I had been mulling over for years so I really think no story idea is ever wasted.

“…the hardest thing is actually picking one idea and sticking with it …”

Where do you write?

Anywhere quiet! I’m not one of these people who can write in cafes. I have to have total silence. I can’t even bear to have the washing machine on when I write as the churning noise it makes gets on my nerves! But I can write in any place as I use my lap top and so basically I go wherever in the house is most comfy. Sometimes, it’s my bedroom and I sit on the bed and sometimes it’s the kitchen and I work at the kitchen table. I have a conservatory on the side of my house and this is the place where I keep all my notes and books and research but it is often too cold in the winter to write out there…and in the summer it’s too hot!

“…I can write in any place as I use my lap top…”

How long does it take to write a book?

The longest part is the planning! I work out what I am going to say in every section of every chapter before I actually start typing the book. I do this in note form with paper and a pencil and I shift ideas around until I’m sure the shape of the story works. Only then do I start to write and that part happens more quickly. The whole of ‘SECRET BREAKERS’ took about  6 years of actually writing…and I am still tightening up the drafts of the later books…but before I even started Book One I’d done about four years of note taking and collecting ideas for the series.

“…‘SECRET BREAKERS’ took about 6 years of actually writing…”

What is your advice for aspiring writers?

Read. Read. Read. The more you read books by authors you admire and see how they have dealt with ideas, the better at writing you will become. Having said that, you can’t be a writer unless you actually do some writing, so keeping a journal is a great way of making sure you write every day. It gives you a place to play around with ideas and it keeps your writing muscles in tip top form. Carrying a note book with you so you can jot down ideas as you have them is also a great idea. And never, ever give up. The first thing I can ever remember wanting to be was a writer…and it took me until I was nearly forty to achieve that dream…but you have to keep trying if you want something badly enough!

“…it took me until I was nearly forty to achieve that dream…”

What job would you have if you weren’t an author?

I love being a teacher. I love working with children and being in schools. Talking  with children is fascinating. Often children see the world differently to adults and that’s a big idea behind the writing of the ‘SECRET BREAKERS’. So, whatever job I did it would have to involve children!

“I love working with children and being in schools”

Where is your favourite place in the world apart from home?

I’ve got lots of favourite places and there are hundreds of places in the world I’d still like to see. I really love the Isle of Skye in Scotland though. I went there with my parents a couple of times as a little girl to stay with family. It is so beautiful and rugged and remote and nowhere on the island is far from the sea. There is also a fabulous castle called Dunvegan Castle and the island has an amazing history. I also love Moreton Island off the coast of Queensland, Australia. I went there a few years ago with my husband and daughter. We had the most amazing time swimming in the ocean and in an inland lagoon and we also went tobogganing on the sand dunes. At sunset, dolphins swam into the shore. It was a truly magical place and I would love to go back there one day.

“I really love the Isle of Skye in Scotland…”

Did you enjoy your own time at school?

I really did! I had some fabulous teachers…including an English teacher called Mr. Smithies who was so inspiring. (If you’ve read ‘SECRET BREAKERS’ you’ll know now where I got one of my names from!) Another incredible teacher was my secondary school teacher called Tusia Werner who was married to the Head Teacher. (There’s another name from ‘SECRET BREAKERS’!) I worked very hard at school and took it all very seriously. I worried a lot about Maths lessons as I found them hard…but I loved English lessons and I really enjoyed Psychology at A level where you learnt about how people think. I was terrible at PE but I really wanted to be in the school netball team. The teacher felt sorry for me and let me cut up the oranges for half time which at least made me feel involved!

“…I loved English lessons and I really enjoyed Psychology at A level…”

Do you have any pets or hobbies?

I have a wonderful Tibetan Terrier dog called Benji. (Check out her photo in the blog). When I was growing up I loved the films made by the Director Joe Camp which starred a little terrier dog called Benji. I wrote to him one day and asked what type of dog the Benji dog was and he very kindly wrote back and told me so we knew what breed to buy. We fell in love with our puppy as soon as we saw her…but she was a girl….and we wanted to call our dog Benji. We decided then, her full name should be Benjamina but of course we call her Benji for short. She is probably the laziest dog in the whole world! She sits with me when I write and sometimes her snoring puts me off…but I don’t mind really!

The only sport I am remotely good at is swimming. (Back to that love of water again!) I’m not brilliantly adventurous…I prefer to have adventures in my head…so I read a lot and I love going to the cinema or to the theatre. I do try and keep fit though as writing involves sitting down all day and so I like doing Zumba lessons with my daughter…but she is much better at it than me. I love seeing Musicals. Great stories with songs that move you can’t really be beaten! My favourite musical is ‘Just So.’ The musical is based on the ‘Just So’ stories by Rudyard Kipling and a few years ago my daughter Meggie played the Kolokolo Bird in a production of the show. The Kolokolo Bird is a flightless bird who as a result of bravery and determination to help her friend, learns to fly. I love stories about birds that rise above the odds and soar!

“…wonderful Tibetan Terrier dog called Benji.…”