I was born in Scotland but spent my early childhood in India. I studied English at York University, Publishing Studies at Stirling University and have had lots of different jobs – from tattie howking, cleaning and lexicography, to collecting oral histories, waitressing and journalism. For the past few years, I’ve found that it’s much more fun just to stay at home and make up stories. I live in York with my son Frankie, my dog Otis and my boyfriend Dan.
What subject did you enjoy most at school?
Writing, of course! I had very messy handwriting, and I wasn’t very good at spelling, but I loved playing with words. I was quite a shy child and I loved the way that you can say something in writing and people sit up and pay attention. Teachers seemed to be much more impressed by the things I wrote than by the things I said.
What was your favourite book as a child?
It’s hard to say, because I loved so many books and authors as a child… The Hobbit, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Jack Holborn, Marianne Dreams – all of these were favourites at one time or another. Although Enid Blyton wasn’t much of a favourite later on, she was the author who first opened the doorway to reading for me. I remember finishing the first Famous Five book, and being delirious with joy because there were about twenty more of them to read. All I had to do was save up and buy them with my pocket money and I was guaranteed endless hours of reading pleasure!
Why did you start to write?
I’m a writer because that’s what a wonderfully witchy old lady called Nana Wogue told me to be. She used to greet me at her front door with squawks of “Come away in my precious wee lamb!”, then she’d stuff my tummy with nuts and sugared oranges, and my mind with stories of her childhood. Sometimes she’d make me jump over a shepherd’s crook (I forget why), and hold out my palm so she could read my future. Apparently my future was to be a writer. I was five years old when she first informed me of this. I could barely read, let alone write, but she was my granny and her word was the law.
When did you first start to write?
Well obviously I wrote a lot of stories when I was at school, for my teachers… All the way through primary school and all the way through high school I wrote stories, but after I left school I stopped completely. For 15 years I told people I was going to be a writer and I never wrote a thing. Until eventually I got a bit embarrassed about calling myself a writer and I decided to set to work. That was in the early 1990s.
Where do you get your ideas?
Ideas come from all over the place, it’s just a matter of sifting through the dross for the sparklers. The idea for my first picture book came to me when my young son put the kitchen stools in a line and shouted “All aboard the night train!” The title for Where’s my Darling Daughter? was a question nagging at the back of my mind for years, because I never knew where my teenage daughter was or what she was up to! One More Sheep came to me, most annoyingly, when I was trying to get to sleep. My brain was irritatingly awake and perky and kept coming up with unhelpful suggestions like “Why don’t you try counting sheep?”, which led me into an inane and pointless speculation along the lines of: “Huh, I wonder how shepherds count sheep then? Bet they don’t suffer from insomnia.”
Every story I write starts with a scrap of an idea (something I’ve seen or overheard, maybe even something I’ve dreamt) followed by a lot of “what if?” questions and imagining.
Why do you write all your picture books in rhyme?
I find it almost impossible to write picture book texts in prose. I think it’s a control thing. When you’re writing something that someone else is going to read aloud to your audience, you want to control the way they read it and so rhythm becomes very important. For me, writing in rhyme makes it much easier to control the rhythm and therefore the way the story ultimately sounds. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a teacher, parent or older sibling who’s going to be doing the reading, you want them to read with expression – you want them to declaim your story like an orator.
Actually I’ve just written a picture book text that isn’t in rhyme. It’s called The Happiest Man in the World or the mouse who saved Christmas and is illustrated by Louise Nisbet. It will by published by Hodder Children’s Books next year. Yay for me! It really is so much easier not writing in verse.