Q&A for Surrey Libraries

I was asked to answer some questions for the Merstham Library’s ‘Afternoon tea with’.

As a writer, what is your favourite childhood book?

Too many! The wonderful thing about being a parent is re-visiting your favourite books that you read as a child and also discovering new ones. I am just as excited on a trip to the library as my children (possibly more so). My parents tell me that, as a child, I loved books and would spend ages looking at all the details in the Richard Scarry Books.

What was the first book that really moved you?

I vividly remember reading ‘The Witches’ by Roald Dahl which is actually rather terrifying for a nine year old with a big imagination. I remember crying at the end because the boy stayed as a mouse and didn’t get turned back into a boy but Dahl made it sound like a ‘happy’ ending. I couldn’t believe an author could do that! But now I see how a story exists far beyond the words on the page and that a darker ending was far more appropriate and made the story live on in my imagination.

What book are you reading at bedtime?

‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ by Amor Towles. A recommend from a friend when I said I needed an uplifting ‘lockdown’ book. And it’s wonderful! I am really enjoying how the writer has masterfully captured his main character’s personality.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend on research before starting a book?

When I do research I use a combination of drawing from photographs, reading about my subject and often seeing how other illustrators have approached a similar subject or setting. Often a story comes together over time rather than all at once. For Lucy’s Light, I read about lightening bugs and found some images of toads who had eaten them and were now lit up! This inspired the villains in the book.

How do you select the names of your characters?

In my book ‘A box of butterflies’ the little girl is named after my daughter, Ruby. For the animal and insect characters I use alliteration because it makes a memorable title and it’s a fun way to think up names.

Are you friends with other authors? How do they help you?

Yes, I’m lucky to have lots of lovely Author/Illustrator friends. We meet up once a month for a chat which is a lovely way to bounce around ideas or just talk to someone who understands the sometimes stressful process of creating a book.

Do/did you attend writing or book groups?

Yes I have attended several. And after lockdown I hope to go back to writing courses specifically. It is wonderful to be inspired to write and express your ideas.

What was your favourite scene to write?

In ‘Lucy’s Light’ I enjoyed the sequence where Lucy is saving the day.

“Zoom! She frightened the frog.

Whizz! She dizzied the newt.

Neoom! She terrified the toad!”

Approximately how long does a book take for the first idea to publication?

A lot longer that you would imagine (or even I would imagine!) I think this is because I often have several ideas on the go at the same time and then tend to put them ‘in the drawer’ for a while if I get stuck. It’s really useful to take a break from an idea and go back to it at a later date. Although, it’s hard if you have a deadline and can’t do that. But I would say 8 to 12 months from start to finish.

What advice would you give to your younger self, just starting to write?

Relax and enjoy the process. Sometimes if you struggle to find an idea it stifles your creativity. So it’s best to just LIVE your life for a bit and then be ready for an idea to come to you. I think ideas come to those who are curious about life and playful with thoughts and words.

Don’t start with an empty page and don’t expect everything to be perfect first time. The story evolves and changes over time and then has input from editors to help mould it. This is how it should be.

And most importantly: You don’t have to wear a pashmina and have a double-barrelled name to be an Author! Don’t have an inferiority complex.


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