I was born in Italy, grew up in France and Spain and was educated rather haphazardly in most of these countries, at many different schools. I was asked to leave at least one school. I studied English Literature at Trinity College, Cambridge where I kept a dog until he was discovered being smuggled out of college in a laundry basket. So I was summoned and asked to leave Cambridge too. Unless the dog left, in which case I might stay. I taught A level English before spending a decade in the fashion industry and now write full time. I live between Exmoor and London with irrational numbers of children, dogs and horses. Below are some of the questions I get asked most often.
What was your favourite subject at school?
English, followed by languages, any languages of any kind. I’m not sure I was up to much in any other subject. Certainly my school reports make for hilarious reading – you couldn’t make them up.
Do you have any children?
Yes and they are all getting far too BIG! I have five children: Stanley, Grey, Harley, Cary and Clover.
Where do you write?
When the children were very small I used to hide from them and sometimes the only place to hide and lock myself away was in the car. Now, more often I write at my desk, but I need an EMPTY house, no one any where near, either in sight or within hearing.
Where do you get ideas from?
Ideas are rather like rabbits, you just get yourself one and it seems to multiply and very soon you’ve got hundreds of them. On the whole, I get them from books, but also the radio, anecdotes, real historical events, gossip, etc. As Dahl said, “above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
How much research do you do?
Although I write historical adventure novels, I am not a historian, so I take a lot of care over my research and over all the details in my stories to check that everything is absolutely accurate. Despite not having enjoyed history as a child, I love researching and have to be very careful that it doesn’t become an excuse for not writing. I spent years in the library of the Imperial War Museum during the writing of Soldier Dog. There is very little written material on dog handlers in the first world war, mostly because they came from the country, from jobs in hunting or farming or fishing, so they were not, generally, educated or great memoir or letter writers. More recently I spend far too much time on the internet. If you go to the page, My Books, you’ll see some of the images I have collected during my research for each book.
Any thing else?
Yes, I wish, that like Idie, the main character in The House on Hummingbird Island, my house was large enough to keep all the animals that Idie keeps in her house.
Why do you write books?
I always knew I would write books ever since I was very young, and I also knew that those books would be books for children. The books that you read as a child, the best of them, will leave their thumbprint on your mind and the characters in them will travel with you through life. This doesn’t happen when you get older, so its the books that you read as a child that are very important. So, read a lot of books and buy a lot of books. It’s a great time to be a child now with so many good books by great writers being written for you.
& just in case you were wondering …
I’ll tell you what my likes are: Books, picnics, dogs, horses, paintings & children. And my dislikes are: Roundabouts, surveys, out of town shopping centres, traffic jams, airports & stamp duty.