I Always Wanted to Be a Writer

Family folk-lore has it that I planted my hands on my hips and informed my aunt and grandmother that I was going to be a writer 'when I grow up' when I was four years old. How they laughed...


    They were forgetting the omen on the day I was born.

     It was a boiling hot July day. My father had, nevertheless, built a fire 'that could have powered Accles and Pollacks' furnaces.'

     A man came to the house to pay Dad for some electrical rewiring work he'd done for him. He paid in kind -- with a typewriter.


     I would love to say that it was on this very typewriter that I typed out my first novel -- but no, that typewriter had long before been given away or sold.

     I typed my first book on a very similar, cast-iron, weighty typewriter which my parents bought for my thirteenth birthday present, from a junk-shop. I think it cost them £12.


      Later, when adults asked me -- as they were always asking me -- what I was going to be when I grew up, I used to say, 'A hairdresser.' I had an older cousin who was a hairdresser, and  that was considered a good answer, and shut them up.


I never wanted to be a  hairdresser.


    From the age of about 7, when my Dad gave me The Jungle Books and The Just-So Stories, by Rudyard Kipling, I wanted to be a writer.


  But I came from a family of Black Country factory workers, none of whom -- at that time -- had ever gone to University, or ever written a book.

      I read a lot -- I read everything -- children's books, adult books, newspapers, comics, magazines, sauce bottles, cornflake packets, adverts, graffitti my mother didn't want me to read...  That's how you learn to write.  At 14, I  realised that, to be a writer, I only had to be good enough.  There were no college courses (at that time) to be passed, no exams to pass.

     So, at 14, I started to read critically -- my own work, and that of others.  How was this writer getting that effect?  Why did I find this writing laughable and unconvincing?  Why had this story of mine failed?


If I could figure out the answers to these questions, I could improve.


At 15, and at 16, I entered the Children's Writing Competition, and won one of the three 'special' prizes in that age-group.  This spurred me on to write my first book, The Devil's Piper.  Acting on advice from a judge in the competition -- the poet, Michael Baldwin -- I sent the book to the Literary Agency, A M Heath, where it was taken on by Osyth Leeston. 


           She sent it to Faber, where the children's editor was Phyllis Hunt, who said that if I could rewrite the book to a higher standard, Faber would publish it.  I abandoned my education and rewrote it.  Faber published it -- but because I was only 16, my father had to sign the contract.


Since then I've written over 63 books, for all ages, from Nursery age to Young Adult -- and my YA books, such as The Sterkarm Handshake, are read by many adults.

     I won the Carnegie Medal, the most prestigious award a writer for young readers can win in the UK, for my book, The Ghost Drum.


     For my 'cross-over novel' The Sterkarm Handshake, I won the Guardian Fiction Prize. Both these books are under film option as I write.


I began self-publishing in 2011, and am a founder member of the Authors Electric Blog.

     My own blog is the Nennius Blog, named after the medieval monk who said that, in his writings, he had 'made a heap of all he had found.' I occasionally contribute to the Awfully Big Blog Adventure, and The History Girls.


I am a member of the Scattered Authors Society (affectionately known by its members as 'the other SAS'), as well as the Society of Authors.


I have worked for the Royal Literary Fund, that wonderful organisation which does so much to help writers.