The Writing Process

Where do you get your ideas from?

Ideas spring to mind at all sorts of strange moments. Very often they arrive when I am driving the car or lying in the bath or trying to fall asleep. The idea for The Boy Who Fell Down Exit 43 came to me in a dream. Luckily I remembered the story in the morning and scribbled it down!

Do you write in pen or on a computer?

I penned the entire first draft of The Boy Who Fell Down Exit 43 in seven notebooks. They are a great big scribbly mess but I am very fond of them. Now I write straight on to my computer. It is much easier to fiddle around with the text that way.

Do you write to music? If so, what kind of music?

I write in silence. But I quite often get ideas when listening to music. And although I am a classically-trained singer, I like listening to all sorts of music.

Where do you write?

I have a big shed/summerhouse at the top of the garden where I write most often, especially in the evening. There is a lovely view of our cottage from its windows and I can lock the door when I need a bit of peace and quiet. When I was writing the beginning of my second book, Gravenhunger, it was the middle of winter, and I would snuggle myself up in my shed with an electric heater and a good, strong light to work by. My children, who knew I was writing a seriously scary ghost story, decided one evening that it would be a fine idea to switch off the main electricity supply to my shed. And so I was plunged into total darkness…and stumbled out into the freezing cold yelling at them to put the power back on before I died of cold and fright. Read Gravenhunger and you will understand why I was so freaked out…

I also write at the kitchen table and on winter mornings I am very fond of sitting in front of the woodburner or propped up against a radiator with my laptop balanced on my knees. Sometimes I write at our fantastic local coffee shop, with a cup of coffee and an evil chocolate brownie to hand.

How did you get your first publishing deal?

The Boy Who Fell Down Exit 43 was the first book I ever wrote. It took me about eight months to get down a reasonable first draft. Then I sent it off to a wonderful literary consultancy called Cornerstones. They read it and sent me back a detailed report, telling me what was good…and what was not so good. I then pretended to forget all about it for six weeks while their comments mulched around in my head.

When I came back to the book I set about ripping it to shreds. I got rid of most of the adverbs (they tend to make writing weak – why say “Come over here,” said Dad crossly, when “Get over here this minute!” roared Dad does the job so much better?) and strengthened the plot. Some characters were chucked right out, others were introduced. It was a long, but hugely rewarding, experience.

Once that was done, I decided to enter it into the first-ever SCBWI Undiscovered Voices competition. This turned out to be one excellent plan. Six weeks’ later, I was told I had been chosen as one of the twelve winners of the SCBWI anthology competition. And very, very luckily for me, one of the judges was Sarah Davies of the Greenhouse Literary Agency . She took me on as one of her clients and after another period of revision (more plot changes etc etc…), she got me a fantastic two-book deal.

How long does it take you to write a book?

I’m not one of those writers who splurges out a thousand words a day. My brain just doesn’t work that way. I tend to get the basic structure of a chapter down, then work at it until it’s really right (and that includes murdering almost all the adverbs!) There are only so many hours in a day – and I have four children to look after (and build dens for) (see About me), so at the moment I guess I’m writing at a rate of a book a year. However, I can see that process speeding up in the future and I have ideas for other books brewing away inside my mind all the time.

Feel free to ask me a question about writing – and I’ll do my best to answer it.