do you get your ideas? Well, I wish I could just go to a store and
buy one! I never get ideas when I try to think of one - I get them at
inconvenient times, such as when I'm driving the car or walking the
dogs or in the middle of the night - this is why I always carry a notebook
to write them down in. Like most writers, my stories are a mixture of
my own life, especially as a child, things I've observed, and things
I've heard or read about.
do you go about writing a book? First I get the idea, which grows
and grows until it insists on being the next book! Then I start to make
notes. I write down names and short descriptions of the characters,
notes on the setting, and do lots and lots of research on the time period
if it's an historical novel. I also write down a few ideas about the
situation and possible plot. This makes me feel very organized, but
actually I'm not. Once I begin the first draft I don't look at my notes
at all and the book may be completely different from my notes. I never
make an outline before I start, because I don't know the plot until
I finish the first draft - I find out what it is by writing it.
The first draft
is truly awful! The characters are thin, the plot weak, and the book
is far too short. But at least I have the essence of the story down.
Then I read the draft, all my notes, and finally make an outline, which
is really blank pages for each chapter with notes in them. Because I
never go backwards - I write each draft from the beginning to the end
- this "outline" helps if I think of something i want in, say, chapter
four, when I'm on chapter sixteen.
I do about four
or five drafts, improving the characters and plot each time. It's not
until the last few drafts that I work on the words, honing each sentence
until it sounds just right. This is when I try to make my writing as
clear and alive and truthful as I can.
long does it take you to write a book? Longer and longer! It used
to take me about a year, but the older I get the more my busy life seems
to interrupt my writing. Or else I'm just getting lazier!
is your favourite of all your books? This is so hard to answer -
I'm so close to my books that it's impossible for me to judge them.
However, if I had to pick only one to be remembered by, I'd pick The
Sky is Falling. This is partly because it was such a challenge - I did
tons of research and it was so hard to turn all those facts into fiction
that I'm amazed and proud that it worked. Also, I became more immersed
in the story and characters than in any other of my books.
are your favourite authors? I have so many! Jane Austen, Jane Gardam,
Anne Tyler and E.M. Forster are a few of my favourite writers for adults;
Arthur Ransome, E.Nesbit, Hilary McKay and Kevin Crossley-Holland are
a few of my favourite children's authors.
do your books have so many covers? Sometimes a publisher in another
country will use the Canadian cover - this happens in the U.S., for
example - but usually they like to have their own covers, probably to
better reflect that country's culture and book style.
do you like best about writing? The fact that I can make a living
by making things up! Also that I work for myself, which makes me feel
very free. What I like most of all is meeting and hearing from my readers.
It's always a thrill when they tell me how they have been affected by
do you like least? All the practical things that I'm not very good
at, such as GST and income tax and keeping accounts.
many more books are you going to write? All I know is that I want
to write until I drop! It's wonderful that I never have to retire from
being a writer - I have so many ideas for books that I'll never be able
to get them all written.
you have any pets? I have always had a dog in my life and almost
every novel has a dog in it. The first dog I got as adult was a very
stubborn cairn terrier called Flora. She lived to be eighteen! Poppy,
my second dog, is now ten. She's a border terrier and is quite well-behaved,
except when she steals food! For a few years I had Cobi, my parents'
cocker/bichon. He was an old rascal, but very loveable. Our newest dog
is Piper, a gorgeous red standard poodle. She's as wild as any puppy
is, but she's going to dog school and is learning very fast.
advice do you have for anyone who wants to be a writer? Read, read
and read! The more you read, the more natural writing will be for you.
Enjoy what you write and don't worry about whether it's good or complete.
Keeping a journal - not the kind where you write every day, but the
kind where you write what you want, when you want - is great practice.
If you're serious you'll have to learn grammar and punctuation. Two
books I highly recommend for this are THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE and
EATS, SHOOTS AND LEAVES.
for the aspiring writer