How old were you when you started to write?

I was forty. I went to a creative writing evening class, for want of a better way to while away the long Welsh winter. The tutor, Ms. Anna Lunk (thanks, Anna, wherever you are) said, "Write about your childhood. Remember how it felt, how it smelled…" So I wrote a piece about my mother’s button box. Anna seemed to like it. "OK," I thought. "That’s what I’ll do. I’ll pack in this teaching lark and become a writer, a writer for children." I did it, and here I am.

How long does it take to write a book?

Anything from a day (Well, a Crocodile Can!) to a year (Georgie). Some of the stories I write are really short, but I still go over and over them hundreds of times till they’re just right. I take them into the garden, or the bathroom if it’s raining, and read them out loud, making more and more changes till I’m convinced I’ve told the story in the best way possible. When I sold Owen and the Mountain, my first picture book story, to Bloomsbury, I was delighted. I ran up to the top of the hill behind my house and did a little dance. Then I came back down and counted the number of times I’d rewritten the story — I’d kept all the print-outs off the computer. It’s only 800 words long and I’d written it 187 times! It's become a habit now - every time I sell a new story, I always have to run up the nearest hill and do a little dance.

Where do you get your ideas from?

Mainly from inside my head, but I draw on my childhood in Ireland, my children’s childhood in Wales, and from folk tales. The Barefoot Book of Fairy Tales are retellings of some of my favourite ever stories, Tales from Old Ireland are retellings from some of my favourite Irish folk tales, and many of my other stories use folk tale as a starting point. Una and the Sea-Cloak, Antonio, Amadans, The Great Castle of Marshmangle, The Changeling, Hungry Hungry Hungry, The Bold Boy, Sleepy Pendoodle and The Football Ghosts were all inspired by Irish or Welsh folk tales.

How do you choose your illustrators?

I’d love to be able to do my own illustrations, but because I can’t draw for toffee (if I try to draw a dog it ends up looking like a worm), my publishers have to find someone else. I’ve been very lucky with my illustrators so far - they’re all brilliant.
I never tell the artists what to draw. I love it when they add in all sorts of things I would never even have thought of. When I first saw the dog in Owen and the Mountain, I thought, "What’s he doing there? He’s not in my story!" But now I love him — the book wouldn’t be half as good without him.

What do you read?

I read all sorts of books, all the time. I started a ‘Book Book’ when I was sixteen (I’m on number four now) and I list every book I read, and mark them out of ten. Looking back, my favourites seem to be picture books, teenage novels and books about Ireland. They’re the ones that are most likely to make me laugh out loud, or to cry.

What advice would you give to young writers?

a. Use your own voice. Write the way you talk. Don’t try to be too clever or ‘literary’.
b. Write about things you care about, things that matter to you. Take some ‘real life’, add some ‘what if’.
c. Think about your characters: get to really know them.
d. Have an interesting, fast-moving beginning — try and get into the action straight away. Keep the energy of the story going all the way through, and round things off neatly at the end.
e. Stick at it. Craft it, till you’re proud of it — till it’s the best way to tell the story.
f. Write with energy and write with enjoyment — don’t forget, it’s supposed to be fun.
g. Read, read, read! Write, write, write!

If there's anything you'd like to say
or ask me,
I'd love to hear from you.
goblin And don't worry.
I won't bite.
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