Were there any particular people or situations that influenced you to start writing? It had never occurred to me to write for children until I was reading books to my own children. I especially loved ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ by Maurice Sendak and ‘John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat’ by Jenny Wagner, illustrated by Ron Brooks. These books made me want to see if I could write for children, too.
Can you tell us about why you decided to write ‘This Little Piggy Went Dancing’? I remember the rhyme, ‘This Little Piggy Went to Market’, from my childhood and, of course, I chanted it endlessly with my own children and grandchildren. It occurred to me it could be fun to play around with the rhyme and include activities that are familiar to children today. It was Deborah Niland’s idea to include the mouse – and small children love searching for it on the page.
What inspires you? I find qualities such as resilience and endurance particularly inspiring. Some people are confronted by terrible tragedies and illnesses in their lives, yet they are able to find a way to keep going. I’m not sure that I have that sort of courage.
Is there a particular writer or writers you admire? There are so many authors I admire – Cormac McCarthy, Anne Michaels, Raymond Carver, Carson McCullers, Michael Ondatjee and Tim Winton (who creates such evocative landscapes and flawed but touching characters). These writers’ beautiful use of language, substance, craft and deep characterisation make me want to try to write better.
Do you have any favourite tools? Just a ballpoint pen and a small notebook to jot down ideas which I always carry in my handbag in case I hear or see something interesting. And, of course, a computer is indispensable – it makes rewriting so much easier compared to the typewriter I started out on.
What is something that most people would be surprised to know about you? As I’m quite well-known for avoiding public speaking when I can, not many people know that I once had a minute role in a school play – and that I managed to utter my one line with something like aplomb!
What other jobs have you had? I’ve worked on newspapers and magazines as a journalist, and in book publishing as an editor of children’s books. Journalism taught me how to observe, to be succinct, and to look for a fresh angle – the latter is especially useful when it comes to writing children’s books. For example, thousands of books have a bedtime theme, so if you want to write one you have to try to find a fresh approach. I loved working in children’s publishing – it was always such a thrill if I came across a good manuscript in the unsolicited pile.
What are you working on next? I have a number of picture books I’m working on, as well as rewriting a novel for younger readers, and starting a new novel for young adult readers. Writing picture books makes me particularly happy – I love the feeling of excitement when I get the germ of an idea. I only start writing when the story is more or less complete in my mind. I have to know the beginning and the ending – and then I’m ready to sit down at the computer.