Do you think that the jobs that you have had in your life, such as being a tour guide at a haunted medieval hospital, have influenced your stories?
Yes, because as a writer and as a person, every experience you have - bad or good - boring or exciting - influences you. Having done lots of jobs is one way (not the only way) which can help you understand other people’s lives and routines, which is great for a writer.
I think having different jobs has influenced my stories in that it has helped me be more aware, because of my own experience, of how other people live - about how much more difficult it is to live on a small wage than a good one, for example, or about how having little power or influence makes you feel you are in a different story than others who do. It has taught me about how wonderful it can be to have a job which makes a difference and has status, and how depressing it is to feel you are trapped in one which doesn’t, yet how heroic and brave people can be in difficult situations and hard, disregarded work. I want to write about families where not having the bus fare to go somewhere is a real problem, for example. I knew that from growing up, but also from working.
Having jobs which were higher and lower status has taught me that the way I see myself and others isn’t fixed and can change in different situations depending on the role I am playing and how people react to me. This is useful as a writer, as we have to change our narrative voices and perspectives over and over again and see the world through other people’s eyes.
I think having lots of jobs also helps you find out what doesn’t change inside whatever job you have. It has helped me learn more about the essential person I am which stays, and is not dependent on, the job I do. That is good for developing as a writer and finding out about your ‘voice’ and the stories you need to tell. It has made me aware of what jobs I can do, as well as those I can’t. This has been hard at times, but it has increased my respect for other people and helped me not to take their gifts or work or the essential person they are inside, for granted. Hopefully that will also help me not stereotype people or use too many clichés in my writing!
Having lots of jobs is also so interesting. I have had lots of fun, heard fascinating stories and met and learnt different things about myself and others through doing a variety of jobs. I have also learnt lots about the jobs themselves and the places I have worked - thank you for reminding me about that tour guide job and the ghost story associated with it - I still haven’t written a book around that and I really should!
‘Across The Divide’ has an educational, real-life feel to it. What encouraged you to create this story?
I feel very struck and worried by some types of story-telling in our media at the moment - stories told in headlines and reporting in the press which seem to encourage divisions, glorify war, ignore victims of war like refugees and show lack of respect for people with different opinions or religions. It feels like we don’t hear enough stories about different people who work for peace, and as I feel very lucky because I know good people who are in the military and good people who are Pacifists, I thought I would like to write a story which included both types. Although all my characters are fictional, the way I write them is influenced by people I know and love and respect. I don’t think we know enough stories about Pacifists now or in the past, and when I read about First World War Pacifists I was so impressed by their bravery in sticking to their principles and wanted to share about this. I also wanted to tell stories which are not being told, about bad people using the power of stories to hurt others- people who smear and lie and manipulate events for their own reasons - I wanted to show how the way stories were told in the past and are being told now about other people can be for hidden reasons, as I think if readers know this they will have more power to find out the truth in life. I also really wanted to write a book set on Lindisfarne, as I love it so much and find the castle fascinating and the birds so beautiful.
What has been your most enjoyable story to write so far?
That’s really hard! I have loved aspects of all of them, and ‘Across The Divide’ is very important to me, but so are ‘Dog Ears’ and ‘Girl with a White Dog’. I had a lot of fun writing Anna in ‘Dog Ears’ because she is so funny and optimistic in spite of everything, and I enjoyed putting my dog Timmy in a starring role and doing little doodles. I am proud of my bird illustrations in ‘Across The Divide’ and I am really enjoying writing a series of books for 7-9 year olds called ‘The Magical Kingdom of Birds’, working with the illustrator Rosie Butcher. I love writing the Lucy books and all my picture books and working with wonderful illustrators. I am a very lucky writer - as I have enjoyed all my books!
For our young writers who have created their own stories, what 3 tips would you give them when deciding on the title for their work?
1) I have to admit I am not very good at titles and nearly always gets lots of advice and often change my mind. Sometimes the publisher loves my book but not the title and changes it! So I would say don’t worry if you write a story with one title and have to change it at the end! You can have fun making up your first title - and sometimes just writing a random title out of the blue without worrying too much like ‘the mouse who hated marmite’ (I just made that up!) can give you inspiration to write the story, even if you change it to, for example, “Martin, the marmite-hating mouse’ at the end!
2) Sometimes the title comes after you have written the book and is already hidden in the text - there might be a phrase you use, which sums up the story, or a theme you didn’t know was there until you finished what you were writing. Writers can be surprised by what they have written - and also can write and re-write the same book many times before it is good enough - and in one of those re-writes a title may pop out!
3) Sometimes a simple title describing a character in the book works, like ‘Girl with a White Dog’ - it is simple and doesn’t give too much away but it makes the reader wonder who is or was that girl and dog? It is also a good title to illustrate, and book covers do matter!
Other than encouraging the reader to fight for what they believe in, is there any other message that you hope for the reader to take from ‘Across The Divide’?
I hope meeting all the different characters now, and in 1916, helps readers realise that there are many different ways to be brave and true to ourselves, and that we can respect other people’s standpoints without compromising our own ones. I hope, as in ‘Girl with a White Dog’, it encourages readers to learn from history but also check who is writing the history books, and who is telling the stories in the news now, and to ask why and for what reasons certain stories are told and certain others are not, and how these can work for good or for bad. I hope it helps readers understand people’s motivations and to not fear people whose religion is important to them. And I hope they want to visit Lindisfarne and love seeing the birds as much as I do!