You have had a variety of jobs ranging from being an author to being a journalist; what is that attracted you to being a writer and has this always been something that you have been interested in?
I became a professional writer quite late in my life. I was 35 when I finally gave up my office job. My advice to young writers is to get on with it as early as possible - don't be a wimp like me!
I always loved reading and had a secret dream of writing but lacked the confidence to do it. As for what attracted me to it, I'm still not sure. I like dreaming up characters, and then watching how they behave as I write - when it is going well (which is not always), I feel like a lucky man.
Similarly, you write a range of novels and genres from fiction to non-fiction and stories for both children and adults; do you have a favourite genre of writing and do you find it difficult to write for a particular audience?
The awful truth is I don't really think of my audience. Even when a story is to be published for young readers, my main reader is myself. I like writing for both adults and children. On balance I think I prefer making things up rather than writing non-fiction, which can sometimes have a grown-up feeling to it.
Racing Manhattan is based around your own personal interests from when you were younger-do you find it easier to write based upon your own personal interests and experiences?
I suppose interests and passions come into any writer's work. Riding ponies and horses played such a huge part in my young life that it's a bit of a surprise that I've never really written about it before. Using my own experience and remembering what it was like to win and (more often) lose in races as an amateur jockey made writing Racing Manhattan quite an emotional experience. On the whole, though, I try to keep myself out of my books.
You wrote your first book when you were very young, and have since gone on to create the well-known character that is Ms Wiz. Subsequently you wrote 17 sequels because of the success of that character-do you find it hard to write sequels that are not only interesting, but also live up to the standard and expectation of your other books?
I don't think I was that young when I started writing. The first Ms Wiz was published when I was about 40. I loved writing that series over the next 21 years - not only because Ms Wiz was fun to write about but because I liked the children in Class Three (who remained pretty much the same age throughout the series) and weird characters like Herbert, the snobby rat. The book about Herbert falling in love with a street rat, Ms Wiz Smells a Rat, is one of my favourite stories. It was never easy to write Ms Wiz books, neither at the beginning nor the end , but I loved writing them and feel quite proud of the series.
Is there anything in particular that inspires you when you write and how do you come up with a different plot each time you begin the process of writing? How does this vary depending on the audience that you are writing for?
I'm a bit suspicious about the idea of inspiration. The best ideas for writing come from working away at them - the original idea you had for a story may change as you write, so that you have to start all over again. On the whole, I have lots of ideas for stories - they come from things I observe in everyday life. More and more, I want to write stories which interest me and which I find fun.
I have very different ideas for adults and children, although sometimes - like my last novel The Twyning - I find the story appeals to both. The feedback I've had from Racing Manhattan suggests that adults have enjoyed it, too.
If you could give one bit of advice to an aspiring author, what would it be and why?
The number one tip, to read a lot, doesn't need mentioning - it's so obvious. I think my main tip would be not to be frightened about copying your favourite author. I know that sounds odd, but your own voice will come through once you start getting the words down. If writing your own Harry Potter (or Ms Wiz) story is fun for you, then just do it. The important thing is to get words on the page, and start enjoying telling the story. There should always be something playful in your writing, even if the subject is serious.
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