Here are some questions I have been asked a lot over the years, either on my website or during school visits and other events. I have saved all the message board questions and answers from my old website – you can find them here: Young Adult, Kids Books and
If you are looking for a high-res photo of me, you can find a few on this blog post.
What made you want to be a writer?
I probably became a writer because I like reading so much. (It’s the same as people who like watching football becoming football players.) I love escaping into other worlds, and reading is the best way of doing that – although writing is another way. And the difference is that, with writing, it’s my own world! So I can do anything I like with it!
Which of your own books do you love the best?
Usually it’s the one I’m writing at the moment, though I’ve always had a soft spot for my Pagan books.
What inspired you to write the ‘Pagan’ series?
Generally, most of my books start because I have one idea, and then another idea, and then I put them together and – BANG! – a book starts to develop. With Pagan’s Crusade, both ideas were based on research I did while I was at university. The first idea came from my study of pilgrims in the Holy Land; I was very amused by a kind of pilgrim’s handbook that was written then, and thought how funny it would be to write about medieval pilgrims behaving like a modern tour group (Monty Python style).
The other idea came from what I learned about the Templars. The Templar knights, of course, had a set of rules they had to follow if they wanted to reach heaven. One rule was that they had to fight to the death; they couldn’t be ransomed. Another rule was that they had to obey their Grand Master. But when Saladin captured their Grand Master in 1189, the Templars were faced with a terrible paradox. Because their Grand Master (under Saladin’s instructions) ordered the Templars to surrender. And suddenly, their rules didn’t make sense any more.
I realised what an awful moment that would have been, for a Templar knight like Roland. And it’s become one of the most important scenes in the book. In fact, it’s probably the main reason I actually wrote the book.
Will you ever write another ‘Pagan’ book?
I was thinking of writing a sixth book in the series, but I don’t know that I ever will now. It just didn’t work out, perhaps because I had difficulty finding a good framework in the history of Bologna (which is where Babylonne would have ended up). As for inserting another book about Pagan between Pagan’s Vows and Pagan’s Scribe … I couldn’t do it, because Pagan and Roland were pretty much living separate lives, at that stage, and the book is all about their relationship. Also, Pagan would have been getting a little old; the protagonist always has to be around sixteen.
What inspired you to write Evil Genius?
You’ll notice that Evil Genius is dedicated to my nephew Robert and his ‘Professor Gangrene’ doll. The fact is that one day I was in Robert’s bedroom with my husband and my brother, looking at that horrible doll. And my husband said, ‘What I want to know is, where do these people get their academic degrees from?’ And my brother (who’s actually a university lecturer himself), said ‘They get them from the University of Evil.’ Then he went on to talk about how there’d be two schools within the university – of Pure Evil and Applied Evil – and how the two schools would fight a lot over funding, because Applied Evil would attract all the fee-paying students, whereas Pure Evil would receive half the funding, even without many students . . .
Then, a few months later, I saw Elijah Wood in Lord of the Rings, and I wondered what would happen if someone who looked so incredibly innocent was really a nasty little dude.
When I put the two ideas together, I came up with Evil Genius.
Will you ever write another ‘Genius’ book?
At this stage, I’m not planning to write a sequel to The Genius Wars. It was a very, very hard series to write – because I’m not a computer person – and I wouldn’t know where else to go with the Cadel/Prosper relationship, which is pivotal to the novel.
What inspired you to write the ‘Allie’s Ghost Hunters’ series?
There’s a writer called Ursula Dubosarsky who’s also a friend of mine. (You may have read her books.) One day she told me about seeing strange writing scribbled on a wall near her house. She said that it was creepy writing because she couldn’t understand what it said. And that got me thinking about creepy writing on walls, an idea that became Eglantine.
Do you believe in ghosts?
Not really, though I have heard some pretty strange tales…
What inspired you to write The Paradise Trap?
I originally got the idea for the book from something that happened to me when I was very young. My parents bought a caravan to use on our holidays, and it was really quite big – with a bedroom and a separate toilet and shower, as well as enough extra beds for all three kids – and it still wasn’t big enough for me! I wanted my own bedroom and an upstairs area and all kinds of extras. Forty years later, I decided to create a caravan that did have all those things, and more!
Are you going to write a sequel to The Paradise Trap?
No, that was always written as a stand-alone book.
Are you writing another book at the moment?
I’m always writing another book. It’s the way I make my life more exciting.
Isn’t it a big jump writing both science fiction and historical novels?
No, because in both cases you’re writing about a world that’s strange to the reader. In both cases, you have to spend a lot of time describing and explaining things, while at the same time not appearing to be a kind of tour-guide. That takes the same kind of skill, whether you’re describing a 25th century spaceship or a 12th century monastery.
Where do you do your writing?
At a nice antique desk beside a window in front of my house, from which point I can see all the tradesmen and visitors coming and going. I also do all my writing on a computer – though my first book was written by hand.
What aspects of being a writer do you like and dislike?
What I like most about being a writer is earning money while I’m having fun. (However, it takes a long time before you can earn your living as a full-time writer – and some writers never do.) I also like receiving fan mail from my readers, and knowing that they love my characters as much as I do.
One thing I don’t like about being a writer is editing my manuscripts. Once I’ve finished a story, I just want to go on and write the next one; I hate being dragged back into the old book by the person editing it, who might want me to rewrite and change things. Usually writers have to do two or three edits on their books, and I hate that.
Who are your favourite authors?
My favourite books and authors tend to have changed over time. When I was young, my favourite books were the Narnia books, and Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave (about Merlin), and anything by Patricia Wrightson. As I grew older, my favourite books were by Evelyn Waugh, Nancy Mitford, and George Orwell. Now I really love Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, New Grub Street by George Gissing and the Adrian Mole books – plus a lot of modern thriller writers.
But probably my all-time favourite author is Jane Austen. I’ve always loved her, and always will.
Would you ever consider making movies out of your books?
I’d love to have a movie made out of one of my books, but it’s not up to me. Though several producers and directors have tried to turn my books into movies, none of them were able to raise the funds. So I’m just keeping my fingers crossed!
Did you enjoy school and what was your favourite subject?
I didn’t enjoy primary school much because my family moved around all the time. I enjoyed high school more because I made some really, really good friends there. I liked English when it was all about writing stories and putting on plays – though I didn’t like it so much in the last two years of school, when we concentrated on writing essays. Art I always enjoyed, as long as we weren’t doing pots or weaving.
What are your hobbies?
Reading and watching DVDs. I also like gardening.
What is your favourite food?
It’s a toss-up between chocolate and roast potatoes.
What is your favourite animal?
I don’t really have one favourite animal, though I do like otters, wombats and Tasmanian Devils. There’s nothing more cuddly than a baby wombat.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?