North Walsham, Norfolk, England
|Died||2 March 2015(aged 67)|
|Genre||Young adult historical fiction; children’s picture books|
|Notable awards||Carnegie Medal
What I value in books is lucidity. I want the language to be rich; I love lexical fireworks on the page, but I have to know what it means. I want to be surprised and delighted, not merely baffled.
The very provision of benches by the council or the corporation acknowledges the human need to be private in public, to be conspicuously idle, to have nothing better to do.
Although I write to entertain, and try to keep my work free of didacticism, I do have a rather passionate belief in our need to be connected to – and to learn from – history.
I have kind of a personality defect in that I find the word 'no' hard to articulate.
In my seaside town, there is a plethora of benches, each one bearing a little brass plate commemorating a deceased occupant. You sit with ghosts.
History is the heavy traffic that prevents us from crossing the road. We wait, more or less patiently, for it to pause, so that we can get to the liquor store or the laundromat or the burger bar.
It's extremely difficult to describe interestingly what happens on the pitch. Thousands of journalists write millions of words every week trying to do it, so your chances of avoiding cliche are very slim. And you're trying to write fiction, not a match report.
I usually have about four books on the go – a bedside book, a lavatory book, a downstairs book, and the book in my study that I read sneakily while I should be writing. Short stories for the lavatory, obviously.
The surprising thing is that so many teenage cancer novels are very good. John Green's 'The Fault in Our Stars,' recently published by Penguin, was voted 'Time Magazine''s book of the year in 2012 ahead of Hilary Mantel and Zadie Smith.
Bootworks' Black Box Theatre has a maximum seating capacity of two – as long as one of you is happy to sit on the other's lap.
Teen authors love to flirt with taboo, to grapple – sensitively – with dark and frightening issues, and there is nothing darker and more frightening than cancer.
It was weird – writing is a stupid thing to do. I come up here in the morning to a pleasant room in the roof of my house and imagine I'm a black South American football superstar; then I have to imagine I'm a female pop celebrity who's pregnant. It's a completely mad way to spend your time.
I didn't consciously make the decision to write an adult novel. I didn't think of it as my riposte to the YA genre.
Exposure is about, among other things, the ferocity of the press and the way – in an echo of some of Shakespeare's plays – the modern media creates heroes to destroy them.
I was taking my first uncertain steps towards writing for children when my own were young. Reading aloud to them taught me a great deal when I had a great deal to learn. It taught me elementary things about rhythm and pace, the necessary musicality of text.
Normally, I'm a grumpy old man – whenever I read about celebrity, I start to grind my teeth and pull my hair; it seems synonymous with idiocy.
I'm working with published authors and some very young undergraduates and lots of people in between. They are lovely people, and they can write.
I'm not a great reader of historical fiction; it's not my favourite genre.
I never knew that Americans would take up soccer, and it's a gender-free sport in high school there.
I worry about children not having a sense of any direct connection to the past.
I don't really see any barrier between teenage fiction and adult literature.
Although I now spend most of my time writing novels for teenagers and adults, 'readaloudability' is still a criterion I try to adhere to.
I feel able to steal from Emily Dickinson because she's both wonderful and dead.
I'm not sure that when I read 'Treasure Island' for the first time, when I was about 10, I understood all the words or what was going on. But that didn't stop me reading it, and I certainly didn't forget it.
I try to write stories that will attract younger readers and make them feel part of a wider readership. I do not feel able to write books that are about, or even for, teenagers; and I am inclined to be suspicious of books which 'target' them.
When I'm working, I always read stuff that's as far away from what I'm working on as possible, so I'll read American crime fiction at bedtime, or Emily Dickinson.
I can ask for a £25,000 advance, but then you spend a year writing the book, and £25,000 is a loan against sales, and you can easily spend five years earning out. So that's £25,000 for six years.
It's a nonsense because, as we all know, there are brilliant 15-year-old readers and hopeless 50-year-old readers. All that categorisation is a matter of bookshop shelves rather than literary categories, I think.
Everyone who sits on a sofa watching 'Match of the Day' is a top soccer expert, as you know. So if you start to worry about such people reading your story and saying, 'That'd never happen' you're going to freeze up. You're writing fiction, and your characters can do whatever you need them to do.
After being rejected for years, I found a publisher for 'Keeper,' and it won prizes, and then I had to write a second and a third book because I kept taking the money and spending it.
It pretty much defeats the purpose of bedtime reading if you fall asleep before the kids do. And you tend to wake up with a matchbox stuck on the end of your nose and/or a potty on your head.
Fundamentalism – of any variety – is a form of illiteracy, in that it asserts that it is necessary to read only one book.
I used to play all the time. I would play football when it was light and read when it was dark.
Sex and death, the magnetic poles of fiction, attract us children's writers no less than adult authors, but we have to be more leery of their pull.
Football is a bit like chess: it's not just the piece being moved that matters; it's also the effect that move has on all the other pieces.
'Smart', in American usage, is slicker and sharper than 'intelligent'; faster off the mark and quicker on its feet than deep thought.
'Keeper' is about fathers, ultimately. and also conservation, commitment and ambition.
Benches and books have things in common beyond the fact that they're generally to do with sitting. Both are forms of public privacy, intimate spaces widely shared.
I want to entertain, but I also want to push the barriers beyond what kids are conditioned into accepting.
If I were to try to describe the way in which I write, the only word I would use without qualification is 'slowly.'
I find myself, by happy accident, writing 'Young Adult' fiction. However, I dislike such categories.
I tend to boycott all teenage reading while I'm trying to write my own stuff.
Remember that a good football novel has to have the same ingredients as any other good novel: drama, convincing and interesting characters, a strong story-line, and some kind of magic in the writing.
I'm going to get hated for saying this, but honestly, fantasy is easy to write because you can do anything. It's like when Raymond Chandler brings in a bloke with a gun when he's stuck – in fantasy, up pops a wizard, and off we go.
I see genres as generating sets of rules or conventions that are only interesting when they are subverted or used to disguise the author's intent. My own way of doing this is to attempt a sort of whimsical alchemy, whereby seemingly incompatible genres are brought into unlikely partnerships.