Note to self: Stop setting challenges where you promise to give a book as a reward to anyone who meets that challenge. Either that or face bankruptcy. ‘I’ll give away a copy of ‘Football Mad’ to anyone who asks a question I’ve never been asked before,’ I glibly told the teachers at Hillside Primary School in Huddersfield ahead of my World Book Day visit last week. Big mistake. Big, big mistake.
Granted, several asked questions I’d heard many times, such as: ‘Where do you get your ideas from’ or: ‘How many books have you written?’ Answers to things like that can be found on my website here but a lot of the pupils at Hillside had been canny and delved further. Basically I was swamped with questions I hadn’t answered before and didn’t have time to go through during the assembly, so here goes:
(BTW, I’m sorry I can’t send everyone a book but maybe your kind teachers will soon stock some of my titles in your school library? *top idea*) Chelsea (above) might lend you hers after she’s read it.
Question 1 from Nicola, who is a Rhino (I wondered what the huge bale of straw was for outside the playground).
Have you ever been anywhere exotic in your job as a writer?
I haven’t been anywhere exotic while I’ve been researching my books. I tend to set my stories in England. Places such as Wakefield (After School Club) and Newark (Accidental Friends) and Huddersfield (the start of There’s Only One Danny Ogle) feature heavily. Even my made-up places are in the north or midlands. ‘Mowborough’, where Girls FC is set, is ‘near’ Leicester.
All my books are set in England
However, I have been invited to some interesting places to talk about my writing. For example I’ve been to Edinburgh, Athens, Northern Ireland and Kiev, though whether you’d call them ‘exotic’ places is another matter. I might have to set my next story on a desert island somewhere.
Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, is one of the cities I’ve been to as a writer.
Q2 is from another Rhino, Dawid:
As you have family from different countries, do you speak any other languages?
You’d think so, wouldn’t you? I did speak Swedish when I was little because I lived there until I was five but I soon forgot it when we moved to England. Despite my father being half-Polish, half-Russian he was brought up speaking English and attended an English-speaking school in Shanghai so he didn’t pass on another language to me. I learned French at school so have a smattering of that but I can’t speak anything fluently other than English. I wish I could – I think it’s a great skill to have.
Q3 comes from Rhino number 3, Mario
‘Why do you think every school should have a reading patron?’
Aha! Someone’s been reading my website! Well, Mario, as I may have mentioned a couple of million times, I was the first Patron of Reading (in its current definition) in the UK. The idea came from a head teacher in St Asaph, Wales. Why not have an author as a patron for my school, he thought. Someone who could be a reading rôle model. Someone who could talk about books and where ideas come from and enthuse the children about poems and stories and facts and illustrations. Someone who could cheer us on when we enter competitions such as the Summer Reading Challenge. And, because that head teacher, who goes by the name of Tim Redgrave, had such excellent taste, he chose me to try the idea out. It’s been a huge success. It’s fun for the pupils, its fun for the teachers and it’s fun for the writer. Win-win-win. There are now over 40 patrons of reading in the UK, including Tom Palmer, Michael Rosen and Gillian Cross.
Mrs Bailey’s class (2013) at Ysgol Esgob Morgan, my patron of reading school
Check out the list of top authors waiting to be someone’s patron right now. Why not choose one for Hillside, Mario? You’ll have so much to write about in your Town Foundation reading diaries then. Saviour Pirotta’s cool and he doesn’t live too far from Huddersfield.
OK, we’ve moved from Rhinos to Whales now. Q4 is from Nico
On a scale of 1-10, how good do you think your books are?
Q5: From Ansar (Lemur)
Which book was the hardest to write?
I get to a point in all my books where I get stuck. It’s usually just over half way when I have to start finding a way out of the mess I’ve created. I am faced with answering questions such as how do I get that character out of that situation? How do I make this bit more interesting? Which bits need to be chopped out? Where do I need to add more detail? I do a lot of cutting and moving about of text on my computer. I also feel quite stressed at this stage and can become fed up, convinced that what I’ve written is total rubbish. I keep telling myself I should get a different job. All writers go through this.
Then, when I think it’s all been a waste of time, the answer will come to me and I can push through and finish the story. It’s a wonderful feeling.
Q6 from Abbie (back to the Whales)
Do you ever use your children as an inspiration or characters in your books and is it embarrassing for them?
While I believe it is a mother’s duty to embarrass her children from time to time, I don’t think I’ve ever used my children, Hanya and Joe, as a basis for any of my characters as such. Simone says ‘no offence’ a lot, something Joe went through at the time I was writing Simone’s Letters and Han’s experience as a footballer definitely influenced Girls FC but apart from that I wouldn’t feel comfortable using things from their real life on a major scale. That would be an invasion of their privacy.
Girls FC series was influenced by my daughter playing football
Han in her West Bromwich Albion Ladies Reserves days
Joe is now an illustrator and graphic designer.
He still says ‘no offence’ a lot!
Thank you to all the Rhinos, Lemurs, Whales, Pandas, Wolves, Manatees, Sharks and Penguins at Hillside Primary School in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, for your varied and thoughtful questions. I take it you are all going to become zoologists when you grow up?