Where do you get your ideas from?

 If you want to know the answer, ask yourself these questions:

  • Where do your dreams come from?

  • Where do your memories go?

  • What are your deepest hopes and fears?

  • What happens to all your experiences?

If I could answer these questions, I'd be able to tell you where my ideas came from.

How many books have you written?

Over 150, but some of them are for small children, and are very short.

Which is the favourite book that you've written?

If you've got brothers or sisters, try asking your mother or father which is their favourite child. They'll probably tell you that they love you all as much as each other. That's how I feel about my books. They're all different, and I love them all in different ways.

How long does it take to write a book?

Every book is different. Crusade took me a year to write, because I had to do so much research. Red Sky in the Morning took me six weeks. I was inspired from start to finish, and couldn't stop writing. Most novels take between three and six months these days.

What was your first book called?

It was called The Big Green Star and it was a little picture book for very small children. It's been out of print for years.

How long have you been writing?

I've been a full time writer for more than nearly forty years.

 Did you want to be a writer when you were a child?

No. I wanted to learn lots of foreign languages, and be an interpreter at international conferences. I saw myself whispering translations in the ears of famous presidents and leaders, with the fate of the world in my hands. Fat chance.

 Do you design your own covers?

No. Many different talented artists and designers work on the covers. It's a very specialist job!

 How do you choose the titles of your books?

This is the part I find hardest. Sometimes it takes me weeks and weeks to think of a good title.

 Can you tell me any good books that I might like to read?

This is a hard question, because there are so many fantastic books out there. But here are a few that I've particularly enjoyed:

Scarlet Ibis by Gillian Lewis

Journey to Jo’burg by Beverley Naidoo

Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian

Coram Boy by Jamila Gavin

The Kin by Peter Dickinson

Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson

Paper Faces by Rachel Anderson

Stop the Train by Geraldine McCaughrean

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

Naked Without a Hat by Jean Willis

Tuck Everlasting Natalie Babbitt

I Coriander by Sally Gardiner

The Skylarks War Hilary McKay


The worst, the best, the nicest and the nastiest

 The worst things that ever happened to me:

  • Being bitten by a poisonous snake in the South China Sea (I nearly died)

  • Waiting for the fire brigade to arrive when our house went on fire

  • Being chased by a rhino in Kenya

 The best things that ever happened to me:

  • Marrying my husband, David McDowall

  • Having my two sons, Angus and William

  • Going to Malaysia, Ethiopia, India, France, Norway, Palestine, Iran, Kenya, Pakistan, China, Russia…

 The nastiest job I ever had

  • Washing the dirtiest linen in a hospital laundry

 The nicest job I ever had

  • Playing the violin in the Iraq symphony orchestra

 The things I hate most

  • Snakes, being cold, forgetting things all the time

 The things I like most

  • Very, very black chocolate, Mozart, reading, getting up late

 Favourite book

There's a new one every week