When did you start writing?
I have been writing, for a living, since about 1975 when I was 37 years old. One day Janet (who had already begun to be an illustrator) asked me to write a story for her to illustrate. I’d always wanted to be a writer – since I was about your age – but somehow I’d never been able to get stories finished. But once I started to write it was as though someone had turned a key in my back – it turned out to be the kind of writing I could do.
Where do you get your ideas and inspiration from?
I get my ideas from all the usual places – things I see and hear – things friends tell me – things I read. Sometimes ideas just pop into my head, come down my arm into the pen and onto the paper. In a way, I don’t really want to know where my ideas come from – it would be a bit like taking a watch to pieces in order to find out how it works – only to discover that you can’t get the pieces together again.
How long does each book take?
It can take a long time for a book to be written, illustrated and published. For example, The Jolly Postman took five years. Our daughter, Jessica, was only two years old when she gave us the idea, because she used to play with letters that the postman brought. By the time the book was published, Jessica was seven years old. I can write six to eight books a year if they are short ones – like those in the Funnybones and Happy Families series. If they are longer – novels – then it comes down to one or two. Each Peach Pear Plum took me one day to write, but Janet took six months to do the pictures. We split the money 50:50!
Advice on becoming a successful author or illustrator:
My advice to young writers and young illustrators is simply to write and to illustrate. It’s simple, really… if you want to be a cyclist – you have to ride a bike. If you want the world record for eating pork pies, you have to eat pork pies… But actually, now I think of it, this is more advice for older writers… with younger children it’s different – if you like writing or drawing pictures – then just do it – whenever you feel like it – just for the fun of it. One thing I would suggest is that you keep your stories and pictures – all of them, the good and the not so good – and store them away in a box. When you are older, whether you become a writer or an illustrator or not – I think you will enjoy taking them out and looking at them – and so will your children – and theirs!
Best thing about being an author:
Well, it’s not bad really. I just get up in the morning, go down into my little shed in the garden, sit there on my own and try to write stories. I write them, post them to my publisher, he sends me some money and I go out and spend it. So really I’ve got nothing to complain about. I used to be a teacher – and that was much harder.
If I hadn’t been a writer …
I would have been a footballer if I hadn’t been a writer. In fact, I would have been a footballer if I had been an author if I’d been good enough.
Reading, listening to music and eating and drinking with my family and friends. Doing a bit of ponderous running and walrus-like swimming from time to time – talking to the cat – and going to the movies.