What are you working on right now?
My second novel and a long short story for the commercial market.
When and where do you write?
I write in the back room of my house. There’s a window overlooking the Tyne estuary. It’s complete with a bamboo blind whic h keeps the morning sun out and stops me from gazing at the river, otherwise I’d get nothing done. I write every day that I can but not always on the novel or the short story, it’s often tweets and blogs, emails and day to day stuff, which I hate having to do.
Where in the North do you go to seek inspiration?
To the coast, which stretches from my door (in reality, of course it doesn’t but it feels like that, so there) right to the borders. Anywhere along there for a walk.
And to escape work?
To the coast which stretches from my door, as you know, to the borders. Anywhere along there for a walk. To some of the more out of the way places where other people don’t go so much, and there aren’t any buildings around. I don’t think I can ever escape work though.
Tell us about one book that made you want to be a writer.
It was called The First Day of the Battle of the Somme. I read it at the age of fifteen, one of my dad’s history books. It was something I just couldn’t believe, in terms of size of death toll and the shortness of the time it took to dispense with so many soldiers. I wanted to climb inside the head of one of those soldiers and make up his story before he was killed. To give him a name and some brothers and sisters, some parents, some friends, still kicking a ball about whle he was being strafed to pieces. It was all facts, I seem to remember, in that book, facts and maps and nothing about the soldiers, the real people.
Any words of advice you would give to a writer starting out?
If what you want to do is write and enjoy the process, and not consider it as a means to gainful employment, then sit back, get writing and enjoy it, because writing is a joy. If you want to earn money from writing, don’t give up your day job and expect to have the same income. That might not happen for a very long time. It might never happen. Obviously, if you’re an immediate rip roaring success, it’ll be a wonderful and amazing thing and you’ll have been very lucky and I, for one, will salute you. If it if doesn’t happen you won’t be too disappointed. Always have something else you can do, even if it’s another style of writing, something you can earn money from. Just in case. Whatever you decide, keep writing and enjoying, keep reading and enjoying.
Have you ever tried writing in a different genre (and how did it work out)?
Yes. I’ve written for adults for most of my writing life, mainly in short stories but also in radio drama and short pieces for the stage. I even dabbled in television writing. I managed to win a few awards in short story and radio writing, and was shortlisted to the final six in a screenplay competition. One, two and three were lucky enough to have their films made. I was fourth, fifth or sixth. Ah well. I enjoyed the experience and learned a lot about script writing.
Currently I’m confining myself to writing fiction for young people as well as adults. I can’t seem to fit any more in.
If you could wake up tomorrow and write like any other current author, who would you pick?
Eva Ibbotson. OK I know she died very recently but if I could capture her fantastic sense of humour and comedy timing I’d be happy as a pig in muck. If I can’t choose her then I’d have to go for Susan Cooper, whose series of dark adventures for young people, The Dark is Rising, still catches my breath. Written in the eighties the language is slightly dated but it doesn’t detract from brilliant storytelling. Her most recent novel, Ghost Hawk (2013) is on my 2014 reading list.
Which characters (real or fictional) would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?
Joe Darling, John Willie, Lanky Jones and Rory McAlister just a few of the characters in novels for young people written by none other than Catherine Cookson between 1960 and 1991. They are wonderfully troubled boys in fabulously crafted stories set in the place that I was born, which I love. I’d give them a bread and dripping starter, saveloys and pease pudding,main, and trifle to follow. Oh and a hundred cups of tea.
What books are on your reading list for 2014?
The rest of the novels for young people by Catherine Cookson (I have three more to find ) and as many other books for young people as I can possibly fit in.
Tell us about another northern writer we’d be mad to miss.
Colin Mulhern. His first YA novel, Clash, about young cage fighters, is a gripping and fascinating read and his second, Arabesque, is on my list for this year. It promises to be an equally gripping and gritty read.