When I was small I liked sledging, Doctor Who, straining to be telekinetic (I’m not), collecting and racing snails, building igloos (that’s how cool Wales can be), Star Wars, hunting the cat, roaming too far from home and hoping for helicopters, conker fights, and a place called Tenby Beach.
People told me I was good at drawing, and it’s funny how telling someone something seems to help it come true. I drew all the time, especially during mathematics lessons. Sadly, no one ever told me I was good at maths.
Reading came less easily, and I needed additional help at school, but once I’d had it I really liked doing that too. But I didn’t spend too much time with Enid Blyton — I was soon into The Three Investigators, The Lord of the Rings, comic books of all kinds, and books by John Wyndham, Terry Pratchett, Alan Garner, Rosemary Sutcliffe and Arthur C Clarke. Anything weird and a bit strange was particularly welcome, especially if I could draw in the margins.
I have to admit, being a teenager was a bit rubbish, so it was a relief to reach twenty years old. Being twenty years old is just about as cool as it gets, even if you don’t live in Wales (and that’s just as well because by then I was living in Norfolk). I went to the Norwich School of Art and Design which was a bit like dying and going to drawing heaven. Then I spent three years at art school in Cambridge which was even better, because there I discovered that you could actually get paid to work on children’s books!
When I finally left education I found a job at Heffer’s Children’s Bookshop, and started hanging around publisher’s offices in my spare time, hoping to pick up a job or two. After about a year, Bloomsbury Publishing offered me a book cover to do. Yay! My first professional commission! It was a bit nerve-wracking, but fortunately — since it was the cover art for a first book by an unknown author — probably no one would notice if I made a mess of it. Thing is though, that author’s name was J. K. Rowling. And, er… people did notice.
‘Confusing’ is a good word to describe what happened next.
However, despite being confused, I was still able to concentrate on illustrating picture books for younger children, and was eventually writing them too. This was lots of fun, but I soon found that writing was more than just fun – it was actually what I really wanted to do. And in a way it always had been, ever since the childhood days I journeyed to the Lonely Mountain with Bilbo or stood beside Bill in the Triffid-haunted streets of London. And suddenly not being telekinetic or able to see ghosts or ever being rescued by a helicopter didn’t matter, not when I could make it all real in stories. Anything can be real in stories.
So I suppose that’s when and why and how I came to write Haunters, my first novel for early teens. And by then I was living in France and becoming a parent, two things that should enrich anybody, whoever they are.
I moved back to England in 2010 and now live by the sea on the south coast. I spend my time writing and drawing and sharing those things with my children, and telling them that they are good at everything, just to see what sticks. So far Benjy loves drawing and going crazy, and Max is into swimming, books, animals, and a hundred other things. Neither of them is afraid of maths.
I’m not always a good or patient dad, but I’ve learned one thing that never fails: kids love stories. But then, don’t we all?