I grew up on a traditional farm in East Sussex, England. I have two younger sisters and a younger brother, and I fictionalised all of our characters ruthlessly in my first two books, The Secret Hen House Theatre and The Farm Beneath the Water. The farm in my Jasmine Green series is also loosely based on the farm where I grew up, so it’s clearly still a big part of me and my writing!
I spent pretty much every day of my life on the farm and in the village until I was eighteen. My brother and one of my sisters always wanted to work on the farm, but I spent most of my spare time reading, writing and putting on plays in a tumbledown shed. I wanted to go to university and travel around the world. I also loved working with younger children, and I wanted to be a teacher from the age of thirteen.
After university, I moved to London to teach English and Drama in a big comprehensive school. The long summer holidays meant I could fulfil my dream of travelling around the world, and I spent all my summers doing just that. I lived in London for over twenty years, but now I’m back in East Sussex, between the sea and the South Downs, with my husband and children.
Author photo by Zoe Norfolk
Frequently Asked Questions
These are some of the questions I get asked most often when I visit schools.
Did you always want to be a writer?
I loved reading and writing when I was a child, but I didn’t think that writing could be my job. I used to write lots of plays with my friends, and we would act them out in an old shed on the farm that we turned into a theatre. Then I went to university and became a teacher, and I wrote a few things and sent some of them off to writing competitions, but I didn’t win anything. I didn’t really think seriously about writing a book until I met my husband and told him about the theatre in the shed. He said, “You should turn that into a children’s book,” and it really was like a light bulb went on in my head. I started writing the book that became The Secret Hen House Theatre and I haven’t stopped writing since.
How long does it take you to write a book?
It totally depends on the book. The Secret Hen House Theatre took ten years to get to the final version! I had to rewrite the book many times before it was good enough to be published. I learned a huge amount from joining the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), where I met other people who were also writing their first books. I joined a critique group with some of these writers, and we met once a month to read each other’s chapters and discuss them. Then I would go away and rewrite my chapters following their advice.
The quickest book I’ve written was A Piglet Called Truffle. I spent two weeks planning the story and thinking about the characters, and then the actual writing only took three weeks. All my previous books had taken years, so that was quite a shock! For some reason, it just flowed very easily, and I had to make hardly any changes to it. (It was also a lot shorter than my previous books, which definitely helped.
What was your favourite book as a child?
I loved Enid Blyton’s books, especially the school stories and the adventure stories. I was desperate to go to boarding school! I also loved Noel Streatfeild’s books. My favourite was Curtain Up (now renamed Theatre Shoes), about three children whose grandmother sends them to a stage school.
Where do you get your ideas?
All sorts of places. Ideas are everywhere, if you keep your eye out for them. I had the idea for Evie’s Ghost when I went to visit an old house and tried to imagine what it would have been like to live there when the house was first built, two hundred years ago. Then I thought, ‘What if a modern girl could go back in time and meet the girl who lived here in those days?’ What if? is the best question to fire up your imagination. What if an alien landed in my school playground today? What if I woke up one morning and I’d turned into a dinosaur? What if I got home from school and my house had disappeared? The possibilities are endless!
I’d like to be a writer when I grow up. Can you give me any tips?
There are two things you need to do if you want to be a writer. The first is to read, and the second is to write. Read whatever you want to read, and read as much as you can. That’s the easy bit! Writing is harder, but the hardest thing about it, I think, is the critical voice in your head that tells you that what you’re writing is no good, that you’re a rubbish writer, that you’re kidding yourself if you think you’ll ever be any good and you should just give up. Every writer has that voice in their head, but when you’re writing the first version of a story, do not listen to it! Just keep writing and have fun with it. When you’ve finished it, you can go back and change it if you like. Or move on to something else. It doesn’t even matter if you don’t finish it. Everything you write is good practice, and the only thing that matters is that you write whatever you want to write, and have fun doing it.
Happy reading and writing!