What's with the
boat and the tree?
I love this image by
because it's so full of questions, and possibility. It suggests to me
the sorts of books I loved as a child, the sorts of books I want to
write - books that are funny, strange and real. Books that set you off
on a boat into the unknown, with the most unlikely tools: a pomegranate
or two for sustenance, a tree to hold onto when the water gets rough.
Yeah, I don't know,
really. I just like it. Sometimes, that's enough.
How would you describe yourself?
An extroverted introvert; hermit-like tendencies with a curious love of
the limelight. People are complicated.
What kind of books do you write?
I write picture books through to
novels for young adults, and I'm also a poet. My children's writing
tends to be quirky and off-beat, while my poetry is more quiet and
thoughtful. Like I said, people are complicated!
I think perhaps the book I really want to write is the one that
successfully blends all these different elements.
What's the first
thing you ever wrote?
The very first thing?
first real writing I remember is my 'overly long story, which lacked a
clear focus' (see About Me for details). It was about some goldfish who discovered a pipe leading out of their
pond to a fabulous and mysterious land. It was 37 ruled exercise book
pages long. But what could I do? There were lots of goldfish, and each
of them had to get out of the pond, all the way down the pipe, and back
again. I have no memory of what they did once they found the amazing
outside world. In hindsight, I may have spent a little too long talking about their
lengthy and largely uneventful journey down the pipe.
Where do you get your ideas?
From all over! It's easy when you lack a clear focus; you can see all
the weird and wonderful things lurking just off to the side. Usually,
the germ of a story begins from something around me. In Annabel,
Again, it was the image of a girl running madly across a dried-up
summer lake. I found myself wondering why she would be running,
and slowly a story began to grow.
When I wrote my goldfish story, we had ponds in our yard. I used to feed
the fish, watching them rise to the surface to kiss my fingers, then
sink out of sight to the bottom. I knew there was more down there than I
could see; I couldn't believe the pond was their whole world, so I
imagined a tunnel leading out, a whole other goldfish life lived out of
human sight. I think we all have our own invisible lives, secret passages into
amazing places that no-one else can get to in quite the same way. It's
in those passages that we find our ideas, and where the best writing comes from.
Do you draw the
No. They're not really
that sort of book, and even if they were, I wouldn't, and here's why:
and here is a
look so much better in my head!
I have been
very fortunate to work with amazing illustrators
Leila Rudge (Duck for a Day
and No Bears) and Mark
Jackson (The Truth About Penguins).
time to time, my editor needs a drawing that looks like it could maybe
possibly have been done by an 11-year-old boy, and that's when I get to
do things like this:
my friends, is why no one wants to be my partner in Pictionary.
What are your favourite children's books?
I loved the Chronicles of Narnia when I was a kid, and spent a
lot of time pressing at the backs of wardrobes, hoping. I also devoured
Roald Dahl, along with mystery series such as The Famous Five, Nancy Drew and Trixie
Belden. More recently, I've enjoyed Holes, by Louis Sachar,
Jackie French's glorious picture-book Diary of a Wombat, Ursula
Dubosarsky's The Red Shoe, and Suzanne Collins' The
What's the most ridiculous thing you've ever done?
Bungy-jumping. Followed by sky-diving. Bungy-jumping is more ridiculous
because you can see the ground. You can see all the rocks and trees and
other assorted hard and pointy objects you are about to throw yourself
at. When you're 3000 feet up in a plane, it's like throwing yourself
at a big, friendly blur.
What's the best thing you've ever done?
See above! Actually, there are lots of things I could say here,
but the truth is that there's something very satisfying about hurling
yourself at the ground when every sensible instinct is screaming at you to stop.
Can you come and speak at my school?
hope so! I love visiting schools to talk about my work. More information
about my presentations is available
If you catch me on one of my hermit-y
days, I will wear brown and sit in the corner muttering, but that can
also be entertaining in its own way.
Are these really
'frequently asked questions'?
Not exactly. The question I am most frequently asked usually begins
with, ‘Mum! Have you seen my … ?’, followed closely by 'Is that what
These are actually the questions I imagine other writers might be
asked. They are never asked of me, but if I called
this the NAQ, you would probably think I was weird. And that would just
I was doing some research about penguins for a picture-book recently and
came across an FAQ that read: Who are they? What do they eat? Where
do they live? And what does their hair taste like? Now that
is a weird FAQ!
Will you kindly
give me your bank account details so that I may deposit the sum of 80
million dollars on behalf of Prince Ndubwisi Dagogo and surely may the
transaction be to our mutual and eternal benefit?
Kind sir, I beg
I said no.