My Writing - what inspires me

Books that inspire me

I am still inspired by the books I read as a child, books by fabulous authors like Diana Wynne Jones, CS Lewis and Rosemary Sutcliffe.

Now I use the excuse of being a children's writer to read lots of new children's books too. Recently I have thoroughly enjoyed books by Vivian French, Geraldine McCaughrean, and Mike Wilks.

Writers that I don't yet read to my own young children, but love reading myself, include Michelle Paver, Nicola Morgan, Charlie Higson and Anthony Horowitz.

Books by any of these authors, and many many more, remind me that some of the best, fastest, most exciting and most original stories are being written right now for children and young adults.

But I try not to get my ideas for stories from books other people have already written. I am inspired by yellow newspapers wrapped round bits of old trainset, books about geology and sailing ships, captions on calendars, fairy tales and fables, conversations with small children, and pretty much anything else I see or hear.

When did I become a writer?

I think I've always been a writer. I remember writing a story about going to see Peter Pan when I was in Primary Two and making it into a tiny book. And I used to write stories in the middle of the night and push them under my Mum's bedroom door. I still write stories in the middle of the night. But I don't push them under doors any more.

When I grew up, I thought I ought to write for grownups, so I wrote short stories, some of which got published in books and magazines, and one of which even won a prize (the Canongate Prize in 2001).

But when I had children of my own, I started to have ideas for children's books, so I left lots of short stories half-finished and wrote children's stories instead. And I enjoy writing adventures and fantasies more than anything else I've ever written (but don't tell anyone that, just in case I write a grownup novel some day and want people to take it seriously!)

When do I write?

I write all the time. Every minute of the day. Walking to the library, or sitting on the bus, or chopping up onions. Once I start to write a story, I live in it. The characters are with me all the time, and I listen to their conversations, and I am always trying to get them out of whatever dark and dangerous tunnel I left them in last night. This can be a bit worrying for my friends and family, because I sometimes mutter to myself as I walk down the road, and often scribble weird words on my hands, and carry at least six notebooks in my bag so I can write down ideas and solutions for whatever story I am in the middle of and not get them all mixed up. Then I go home and type up my ideas when everyone else has fallen asleep.

What do I enjoy about writing?

  • The research: finding out new things to make the story more convincing. For First Aid for Fairies, I went back to Orkney to visit two of my favourite places, the Ring of Brodgar and Rackwick Bay. I also had to work out the best way for Helen to treat an injured dragon. Vets are scientists, so it's hard for them to answer made up questions about fictional animals! But I found a very helpful vet at Edinburgh University who didn't think I was completely crazy.
  • The characters: they don't always turn out the way you expect. Sometimes you have a neat and tidy plan, and then your carefully created character rushes off and does something entirely different. That can be a bit inconvenient for the plot, but it is very exciting and magical when it happens.
  • The end: when I finally reach the end of a book, and all the loose ends are tied up and everyone lives happily ever after (or perhaps not, depending on how the story went) it is the most amazing feeling. When I reached the end of my second novel early one morning, I woke my children up and we had ice cream for breakfast. (But of course, reaching the end is not the same as finishing a book, there is still rewriting and editing and tidying up to do, so there are plenty of other ends to celebrate too!)
  • The readers: when people tell me what they liked (or didn't!) about my stories, sometimes I realise they saw things in the words, characters or plot that I didn't know I had written. Because stories come to life in your own head when you read them, and everyone reads them slightly differently. That makes me want to write even more stories, and find even more readers. (So if you have anything you want to tell me about my writing, please get in touch!).

If you want to invite me to inspire you with my writing »


Saturday 5th September
Braidburn Park, Edinburgh

Community fundraising event for Friends of Braidburn Valley Park
Wolf Notes storytelling
2.15 pm – stories for all ages
3.00 pm – stories for over 8 years

Tuesdays 8th and 15th September
Electric Tales

I’ll be taking part in a project linking storytelling with stand-up comedy
This is NOT an event suitable for children!
8th September 8.30pm
The Stand, York Place, Edinburgh
Tickets from 0131 558 7272
15th September 7.30pm
Scottish Storytelling Centre, High Street, Edinburgh
Tickets from 0131 556 9579

Saturday 26th September
Dundee Reads!

Steps Theatre, Central Library, Dundee
Storytelling and book readings, with plenty of wolves, dragons, monsters and magic 2.30 pm
Further information soon

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First Aid for Fairies and Other Fabled Beasts

First Aid for Fairies and Other Fabled Beasts
From the Borders, through Orkney and on to Edinburgh‘s underground streets, First Aid for Fairies and Other Fabled Beasts is a skilful blend of fable and fiction as Helen embarks on an exciting race through Scotland‘s diverse landscapes. Accompanied by an array of creatures from mythology and folklore, Helen and her fantastical friends must solve a sequence of riddles in order to recover the lost Book before the Winter Solstice.
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