Short Pieces

  • Books in my life

    I’m not sure whether I should be speaking to you as a writer of children’s books or as an editor of children’s books. The two things are so intertwined in my life that it’s hard to imagine I could ever have been a writer had I not also been an editor. My writing has grown, to a large degree, from a solid bedrock of publishing experience; and any ability I have as an editor has certainly been aided by my understanding of what it’s like to be a writer. I would, however, like to stress that I have never had the authority to accept my own manuscripts – although I have, on more than one occasion, been my own editor.

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  • On Writing the Nellies and the Rubies

    I love history. I always have. Not so much the politics, the wars and revolutions, but the lives and concerns of ordinary people down the ages – people who, whatever their circumstances, are essentially like us. As a child I adored books like Seven Little Australians, Little Women and What Katy Did, scarcely realising that the characters with whom I identified so strongly weren’t in fact my contemporaries. So for me writing the Nellie books and the Ruby books was in many ways sheer indulgence. As a bonus, it gave me the chance to do lots and lots of lovely historical research.

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  • The Uses of History

    A little while ago I watched the movie In Bruges. It’s a very black comedy about two Irish hit men who, while awaiting instructions from their boss in London, are cooling their heels in Belgium. The older man wanders happily around the ancient city of Bruges with a guidebook. He is fascinated by everything – the cobbled streets, the architecture, and the stories behind the old buildings. His younger companion is bored almost literally to tears. He can’t even be bothered to look around him. When the older man asks him why he isn’t interested in the history of the place, he replies, ‘It’s all just a load of stuff that’s already happened.

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