Once upon a time, a little girl was born in the strange and far off land called Canada. She had a mummy, a daddy, a big sister with beautiful long curly blonde hair, (whom she had to share a bedroom with), and a big brother who kept snakes and didn’t have to share his bedroom at all, not even with them.
Under the circumstances, there was nothing for this little girl to become but a spy. Sadly, her knees made cracking noises when she tried to sneak up behind anyone, so she fell back on an alternative career choice, and became a writer.
As the years passed, Canada started to not seem nearly strange and far off enough, so the little girl (now as grown up as she was ever likely to become), tried some other countries. She had a go at Germany, and Australia, and Yugoslavia, and England, and Wales, and Scotland. The last one was the best, and to this day, you will find her still there, happily writing books, but still cracking her knees nostalgically from time to time at the thought of what might have been.
Born – 1953.
Education – BA (1976), MA (1978) at University of Toronto, PhD (1985) at University of St Andrews, in English Literature. Of course.
Married – 1981.
Children – Jamie (1985), Davey (1988), Thomas and Callum (1990).
Cats – Toby and Mal (2015).
Do you ever put your family or people you know in your books?
He, he, he – I’ll never tell. Let ‘em keep guessing …
Where do you get your ideas?
I stare out of windows. Doesn’t really matter what windows, but I definitely prefer ones with an excellent view. Train windows are good too. Living on the top two floors of a Victorian house on the side of a hill overlooking slate roofs and big old trees and the River Tay and an enormous sky means that I never have to worry about not having ideas. Click here to get inspired.
Are you related to John Lennon? Are you related to anybody famous at all?
No, not really. By which I mean, not at all. But there is a family tradition that one of our ancestors on my mother’s side invented ice cream. So that’s a comfort, and a joy.
What are your hobbies, outside of things to do with books?
I sing in a choir. I do Tai Chi once a week. We have a ping-pong table in our garage and I like to scub my sons. Um, I take naps … There are lots of other things that I like to do, like walking and swimming and badminton and building dams in streams and photography, but I don’t do any of those regularly enough to count them as proper hobbies.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I wanted to be a writer. And, as you know, a spy. And a wildly successful concert pianist. In that order.
What books did you like when you were a kid?
I read a lot of different stuff, but I remember particularly liking the Narnia books, and anything by Rosemary Sutcliffe, and then when I was a bit older, Mary Renault. And then Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit.
What books do you like now?
I still read a lot of different stuff, but I particularly like Terry Pratchett, P.G. Wodehouse, Diana Wynne Jones, Ellis Peters. Oh, and I recently discovered Sylvian Hamilton and was well impressed.
How long does it take to write a book?
A short book takes me three months. A long book takes a year. Getting to the stage where I can write a book in three months or a year, has taken a lifetime.
I want to be a writer too – any words of advice?
Have a look at the Pushkin Prizes website under Writing Tips: The Real Deal. You’ll get my advice plus tips from loads of other authors.
Why is there a horse in your photograph?
Good question. It’s probably symbolic or something.