1 Double Vision (1990), which I think was your first book, was a semi-autobiographical story about growing up in a seaside town. The Sunday Times called it a "novel which bestrides the two worlds of adult and children's fiction with total success in both..." Do you feel frustrated that adults, in the main, have little access to the best children's fiction.
Double Vision wasn't my first book, but it was my first big book! I do rather regret marketing it as a 'teenage novel' because I think the idea of novels for teenagers is something publishers have made up. Teenagers can read anything and everything. I did.
2 That novel was published in a new edition last year. Did you make any revisions?
I didn't make any revisions--apart from correcting a misprint!
3 You are a poet as well as a novelist. What is the difference between revising a poem, and revising fiction?
I find writing a poem more exciting than writing a story--though I enjoy doing both. Poems vary enormously. Sometimes I can revise and revise and revise a poem and sometimes it comes all at once and I don't touch it. I hate the first draft and love the final 'poishing' one.
4 You must have written Harvey Angell soon after completing Double Vision. What influenced you in choosing to write this very different novel?
I think that after writing Double Vision I felt somehow free of a lot of my own childhood and free to let my imagination out to play. So I wrote Harvey Angell which, as you say, is a very different book. The idea for it came in a dream.
5 That first Harvey Angell title was so successful - why did it take several years for you to write a sequel?
I have a lot of mixed fieelings about 'sequels'. One of these is that I tend to get bored with my own characters and want to create new ones. Also I think writing a sequel can be just a marketing trick to get people to buy a second/third/fifty-fifth book and I don't want to do that. Writing stories is a kind of exploration for me and I seem to need new characters to 'explore' with me. Writing a sequel is quite scary. You think people will say 'Oh, this isn't as good as the first one." Quite often it isn't. But I hope Harvery Angell and The Ghost Child is!
6 When I reviewed the second Harvey Angell title, I saw a connection between the empty room in the novel, and your marvellous short poem about an empty room. The original Harvey Angell book was also about an 'attic' room. Can you explain this fascination for out-of-the-way rooms?
I love attics. I like the odd shapes of them. (I'm writing this in an attic.) My two children each had an attic bedroom. When I was a child we had a spare room that I found very frightening. All year round it was kept covered in dust sheets and looked very ghostly, so probably this was where the idea for both the poem 'The Spare Room' and the secret room in Harvey Angell and The Ghost Child came from. I hadn't spotted the connection until you pointed it out in your review. I had to sleep in the spare room at Christmas time when all the family came to stay. A bird had once been trapped in there and died. I'd been told that if a bird died in a room a murderer would come, so I was very frightened. I suppose I've been rather haunted by that ever since.
7 The poem mentioned in the previous question is an excellent example of internal rhyme (each line in the poem ending with the word 'room') being used to create a captivating rhythm. Was this one of yuor poems that came to you quickly?
I think the form of the poem 'The Spare Room', with its internal rhymes, did come quite quickly and easily but I know the poet John Mole has done this with some of his poems for children and that might have been an influence on my poem. You can learn a lot from reading other people's work.
8 If you had to recommend just one other of your poems to ACHUKA visitors, which would it be, and why?
I think I'd recommend 'Next Door's Cat' because it's a sad poem and I get fed up with jolly poems. I think sad poems are very comforting. You know someone else has been sad too and that makes you feel less lonely.
9 You have written a large number of books for young and early readers, including picture books. Do you work on these titles alongside longer fiction, or do you always keep writing projects separate.
If I'm writing a long book, I stick only to that--unless a poem happens to come along. (I always stop everything for a poem.) It's nice having a written a long story to have something short to turn to--it's like a little trot round the block instead of a marathon.
10 What do you write with - pencil, pen, wordprocessor, computer?
I start writing by hand in a large notebook of feint lines and preferably with a margin. I like silky paper and use Ball Pentel finepoint pens (black ink but green on the outside). I buy thme in bulk. I like writing by hand because I like to imagine that what I'm writing is coming from my heart, down my arm and into my hand. I've been a notebook addict since I was first given pocket money at the age of 7. I usually have a spiral reporter's notebook in my bag and I've a little notebook by my bed (in case an idea should occur in the night) and I use small square red notebooks as a diary. Once I've got a first draft done by hand then I put it on my word processor (a rather old Amstrad PCW 9512) using Locosript 2. I keep an Olivetti portable for emergencies.
11 Did an agent handle your first book? Have you been consistently involved with one since? To what extent does the 'business' side of being an author take up your time?
No, I use an agent for adult work but not for my children's work--though I did once and briefly work with an agent. I think I struck lucky in finding a publisher when I began (Julia MacRae) and somehow haven't needed an agent since. The business side of being an author seems to take up an awful lot of time which I sometimes resent. I'd love to earn enough money to employ a secretary.
12 What's the best thing about being a children's author?
The best thing about being a children's author is being able to escape into fantasy and the story telling yo things about yourself you didn't know when you began. That and meeting children.
13 What do children's writers talk about when they get together?
When I'm with other children's writers we talk about publishers, agents, other writers, problems with current stories, money and the book we'd really like to write... ...
14 The number of children's books managing to "bestride the two worlds of adult and children's fiction" is, in my view, significant. What do you feel should be done about marketing older children's fiction so that it can reach an adult audience as well?
The only way that I can see is somehow to educate the book reps and the book stores. Maybe publishing the same book in a different format and with a different cover would also help.
The next three questions come from children who have been reading your first Harvey Angell book:
15 (from Laura) Are the lodgers in Harvey Angell made up or based on real life?
The lodgers in Harvey Angell are all made up, except for Mr. Perkins, who is really me in disguise!
16 (from Sarah) How did you get the idea for the story of a boy living in his aunt's guest house?
I had a dream about a man who had the keys to a whole series of magic cellars. When I woke up I thought I'd ask the man in my dream what sort of a story he would like. The answer was a story about a strange and magic lodger. For a time we used to have lodgers in our house and though none of them were magical they were all very interesting. I like the idea of a stranger who appears and changes people's lives. One of my favourite stories as a child was the legend of Philemon and Baucis which is about the Greek god Hermes (the one with wings on his sandals). Hermes appears to an old couple and turns the milk to wine and the little bit of meat to a splendid supper. Often I find that lots of things all come together--with a kind of click--to make a story. I don't recognise it until the story is finished. I think this is what was happening when I wrote Harvey Angell.
17 (from Richard) Is your poem about an empty room connected with the Harvey Angell books in any way?
Well, I wan't aware at the time I was writing Harvery Angell and The Ghost Child that there was a connection with my poem about the apre room, but I do sometimes find that an idea, or memory (particularly a haunting one) will appear in more than one story or poem.
18 Did winnning the Whitbread Children's Novel Award in 1991 change your life?
The Whitbread Award didn't change my life but it made a big difference. It meant that more people were interested in my work and I also spent a year being invited here, there and everywhere. A prize also boosts your confidence and makes you braver when you write your next story. I was also invited to be one of the Whitbread judges the following year and I really enjoyed that.
19 Finally, Diana, what are your main ambitions/goals as a children's author?
To write a book that lasts.