How do you say your name?
Like this: Shin-Aid. Think of a big band-aid that you’d put on your shin. Or perhaps a musical concert to raise money for shin awareness. The other bit, fairly simply, is just ‘Oh Heart’.
Did you always want to be a writer?
I knew from a very early age that I wanted to live a creative life – not necessarily as a writer, but I wanted to make art of some sort. I thought about being a singer, and then a visual artist (I wasn’t quite good enough at either of those things to make a living out of them, though), but I had always loved to read, too, and stories were my air. Then, when I was about twenty, I wrote my first ‘book’ – and it was terrible. But it showed me that I could have an idea and make something full-length out of it, which was useful. My devotion to children’s literature really took off after that, and I began to immerse myself in the idea of one day writing as a career. It took almost another twenty years to actually happen – but, you know. Good things take time.
Where did the idea for THE EYE OF THE NORTH come from?
When I was a kid, my parents got my brother and me a set of Childcraft encyclopedias (which were basically Google, only in print form). One of the supplements to the set was a book of myths and legends from all over the world, and the legends which grabbed my mind the most were the ones about Norse mythology, and ones about giant sea monsters. I loved reading about Ymir the frost giant and Authumbla, the cow which licked a man out of a block of salt, and Ginnungagap, the great rift which existed before the world was made. As well as that, there was an illustration of a great sea-monster big enough to kill a whale and bring down any ship foolish enough to sail over it, and that illustration stuck in my head. So, when I came to write a story I knew two things: it would have something to do with the north of the world, and it would feature giant mythical monsters.
The first version of this story was a bit different – the main character was called Emma, not Emmeline, and she was sixteen instead of eleven. I soon found that writing about sixteen-year-olds was pretty boring, and that eleven-year-olds were far more interesting, so when that changed, the whole focus of the story changed, too. It took me a few years to get the plot back on track, but when I did, the story as we know it now emerged, like Búri, the man whom Authumbla licked into existence…
What are your top writing tips?
You can check out a Q&A I did for my agents, Greenhouse Literary Agency, over here, in which I talk about that very thing. To condense: if you want to write, you need to read. Read! Read all the time. Read on the loo. Read in the bath, on the bus, at the breakfast table… you get the idea. And write as much as you can, for fun and for practice and because you love it. Also, never ever be without a notebook and a working pen, because you never know when inspiration will strike.
Are you going to write more books?
Of course! I have a contract to write two books for Knopf in the US, and also for Stripes in the UK, so there’ll be at least one more book after THE EYE OF THE NORTH. I’m working on it right now, and all I can say is it features a girl, a boy and a very clever tarantula… There are piles more ideas in my head, and with any luck I’ll be able to keep working and keep writing, and one day you’ll be able to read them.
But I’ll keep writing books anyway, whether they’re published or not.
What’s your favourite bit of THE EYE OF THE NORTH?
There’s a scene near the middle of the book which features Thing, Edgar, Sasha and Madame Blancheflour eating roast chicken in Madame Blancheflour’s kitchen, and it has always been my favourite bit of the book. I laughed out loud as I wrote it, and it was one of the scenes which managed to make it from first draft to final draft with minimal editing. Basically, Thing is so involved in eating the roast chicken that he’s not listening to the others as they make their master plan to rescue Emmeline, and they have to repeat everything once they get his attention. For some reason, that bit has always tickled me.
I’d love to know what your favourite bit of the book is, when you’ve read it. Do get in touch and let me know.
What’s so great about being a writer?
Well, everything. Mostly, it’s the fact that I get to do the thing I love – though it can be scary to think of people reading the things I’ve written! Also, it means I have a job which can fit around my family, more or less. I have a young child, and it’s important to me that I’m there to do the raising and the nappy-changing and the playing and the reading and the trips to the park… so writing lets me do that.
Are you ever going to write a grown-up book?
Well. The short answer is ‘no’. The long answer is: why would I bother? There are plenty of writers out there better equipped than me to write books about the things grown-ups are interested in. Sometimes, people have the idea that writers who create stories for children are doing it for practice, or to ‘earn their way up’ to writing for adults – but it doesn’t work like that. It’s more to do with the things you love to write about, and the type of audience you want to reach. When you write for children you really do have a chance to touch the lives and minds of your readers, which is a huge and scary privilege. My life was shaped by the books I read as a kid, and I love that children’s books have that power. I’d love to write books which are read and re-read, and which are loved until their binding falls apart. How many adults do that to their books? Not many.
Plus, it’s much more fun to write stories about friendship and adventure and magic and myth and fabulous creatures and saving the world than it is to write about almost anything else. You don’t get to do that a lot with books for grown-ups, who like to read about mortgages and marriage and murder, mainly. I have written stories for grown-ups, some of which have been published, but I won’t write a book for them. Which is probably for the best.
Who are your favourite writers?
There are So. Many.
Okay. A representative sample would include: Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones, Ursula K. Le Guin, Madeleine l’Engle, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, John Connolly, Jeanette Winterson, Dave Rudden, Frances Hardinge, Catherine Fisher, Claire North, Malorie Blackman, Toni Morrison, Sarah Waters… and so many more.
What’s your favourite colour?
I love purple, but blue will do at a push.
How old are you?
Well, erm. Older than thirty, but younger than forty. Will that do?
Will you visit my school/library/writers’ group/knitting circle?
I’m always open to making visits to places where readers love to gather. Get in touch and we’ll see if we can work something out.