I often get asked questions about my childhood, becoming a writer and the animals that inspired me to write, so here are a few answers, prompted by the latest email from Ashlynne Swarts…
All of my books centre around an animal that helps me tell a story. As a child, I befriended lots of cats near where we lived but no matter how much I begged and hoped, I wasn’t allowed one of my own. One Saturday morning, when the family were all at the table having a late breakfast, I went out to the kitchen to get a drink. The back door had been left open to let out the smoke from bacon burned under the grill, and while I was getting a drink a stray cat walked into the kitchen. I fed the cat some burned bacon, stroked her, and for a moment shared a little bit of magic with a beautiful creature without anyone else knowing. She left and I soon forgot about her until two weeks later, when we were at the table on a Saturday morning again, and I wondered about that cat. I went out to the kitchen again. The back door was closed this time and when I opened it, the cat was miraculously sat on the doorstep. Over the coming weeks she turned up again and again, and as the months passed, she began to come every day. She and I would go for walks, following each other, and she would be waiting for me half way down the hill when I came home for school. She even followed me to school once and I had to pick her up and run back with her. As time passed, the family got to know her and she would come into the house and stay overnight, eventually staying with me for the rest of her life.
I hadn’t been keen on dogs as I had been bitten twice as a child, once quite terrifyingly by a very large dog. I still love cats but my affections changed when Harry came into our lives. He arrived around the time I had begun to write a story about a little girl called Cally Fisher who didn’t want to speak, and soon the relationship with a dog seeped into my story and that’s how A Dog Called Homeless came to be written.
Later, when Coco was added to our family, I wrote a story called Hero which was inspired by the Jack Russell breed. I always wanted a pet as a child and by luck was fortunate enough to have a bond with the cat that walked in our back door, which was the strongest I have ever had. I never gave her a proper name, although we called her Puss, as it never occurred to me that she would ever belong to me. I think now that perhaps it was the other way around and that she picked me and I belonged to her.
BOOKS AND WRITING
There were not as many books for young children when I was growing up as there are now. I remember going to the library every week for picture books, most of which I had read again and again. As I got older, I mostly read fairy tales, stories that have been around for hundreds of years. We were encouraged to read at school, a prospect which I found very exciting, but I found the transition from picture books to longer stories with small text and few pictures quite hard but eventually caught up. We were often asked to write stories at school and I loved doing it.
When I was about 8 or 9 years old, at a similar time to the arrival of Puss, my mother used to bring home a typewriter from work so she could earn some extra money typing up long documents. I loved watching her type and those words appearing in perfectly formed paragraphs on a clean white sheet. I would stand by her shoulder and dictate stories to her and she would type them up as I spoke. It was magic to see what I had in my imagination appearing on the page. My mother also began to teach me to type at that age, so I could write the stories myself. My love of writing was definitely born there and was an expression of the vivid imagination and sensitivity that I have, as well as the relationship with the cat that walked in our back door.
BECOMING A WRITER
It was all too easy to forget how important these things were as I became a teenager, and then an adult. I never stopped writing stories, but they were few and far between and I had no self-belief that I could write anything worth publishing. It wasn’t until someone suggested that I go to university (I was almost 40 by then) and I decided to study English and then Creative Writing that I re-found my love for language and stories. It was while I was studying that I began to write about Cally Fisher.
I have not yet been able to find the words that would tell the story of Puss and me, although there is a something of us in the story of Cally Fisher and Homeless. Maybe one day…
If you’d like to ask any more questions, you can email me via the CONTACT page.