Congratulations on the recent publication of Hell and High Water! For those who haven’t read it, could you describe it in ten words?
Historical crime thriller. Poldark meets Agatha Christie, with added smugglers.
What inspired you to start writing novels?
I was always a daydreamer at school. And then – when I grew up and my own children were small – I suddenly found I had the time and space to let the daydreams develop into full length stories.
One of your previous books, Buffalo Soldier, was centred on slavery. What drew you to this particular topic?
I loved Gone With the Wind when I was a young teenager, but didn’t really understand that it was a whitewashed, sanitised, deeply skewed version of America’s Deep South. I think most writers write for the children they once were. Buffalo Soldier is me telling myself the story I wished I’d been told back then.
Buffalo Soldier won the Carnegie Medal in 2015. How was that for you?
Mind-blowingly wonderful. I still don’t think I’ve quite taken it in.
What draws you to historical themes and settings for your novels?
Every writer who creates a child protagonist faces the problem of getting rid of the adults. Your character needs to be alone because otherwise – when in mortal peril – they would simply turn to the nearest grown up for help. So parents need to be killed off, or put out of reach. But these days there are also social workers, teachers, the emergency services. Your protagonist would only have to pick up the phone and (in theory) help would be on its way.
But if you set your story in a period of history where there are no mobile phones, and where kind, helpful adults are thin on the ground, the possibilities for adventure are limitless.
What books inspire you? If you were picking a line up for a literary festival, who would you choose?
This is a fantasy line up, right? I’d pick the authors who wrote the books I loved as a child. But I’d want their characters to come along too. So – Clive King would be accompanied by Stig and EB White by Charlotte and Wilbur. E Nesbit could come with the Psammead and Dick King Smith could bring ALL those pigs. Penelope Lively’s ghost of Thomas Kempe would make things lively. And – last but not least – I’d invite RL Stevenson just as long as he brought the glorious Alan Breck Stewart along.
Do you have a favourite character from any one of your books?
I love all of them, actually. You can’t spend the length of time it takes to write a book inside a character’s head without getting incredibly attached to them.
As previously mentioned, you’re a Carnegie winning author, and your books have been nominated for many different awards, winning several more. Did you ever expect this and what does this mean to you?
Did I ever expect it? No. What does it mean? It’s extraordinary. Fantastic. I’m very, very grateful for it. (I’m not saying more than that because I go a bit Kate Winslett-y and will end up blubbing….)
What’s next for you?
I don’t really like talking about what I’m working on in case I jinx it. But there is SOMETHING in the pipeline…
What tips would you give to an aspiring writer?
Daydream. It’s really important. Let your mind ramble, let it go wherever it wants. Find the story that you burn to tell – the one that won’t leave you alone. Get it down on paper. And THEN start worrying about technique.