I grew up in a large Catholic family in Felling-on-Tyne: four sisters and one brother. I always knew I’d be a writer —I wrote stories and stitched them into little books. I had an uncle who was a printer, and in his printing shop I learned my love of black words on white pages. I loved our local library and dreamed of seeing books with my name on the cover on its shelves. I also dreamed of playing for Newcastle United (and I still wait for the call!). There was much joy in my childhood, but also much sadness: a baby sister died when I was seven; my dad died when we were all still young; my mum was always seriously ill with arthritis. But it was a childhood, like all childhoods, that provided everything a writer needs, and it illuminates and informs everything I write.
After school I read English and American literature. When I graduated I became a teacher — long holidays, short days, just perfect for a writer. After five years I gave up the job and lived in a commune in rural Norfolk where I wrote a long adult novel that was rejected by every U.K. publisher. I had two collections of short stories published by the tiny IRON Press. I started another adult novel, put it aside, and suddenly, out of the blue, I found myself writing Skellig. It was as if the story had been waiting for me, and once I began, it seemed to write itself. I hadn’t expected to write a children’s novel, but in some way it was the natural outcome of everything I’d done before, and was the stepping-stone to everything I’ve done since.
For years, I was hardly published and hardly anyone knew about me apart from a handful of keen fans. And I made just about no money at all from writing. That didn’t really matter to me. I’d keep on writing, no matter what. Then I wrote Skellig, and everything changed. I began to sell lots of books, to be translated into many languages, to travel, to win lots of prizes. I’ve written a number of novels after Skellig, including Kit’s Wilderness, The Fire-Eaters, Clay and A Song for Ella Grey. There have been stage versions of the novels, and films and an opera are on their way.
Three Things You Might Not Know About Me:
1. I love Japanese food — except for the thing I was given once that looked like an alien’s brain.
2. My first TV appearance was as an altar boy in a televised mass when I was eleven.
3. My grandfather was a bookie (he took bets on horse races). His advice? “Never bet.” He also told me, “Never read novels. They’re all just lies.”