Here’s a brief overview of me and my writing career
- born in 1952, grew up in the London suburb of Wimbledon
- read French with English at Royal Holloway College, University of London
- lived in Shetland and then Cornwall, had two sons and two daughters
- 1995 – first four books published – Looking After Auntie, Miss Fischer’s Jewels, Stumpy-Toe, Androcles and the Lion
- 1998 – first adult book published – Your Child: Bullying
- 2000-2004 – about 100 books for educational publishers, including fiction, non-fiction, traditional tales, anthologies and plays
- 2003-2007 – 8 children’s self-help books, including Bullies, Bigmouths and So-called Friends and How 2B Happy
- 2009-2011 – 2 children’s fiction series, Car-mad Jack and Peony Pinker
- 2006 – present, innovative writing workshops including creative dreaming and image-work for writers
- 2014 – Writing in the House of Dreams
- 2015 – The Binding for age 8-12; Drift, a novel for young adults and my follow-up to Writing in the House of Dreams, When a Writer Isn’t Writing: How to Beat Your Blocks, Be Published and Find Your Flow Besides books, my first apple app, Get Writing!
I’ve also written a scattering of one-off books and other writing along the way, such as interactive CDROMs, poems, and articles in magazines including Junior Education, Children and Young People Now, Writers’ Forum, Mslexia and The Author.
My books have been translated into many different languages including German, Danish, Welsh, Portuguese, Greek, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Brazilian, Korean and Turkish.
Now, in case you’re wondering how I came to write the particular books I’ve written, here’s the story in more detail.
I was born in a little village in Surrey, the second of four children.
When I was nearly five, we moved to London, round the corner from my grandparents. It was a noisy, happy house and, growing up in the fifties, we had lots of freedom to play.
I didn’t like school. I wanted to be at home, making up stories and poems, drawing pictures and doing little projects. By the time I was in my mid-teens I was elective mute at school and regularly truanted to go youth-hostelling, armed with a sketchpad and pen.
I always imagined that I would go to art school but, having recklessly got high grades at GCE O-level, I found myself propelled under pressure towards university.
I read French at Royal Holloway College, but refused to spend my third year in France and was granted a special dispensation to stay at college and pursue individual studies instead.
One of the things that probably influenced my college’s decision to let me stay on campus was that they knew my father had just thrown me out, and I was in pieces.
It had come as a bolt from the blue. My lovely dad, when I mentioned I was going on vacation with a boy I knew, suddenly went berserk. He said that if I went with this boy he would never want to see me again.
I was shocked and frightened but, as I had always been his favourite, I simply didn’t believe he could mean it. When I got home from holiday, I found all my possessions piled up on the pavement in front of my house, so as it turned out, he did.
Years later, I heard Bob Monkhouse on Radio 4’s ‘In the Psychiatrist’s Chair’, recalling how his mother, who he’d always been very close to, suddenly turned against him when he told her he was getting married. She attended the wedding in black and didn’t speak to him again for 20 years. He broke down in tears, talking about it, this hugely successful, 64 year old man.
I found it so reassuring to know that it happened to other people too, and that other people also fell apart, that I’m mentioning it here in case it’s happened to you.
Two years later, when that rift, which never healed, was still angry and raw, my older sister committed suicide. It has taken me forty years to get enough distance to write about it in the memoir section of Writing in the House of Dreams and to create a story about sibling suicide in my Young Adult novel Drift.
These two catastrophes were the broken landing stage from which I tried to launch into adult life, so it probably wasn’t surprising that I crashed and burned, spending most of my twenties in a state of panic, grief and bewilderment.
With the outer world feeling completely unmanageable, I started to explore the inner world of dreams, using creative techniques to take the exploration further. I had amazing experiences in dreams, learning to feel in control in a way that I didn’t in my waking life.
When I started writing, it came easily, because stories and dreams spring from the same place in the self, and if you know how to work creatively with one you have the skills in place to master the other.
Writing was a deep creative healing for me, but not in the accepted sense of therapeutic writing, which is all about retelling your own story much as you would do in therapy, in order to create a catharsis. I found that simply immersing myself in writing – any kind of writing – brought me back from a very dark place to the state of joy that any flow activity can bring.
Learning to live
In my late twenties I started my family – two sons and two daughters. Therapy and medication had never helped me to stop falling into depression, but having children meant I had to find a way.
The way I found was American self-help books, which were a mix of ancient spiritual teachings and – although it wasn’t called that yet – cognitive behavioural therapy. These books gave me tools to take control of my life and, to this day, I’m a passionate believer in the power of books to help you create the life you want.
I’d always wanted to be an author, so when my fourth child started school, I decided to try and make a career in writing. I found an agent very quickly and she sold six children’s stories for me in the first year, but then I got deflected and wrote a self-help book for adults.
Learning to write
I came back into children’s writing after I was invited to submit a few books for a new reading programme, working with Jeremy Strong and Kaye Umansky. Soon the publisher was sending me briefs for non-fiction and stand-alone longer fiction as well, across the primary age range.
I loved having the chance to try all different kinds of writing, and I look back on that period now as my apprenticeship. I had learnt the art of writing from working with dreams, but I learnt the craft in the couple of years that I worked for educational publishers.
My lovely career
I had always wanted to make the ideas that had helped me so much available to children, and now I felt I had the skills to do it. I wasn’t just thinking about children in trouble, but every child, because the cognitive behavioural approach is also preventative, helping people develop greater resilience to deal with life’s ups and downs.
I wrote eight funny, practical children’s self-help books, starting with Bullies, Bigmouths and So-called Friends which got five stars in the Sunday Times and a rave review in the Independent asking, ‘Could this be the first self-help book for children?’
After eight self-help books, I felt I’d said everything I wanted to say, so I decided to try writing trade fiction, which I found I really enjoyed. I wrote two series of funny family stories, and followed them up with two darker stand-alone novels.
Alongside my own writing, I teach creative workshops. I have written a book for children on writing How to be a Brilliant Writer and two for adults, as well as an Apple app.
Whether you publish or not, the act of writing is a deeply joyful and satisfying thing. It sharpens your senses and broadens your awareness; it connects you with the wonderful stories and images moving in your psyche all the time, which many people otherwise can only glimpse in dreams.
If you want to try dipping that stream for yourself, you’ll find lots of writing exercises and creative activities in Writing in the House of Dreams. You will also find plenty of chat about dreams and writing on my blog.