I was born in 1966. Which makes me, oooh, about that big. *holds fingers quite far apart*
I’ve wanted to be a writer since early childhood. Either that or an air hostess (great uniform), Olympic gymnast (also great uniform) or a playwright. I would have liked to be a top fashion designer, but my stick figures, despite years of practice, were never going to make the cover of Vogue.
My father was in the army, which meant my childhood was spent travelling. I was born in England but spent my toddler years in Malaysia and went to school in Hong Kong. We also lived in Berlin and Norway. Meanwhile, I studied French and Italian at school and university, so I got to spend lots of time in Paris, Provence, Florence, Venice and Rome. I have seen the inside of more art galleries than Anne Hathaway has worn dresses to the Oscars.
All the time, I wanted to be a writer, but I was too scared to actually do it. I entered the Vogue talent competition, but didn’t get very far. I also applied to work at Chanel. Same story. Instead, I got two degrees in literature and worked in a range of jobs – from tour guide and earring packager to lobbyist and management consultant. I kept up the travelling and had vague dreams of becoming a travel journalist, but that didn’t happen either (although I did get to go to Chicago for a Times travel writing competition and LOVED it).
Then, in about 1997, I read about a new young writer called JK Rowling, who had a children’s book coming out. Nobody had heard of her, but people in the business thought she’d do rather well. Hearing her story gave me the confidence to give up my job and spend six months writing.
Which I did, on and off, for the next ten years. I wrote three adult detective stories, a TV screenplay, several short stories and a couple of movie treatments. Lots of encouragement from agents and publishers, but no actual contracts. I got married, went back to work, had children, kept up my love of art galleries, discovered the joy of gardening, and kept hoping that one day I’d write something worth publishing.
In the summer of 2008, while my husband stayed at home and looked after our baby (the fourth of the four children we have between us), I went off to the local library to write a story that had been bugging me for years. It was for children this time, and it was about a secret teenage fashion designer with a troubled past. I called it Threads and submitted it to the Times/Chicken House writing competition.
In the early spring of 2009, I found out I’d won the competition. The prize was a £10,000 contract to publish my book – and the man awarding it, Barry Cunningham, was the person who discovered JK Rowling. I’ve since seen the very chair he was sitting in when he first read Harry Potter.
By then I’d already written the first 10,000 words of the second book, and Chicken House wanted to publish that too. Threads came out in September, and Beads Boys & Bangles the following May. By which time I was finishing off Sequins Stars & Spotlights, the third and final book in the series. Thanks to the competition, I’d become a full-time writer.
Nowadays, I usually only get the chance to travel for work. By ‘work’ I mean visiting schools, festivals and foreign towns and cities to talk about the Threads series and meet young readers. It’s not really work, and I love every minute (except for cold and windy train platforms with no coffee shops – I hate those). And yes, I still visit art galleries whenever I can. It’s a wonderful life.
Occasionally people ask me what my advice would be to aspiring writers. Check out my writing tips page, on this site. Write every day, and rewrite even more. Don’t aspire to a Ferrari, but love it when people get lost in your stories. Follow your heart.
I did, and it got me here. Yay!
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