I never expected to become a novelist. I had developed some story ideas in a children’s writing group years ago and when I started writing again in 2005, I planned to write texts for picture books I could illustrate. But the idea of writing an illustrated novel crept into the back of my head and wouldn’t go away.
I started writing The Blackhope Enigma while I was at home with a bad cold. I had no idea how to write a novel but I felt so strongly about the story, I kept going. It was inspired by my love of Renaissance paintings (the kind with lots of buildings, people and animals), labyrinths and mazes, old maps, Scottish castles and mystery stories.
Luckily I had a lot of support from my agent, Kathryn Ross of Fraser Ross Associates Literary Agency, and over the next couple of years I wrote and rewrote the manuscript until it was ready for presentation to publishers. I was delighted when Templar Publishing acquired it and released it in the UK in 2010. I was very pleased when Blackhope was shortlisted for a number of book awards and Candlewick Press published it under its Templar imprint in 2011.
I hadn’t planned on writing a series but there were plenty of threads from The Blackhope Enigma to inspire a new story, The Crimson Shard, which Templar published in 2011 and Candlewick released in 2012.
Again, I based the story on things that interest me: trompe l’oeil paintings, art forgery, eighteenth-century London and its dark side, alchemy and even bodysnatching.
And it didn’t stop there. The final book in The Blackhope Enigma trilogy, The Shadow Lantern, was published by Templar in 2013 and by Candlewick in 2014. This story was inspired by my interest in magic lanterns and their painted glass slides, ghosts and spirit photography - and I knew I wanted the trilogy to end in Blackhope Tower at Halloween. I had a great time writing the first draft on the atmospheric island of Suomenlinna in Finland and editing it back in Scotland. Although it was very sad to say goodbye to my teenage characters, Sunni and Blaise, writing their magical stories has been as fantastic a journey for me as it was for them.
Yellow Rabbit, a Little Acorn Reader published by Barrington Stoke was published in 2013 and is available as part of an 8 title schools and libraries pack, including a free downloadable classroom resource. It was illustrated by Rich Watson and is the (almost) true story of my lost stuffed yellow rabbit.
In 2014 Barrington Stoke published my short novel for ages 12+, Jet Black Heart. It's a dark time travel story with overtones of the supernatural and was inspired by the dramatic coast and landscape of the North Yorkshire Moors and coast. Once again, I illustrated the story with small pencil drawings throughout.
I sometimes wonder whether I would have set off on this path if I hadn’t moved to the United Kingdom many years ago. These isles' mysterious landscapes, rich mythology and dramatic history are endlessly fascinating to me and they have provided rich material for stories and artwork.
Aside from writing and illustrating my own novels, I also do talks and workshops in schools and libraries around the UK and occasionally in the USA.
I also make paintings and hand-made books whenever I can, explore hills and dales and walk every maze and labyrinth I can find!
Frequently Asked Questions
What do you prefer, writing or illustrating?
I love both. When I do a lot of one activity, I miss the other so I try to keep drawing and painting after a big writing project and vice versa!
Which of your novels is your favourite?
I don’t have a favourite – I like all my books for different reasons. Each one has aspects of things I love like art and magic and mystery.
Will you read the story I wrote and tell me what you think?
I wish I had time to help everyone who asks me this question, but unfortunately I don’t. If you are a young writer, I suggest you share your story with a teacher who will be able to give you feedback and advice. If you are an adult writer, you might think about developing and sharing your work in a writers’ group or adult education class.
The internet has lots of advice and resources for aspiring writers, including literary consultancies that will assess manuscripts for a fee. I would suggest you check out The Writers and Artists Yearbook, which had loads of great information and guidance.
Will you come to my school?
I love visiting schools and libraries. You’ll find information on how I do events and how to book me here.