As you can imagine, I’ve been spending lockdown at my desk, with no author visits on the horizon. But some young people are still reading my books! Pupils from Winchburgh Primary School in Broxburn asked me a whole bunch of questions about my eco-thriller Wilderness Wars. GREAT questions, so I thought I’d share my answers!
About the book – Wilderness Wars
- What inspired you to write the book?
It goes back to a time when we went on a family holiday. A stone hit our windscreen, out of the blue, there were no other cars around! In an attempt to make light of it, we speculated that a gull had thrown it, and that nature didn’t want us to reach the holiday cottage. That was the start. I wrote into my notebook that night: What if nature fights back?
- If you were Em, what would you have done to get the adults to believe in you about the nature fighting back?
I’m not sure I would have done any better than Em. It’s a bit of a crazy thing for people to believe 😊 I might have yelled a little more…
- How did you come up with the name Skelsay?
I tried to find a name that sounded real, but with a huge number of islands around the Scottish Coast, most decent names were already taken. There are loads of islands that end in ‘say’ which was Old Norse for island, so I looked up Gaelic and Norse words and tried out different combination. Skelsay means Isle of shells, and there wasn’t one of those yet!
- How long did it take you to write it?
The actual first draft – maybe around 6 months. But it needed a bit of work before the publishers were happy with it, so maybe another 3 months on top of that. I usually have several things on the go at any one time, so it can be hard to tell.
- What is your favourite bit of the book?
I love the SCREE chapter!
- What made you choose a Scottish Island?
I live in Scotland and I love going to the islands because they are a bit wild. Buying an island and building a hotel etc on it seemed to be possible.
- Were the characters based on anyone you know in real life?
YES, all of them have bits of people I know. Struan is almost exclusively based on my son Duncan. When he was little, he was just like that!
- Who’s the best character that you think that you created in the book?
Again, I like Struan best, but I like the others too. Ian Pratt was such good fun to write.
- I would really want to know, What happens after the book is finished.
The postscript gives you a wee bit of an idea. Skelsay rewilds itself in any case 😊
- Having written your book, is there anything you would change if you could re-write it?
Yes! I like the ending, but as a very smart kid pointed out at a school visit, Em ends up being a bit of a litterbug at the end, so I would maybe come up with something a bit better…
- What made you come up with this kind of storylines?
I care about the environment, and once we lose our wild places, they are gone. We need to take better care of them!
- Would you ever make the book into a film?
I’d love to see a film of Wilderness Wars, but as a writer, I have to wait until a studio or a production company takes an interest.
- What was the hardest chapter to write?
My publishers asked me to delete the first three chapters of the original manuscript. I was gutted, but it is a better story as a result, I hope. Rewriting the beginning was really tough.
- I have started to write my own book about a young boy on a quest and have so many ideas in my head I find it hard to organise them and pick the best to use. I really enjoyed the suspense created at the end of your chapters and all the questions I had before reading the next one. I would like to do the same in my book do you any advice on how I can plan my story ideas to create the same?
To be absolutely honest, I don’t always plan my stories out. I literally write as if I am telling myself a story. Then, at a point when I am excited to move on, I insert a chapter break. Keep asking the ‘what if’ questions. If the story gets a little too easy and boring, throw your characters into terrible jeopardy. It works for me!
About being an author in general
- Do you enjoy reading?
Love it! I constantly have a book on the go and take it with me wherever I go. I also have as book in the car in case I have to wait somewhere. And when times are tricky, I absolutely need to read to give myself a break from real life!
- When did you get in to writing books?
I wrote loads of stories when I was a kid. As an adult, I wrote plays first and performed them. I had a wee puppetry business for a few years, but I soon realised that the writing was what I loved best. I then wrote a short story, just to see if I could, and entered it into a competition, and I won! After that, I challenged myself in a New Year’s resolution – wonder if I could write a kids’ book. But I wasn’t published until I had written 6 books! It takes a long time 😊
- Did anyone inspire you to become an author and if so, who?
Many people. But I loved Walter Farley’s books about the racehorse world and I remember thinking – creating stories for young people would be the coolest thing that anyone could do.
- How many books have you written?
At least 11 full length manuscripts, but many shorter stories and plays too.
- What inspired you to be an author?
I just think it’s total magic, how little black marks on paper get some sort of head-cinema going in a young reader’s imagination. I really, really wanted to be part of that and learn how to do that. If you offered me the chance to do real magic, I think I’d still choose this!
- Can you talk to someone and if they were talking about a dream could you turn that into inspiration for a story?
I do that constantly! But I can’t write a story that I’m not excited about. I really have to care. If I’m not really invested in it, I can’t expect a reader to be either. So if you are wishing that there was a story about, I don’t know, sword-fighting dogs in Siberia, then your best bet is to write it yourself!
Thanks for asking all these cool questions!
Keep reading, and power to your pens!