Describe your latest project.
It's an adventure set in eighteenth-century London, full of foundlings, strange phenomena, and formidable villains. It's large, complicated, and ambitious.
If you could choose any story to live in, which story would it be? Why?
When I was a boy, I spent a magical summer living inside all five books of The Dark Is Rising series by Susan Cooper. Part of me has remained there ever since. I vividly remember the great white forest appearing outside Will's window and I'd happily spend the rest of my life walking with him, in and out of those ancient trees.
Introduce one other author/illustrator you think people should read, and suggest a good book by him/her.
I urge everyone to read David Almond's books. (He requires no introduction, I'm sure.) I particularly like The Fire-Eaters and his most recent novel, Clay. Memorable characters, complex emotions, curious events... and yet he manages to make his writing seem so effortless and natural the hardest trick to pull off. He is one of the finest writers around.
Describe your most memorable teacher.
Ms. Nicholas: an intelligent, independent woman who saw me through most of my insecurities at High School. A spark of humour and a constant source of energy. She encouraged me to remain true to my idiosyncrasies and somehow taught me how to integrate along the way (though I failed miserably at the laws of probability). She also said one of the kindest things to me: "You're twice the person you think you are." A great mathematician.
Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
Sonya Hartnett amazes me with her perfect, precise word choice and my favourite passage appears in What The Birds See (2002), in which Adrian, a sensitive Australian boy, finds a dead bird in a park. Cradling it in his hands, he tries to shield its death from Nicole, a girl he's just met. The passage reads:
Adrian has not taken his eyes from the bird. Its head has sunk, the beak sliding between his fingers. It has flown away, leaving feathers and bones in his hands. (p. 53)
The book is heartbreakingly sad yet beautiful. I'm always trying to press it into the hands of the people I most care about, even though the ending reduces me (and everyone else) to tears.
What is your favorite literary first line?
"These are, I should warn you, the words of a dead man." from Ever
After by Graham Swift. (I can't remember the book very well, but I do remember being snagged by this opening sentence so much so that I had to steal the book from my mother's "to read" pile.)
A close second:
"There was once, in the country of Alifbay, a sad city, the saddest of cities, a city so ruinously sad that it had forgotten its name." from Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie.
How did the last good book you read end up in your hands?
I came across The House in Norham Gardens by Penelope Lively in an Oxford bookshop and was smitten by the opening paragraph (describing the enormous, eccentric houses north of the University Parks). Only, I didn't buy it. I put it back on the shelf and proceeded to think about it for weeks on end, waiting until the long-overdue copy was returned to the library. At which point I promptly jumped on my bike and cycled furiously to the other side of Oxford. I got caught in a freak rain shower, got soaking wet, and got honked at by the most irate drivers on the Cowley Road. Still I cycled on: head down, legs pumping, dripping from head to toe. Finally, out of breath, I arrived at the library and proceeded to drip over all of the other books until I found the one I was looking for: a thumbed-through paperback with curling, slightly yellow pages... but the words inside were just the same. I've buried myself in it for days (I'm a slow reader) and it's wonderful. I shall now do what I should have done in the first place: I'll cycle back to the bookshop and buy myself a pristine copy, so that I may read it whenever I like, for the rest of my life. It's one of those books: a lifelong friend from the very first meeting.
What was your favorite story as a child?
The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I made my Mum read it to me night after night after night. She also made Mr. Tickle come alive in magical ways. Best of all, she told me dark, twisted fairytales about my sister, which I always liked.
What do you do for relaxation?
I take my imagination for long, solitary walks. Or, if I'm feeling sociable, I watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer, over and over again.
What is your idea of bliss?
Walking to some remote spot in the countryside (up a mountain, along a rugged coastline, deep into a forest; I don?t mind which)... and then sitting still for hours, admiring the view. It's even better with the right person.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Why do you write books for kids?
I didn't set out to write for kids. I wrote to please myself and to help my main character, Blake. To be honest, I was so afraid that kids wouldn't be interested in the story I had to tell that I nearly destroyed the manuscript... several times. Fortunately, I've done a lot of growing up during the past year and I've discovered what I should have known all along: kids are the best readers! They see things, intuit things, appreciate things that are lost on a lot of adults. I'm so lucky: I now get to do all of the things I most wanted to do as a child (but wasn't brave enough to try): traveling back in time, rewriting history, defeating villains, discovering dragons... the possibilities are endless. It's brilliant.
Share an interesting experience you've had with one of your readers.
I've hidden messages in a few of the books I've signed normally, when no one is looking. On one occasion, I hid (I mean, really hid) my email address at the back of a book I signed for a girl in France. Imagine my surprise, then, when I found an email waiting for me on my return to England: the girl had written to tell me in spectacular English that she normally doesn't read fantasy books, but that she'd enjoyed mine. She made my day. I won't forget that.
Name the best "Simpsons" episode of all time, and explain why it's the best.
Bart Sells His Soul? Lisa Gets Married? No, I think I'll opt for "Bart of Darkness," the nice Hitchcock pastiche in which Ned Flanders murders his wife sort of and Martin ends up singing "The Summer Wind" to himself during the final credits. He's my favourite character; that's why. Closely followed by Ralph Wiggum.
And my favourite Simpsons' gag? A poster seen for just a split second when Lisa takes part in the Reader's Digest essay-writing competition in Washington: "Brevity is...wit." Genius!
(I have to confess that I don't have a TV, so I've not seen a single new episode since 1999.)