You can find me on the same shelf as E. Nesbit, Beverley Naidoo, Garth Nix and William Nicholson. When I was a child, dreaming that one day I might be an author, I used to gaze longingly at the N shelves in bookshops and libraries, and imagine my own books parked next to E.Nesbit’s. She’s still there, with her classic stories The Railway Children, Five Children and It, and others. Philip Pullman, nearby, takes up an awful lot of space, but sometimes there’s room for me between them.

As a child I used to do a lot of secret writing in my bedroom. I rarely showed anyone, and certainly not my teachers. At that time I was rather unwisely trying to write complete novels. Later, when exams got in the way, I began writing poetry – because poems could be short! When I was a teenager, there was no such thing as teenage fiction you went straight from children’s books to adult books. It wasn’t until much later, when I was training to be an English teacher that I came across teenage fiction,and excellent writers such as K.M. Peyton, Aidan Chambers and Jill Paton Walsh. Before long I wanted to have a go. My first young adult novel, Run with the Hare, was accepted by HarperCollins and published in 1988. At that time I was working full-time as an English teacher, so did most of my writing in the summer holidays and concentrated on young adult fiction for the next few years. Gradually, though, I tried short stories, the occasional poem, and chapter books for younger children and eventually gave up the day job.

A Running Start

My story starter is simply a story opening in which someone is running. Who, where, why and how is entirely up to the writer. The important thing is to begin with a real sense of the physical sensations of running; and in doing this, the writer begins to ask and answer questions:

  • Why is this person running?
  • Is he or she being chased?
  • Trying to prevent something?
  • Training, as part of a routine?
  • Running a race?
  • What’s the terrain like?
  • an athletics track?
  • tussocky grass?
  • wet road?
  • ploughed field?
  • Is it light or dark?
  • Is he / she looking for somewhere to hide?
  • How fit, tired, out of breath, frightened, etc. is the character?

Starting in this way avoids the cumbersome explanation that can easily clutter up a beginning, and gets straight into a story, which can be developed through asking further questions.

The reason I find it effective is that everyone can do it, but at the same time it offers almost complete freedom as to what kind of story might develop.