Is defined by books, reading … Africa.
Although I was born and schooled in Scotland, only my accent
betrays those roots. I have lived and travelled in various parts
the continent of Africa for over forty years, and enjoyed every
one of them. These are the landscapes and loves that inform my
stories and my memories.
I have always read and always written. But
writing comes from listening and watching – observing and
recording, and that’s what I mostly do. There are stories
everywhere and some of the simplest ideas produce the most
It is critically important to stay in touch
with children’s lives and realities. Nostalgia has its place,
but I always write from a child’s point of view. I deeply
respect the strength and courage children have to show, even in
the seemingly routine matter of growing up, and especially in
the difficult circumstances many – most – of them find
I am often asked if I feel disempowered as a
writer for young people by the fact that I have no children of
my own. No. In some ways this has given me the freedom to absorb
the stories and the sense of place that are my books - and the
time to write them.
Editing books written by other writers brings
new perspectives and understanding. I have edited well over two
hundred books in my time – from adult biographies to pre-text
picture books – and I love it. (The latter are the more
difficult, the former by far the more time-consuming!). It has
been a particular pleasure to be involved with innovative and
exciting reading schemes for Primary Schools and to work with
children on stories for a Parliamentary project that opened my
eyes to the realities of rural schools.
I also enjoy being involved with new writers
and have given workshops throughout South Africa to adults
wishing to write for children – and also to children who want to
focus their writing skills and to teachers who need to use the
power of story to better effect in their classrooms.
Another life-long interest came through
working in remote San villages in northern Namibia with
anthropologist Dr Megan Biesele. I have been involved on the
perimeter of educational projects there for many years and now
edit a website for San people –
is a fascinating way to begin every working day.
My mother, brother and sister all live in
South Africa and are frequent visitors, as are a multitude of
friends who descend on my home at regular intervals and sustain
me in all that I do. Hobbies seem to have gone out of the window
– perhaps while I was reading a particularly good book – except
for my dogs. I will always have a dog and my latest is Lyra, the
third in a regal procession of Wiemaraners – two of whom were
rescued from animal shelters. (And Lyra, naturally, got her name
from a book – The Golden Compass, by Phillip Pullman).
Apart from books and dogs (and an impressive
display of jewellery-making equipment gathering dust) perhaps
the thing that I most like to do is laugh. We don’t do enough of
it – and we don’t have enough books for children in Africa that
make them smile.