Category Archives: Interview

Another Michael Grant interview

Michael Grant

And by that I mean another interview. Not another Michael Grant. But you knew that.

Michael is always very American, and very professional, about being interviewed. And as I enquired about his wealth – again – he enthused about John Lewis and what a good value wallet he’d bought there!

If you’re a fan of Michael’s books, rest assured there are more in the pipeline than you can shake a broomstick at.

Read about blue hair and lovely fans and all the rest here.

The #18 profile – Hilary Freeman

Hilary Freeman has been busy. She has a new book out, When I Was Me, and she has a young baby daughter, who very kindly agreed to go for a walk with her Dad so her Mum could answer my questions. I like that in a child; an understanding that occasionally literature has to come first, like maybe 2% of the time. So here’s Hilary, sharing some of her secrets with us:

Hilary Freeman

How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book?

None: I’m the luckiest person in the world because my very first novel was published. Piccadilly Press approached me on the strength of my journalism and teen agony aunt work, and asked me to pitch some book ideas. They liked the outline for Loving Danny, asked me to develop it, and commissioned it based on just one chapter. I am incredibly grateful for that break. I’m not sure I’d ever have had the confidence to send anyone my fiction writing, if that hadn’t happened.

Best place for inspiration?

By the sea. I find it hypnotic and calming. It really helps to clear my mind and let me focus.

Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?

I would consider it, if there was a good reason, and I have been involved in a couple of ghost writing projects. But I do like having my own name on the front of a book, partly as an up-yours to anyone who put me down in the past.

As a journalist, I often masquerade as celebrities when I write first-person articles with them. Once I had to choose a pseudonym for a national newspaper because I had several articles in the same edition. I chose Sue Denim, thinking they’d just laugh and tell me to choose another. But they didn’t get the joke, and printed it. I later learned that when Kylie Minogue checks into hotels, she calls herself Sue Denim!

What would you never write about?

There’s nothing I wouldn’t write about (now there’s a challenge). When I trained to be a journalist I was taught that a good writer is able to write about any subject. You just need to do the research and ask the right questions… Which is how I ended up writing about insurance (yawn) early on in my career. It’s the same with novels. Of course, it helps a lot if you’re interested in the subject matter. I failed my maths O-level and gave up physics at 14, but I tackled quantum physics in When I was Me.

Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in?

Will you allow me to be sentimental? I’m going to say, my baby daughter Sidonie, who is now just 10 weeks old. If I hadn’t taken myself away on writing retreats to Nice in France, I wouldn’t have met my partner Mickael, who worked in the apart hotel where I stayed, and we wouldn’t have had Sidonie. So in a roundabout way, she’s the result of my writing.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

That’s a tricky one, because most of my characters go through difficult times or have big flaws, so I wouldn’t really want to be any of them. Rosie from The Celeb Next Door probably has the most fun, so maybe her. And, of course, Naomi in Loving Danny is semi-autobiographical, so I’ve already been her.

Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing?

I think it would be fantastic. I love film as a medium, and the way I write is probably influenced as much by films as by books. Then, of course, there’s the money and the publicity too, which would attract new readers. To be honest, I can’t really think of a downside. So if anyone is reading this…

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event?

At a school visit in London, a girl asked me: ‘Have you ever met Nicki Minaj?’ (In case you don’t know, she’s a very loud American pop star.) I haven’t.

Do you have any unexpected skills?

I’m not sure what people would expect of me… I’m afraid I have no special talents (that are printable) but I do love a karaoke session. Once I get going, it’s hard to stop me. And I’ve been told that I can, surprisingly, be quite scary (not when singing Karaoke, I hope, but when I’m angry).

The Famous Five or Narnia?

Definitely Narnia. I loved those books when I was a child and there’s actually a little reference to Narnia in my new book, When I was Me. The idea of a magical world at the back of the wardrobe really fired up my imagination. I wasn’t allowed to read Enid Blyton as a kid – the only censorship my parents ever practised. They let me read anything on their vast bookshelves, but not Blyton.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

This is where I’m meant to say someone dark and brooding from a Swedish crime drama, right? I’m afraid my answer is far less cool. I love Abba (remember the karaoke) – all four of them – and actor Alexander Skarsgård is yummy.

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?

I’m quite a messy person and my books are not arranged in any particular order. They’re shoved wherever they will fit. In fact, the bookshelves are so overfilled that they’re now bowing, and there are piles of books on the floor in several rooms. That’s why I really only buy e-books these days.

Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader?

I’d give him a book that appealed to an interest he was passionate about, such as football. In fact, I once contributed a short story to a book called Football Shorts (Walker), which was aimed at encouraging literacy in young boys, and which contains stories by both children’s authors and footballers.

If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be?

What an impossible choice. They go together like rhubarb and custard, one making the other sweeter and one, sharper. I keep changing my mind but I think it would have to be writing because the urge to express myself in words is like an itch. Although I guess I could speak the words out loud instead. Would that be cheating?

A big thank you to Ms Denim, and if you must sing Mamma Mia non-stop, please do it somewhere else. You’ll wake the baby.

A pathological liar

Even though I know I will love listening to Sophie Hannah talk about her new book, it takes me by surprise how entertaining she is. Fun. Intelligent. I’ve had her A Game For All The Family sitting here for a while. First I was going to read it immediately, but you know how that tends to go. After that I was too scared to contemplate it. Because Sophie is one scary woman, too.

Sophie Hannah

She’s satisfied with the title of her novel. She got the words from numerous boxes containing board games and the like, and her novel is about a family playing games, just not Cluedo or Monopoly. It’s her first standalone novel, and she couldn’t use her normal detectives Simon and Charlie, because she needed the police to be useless. And to be in Devon.

It’s about pathological lying, which is different from ‘normal sensible lying.’ She was inspired by her daughter’s friend, who was an unusually interesting nine-year-old boy. (Sophie tends to go out of her way to avoid children.) Set in a house on the same spot as Agatha Christie’s Greenway, it was inspired by Sophie’s family holiday there.

Sophie Hannah

Sophie has to plan everything in advance, as her ‘mysteries are so weird’ and there is generally just the one possible solution. She reminisced about her own house move from Bingley to Cambridge, moving not because they needed to, but because she felt like living in Cambridge. It made her feel a bit neurotic, worrying about having randomly moved her family, possibly tempting fate in doing so.

As a child she used to write jolly, childish stories, but rarely of the fingerprints and DNA variety. She talked about the pathological liars she has known. Her husband told her ‘no one is even remotely as weird as you.’ She feels attuned to the weird side of life, and loves inviting insane guests for dinner. (You’ve been warned.)

Apart from for her Poirot novel Sophie has come up with the titles for all her books, and she likes having the title before she starts writing. She feels there is often a link between what authors like reading and the kind of books they write. Sophie grew up on Agatha Christie and Ruth Rendell, who are both favourites, as well as P D James’ Innocent Blood which she would go up to strangers to recommend.

Sophie Hannah

At the moment Sophie has four and a half days off from having finished her next book, The Narrow Bed, before she starts on a secret writing task that has to be done by Christmas. I think we can guess.

When I got home, all fired up, I discussed the book with the Resident IT Consultant. I said I must read it. He – who has read it – commented on the plot, and I said ‘that sounded like a bit of a spoiler.’ He looked embarrassed before saying he’d better not say any more. Wise man. Maybe I’ll gag him.

A kind of Bernard, but one level down

One day I will know not to say to people I’ve just met that I’m pleased they are so old. I mean it in the most positive way, but realised – belatedly – that it might not sound too good.

Two weeks ago I knew nothing about Lindsey Davis, and when her publicist mentioned her to me, I visualised a twenty-something with long blonde hair. (It’s something about the name, that sounds so blonde and so young.) Hence my relief on discovering Lindsey is 66 and wears black socks. Like Jeremy Corbyn. (Her words, not mine.) She was ‘terribly sorry, but it’s just the way things are.’

Lindsey used to be a civil servant, rather like Bernard in Yes Minister. Now a bestselling author of historical Roman crime novels, Lindsey could take up sitdown comedy if she ever wants to, with no need to go civil servanting again. And at 66 she has her pension. I do hope her sense of humour will help her forget my bad manners. As I said, I meant well. (And as Lindsey said, ‘no I’m not going to stop [writing]. I don’t think female authors give up, do they? How old was P D James? 93.’)

We had tea, and coffee (which was not so frothy it gave her the moustache she craved), before her Bloody Scotland event. I’m grateful for the opportunity not only of meeting Lindsey, but being able to switch events to go to hers. It was one of the best ever, and I’d happily go again tomorrow. She had started her day by lying down on the carpet in her hotel room, until she remembered that in CSI they always point out how much ‘stuff’ will be lurking in a small square of hotel carpet. But since she was down there, she decided to make use of it.

When she was a civil servant during Thatcher’s reign, Lindsey used to do many strange things, and I especially approve of building toilets in – already – ancient monuments. And that’s with only O-level Maths, and English from Oxford. Lindsey decided to leave the civil service when she had to write draft letters on behalf of someone, and then had to write draft replies back to herself.

Lindsey Davis

To cheer herself up Lindsey wrote a novel, set in her favourite period, the English Civil War. She was runner up in a writing competition, so decided to give writing a go. In the 1980s the Civil War was the wrong period. ‘I chose the Romans because nobody else was doing it, which now seems rather funny. I like to tell myself they wouldn’t be there [in the bookshops] if I hadn’t.’ She had a leaking roof that needed money spending on it, and she’d already done some research on the period, and could ‘bluff well.’

Her Marcus Didius Falco books are in effect the Roman Archers; with her adding family details as the series grew. When writing about the Emperor Domitian, Lindsey discovered she quite likes ‘evil paranoid tyrants,’ reckoning she is one of them.

The new Albia series about Falco’s adopted daughter Flavia Albia is set when Albia has reached adulthood, so she has a certain standing in society, despite being a mere woman. Lindsey also feels that both authors and their characters need maturity and life experience, in order to avoid that young, blonde feeling.

(I kept mentioning the Roman Mysteries, and the fact that the female detective in those books is also a Flavia. Apparently you would be named for the Emperor, which explains the staggering number of Flavias. And then I mentioned the RM a bit more still… Lindsey reckons girls didn’t marry as early as we are made to believe. ‘I’m not convinced that that really happened. I think it was something that was practised in the aristocracy.’)

The most recent Albia book, Deadly Election, wasn’t planned to coincide with the elections either here or in the US. It mainly happened because of some stolen Rugby tickets for the Five Nations in Rome, which Lindsey had thought she could use for some kind of Colosseum background. And anyway, in Rome it was the Emperor who decided, with no elections necessary. (She told me she had always wanted to write about a Roman election, and how in the series this was a good moment. ‘And I found a book on it as well, so it just happened, and then I realised just how exciting it was going to be.)

Lindsey Davis

During the Q&A we discovered that the hall was full of retired civil servants. One man wanted her to come and live next door. I think that was a sensible request. We got an explanation to the background of the turbot gift, which featured an editor burning his hands on a hot tray of recently cooked fish. A very large fish, but no turbot.

Lindsey is a sneaky woman. I like her. She wanted to write a series of seven books, set on the seven hills of Rome. Two editors said no. Instead she’s writing about Albia. Each book is set on one of the hills of Rome. A new hill every book. There will be seven books.

She doesn’t plan much. (Except perhaps for the seven hills thing.) She has a vague idea of who will die and who did it, but wouldn’t want a long synopsis to ‘colour in’ when writing the book. And no need to suggest potential plots to her. ‘I don’t want people to give me ideas. I have plenty of ideas myself!’

At this point someone felt called upon to let us know that Lindsey’s ‘twin’ Jeremy Corbyn had won, so black socks are clearly ‘it.’ She grew up as much on radio drama crime as on books, liking Chandler and Hammett. Lindsey does read, but ‘when I stop work I tend to do something completely different, like gardening.’

No ‘street Latin’ for her in the books, either. ‘I hate books where they break into foreign languages.’  What she’s got is mainly 1940s style wise cracks. Lindsey finished by reading the first page from her next novel in the Albia series. This is a woman who knows what she’s doing.

Lindsey Davis

At the end of the day I discovered I was also wearing black socks. Admittedly, I’m not 66, but it’s a good witchy number. Long live old age.

The #17 profile – Ruth Eastham

I like Ruth Eastham. I like her books, too, and now she has a new one out – The Jaguar Trials – which I’ve not yet had time to read. So while you wait to hear more about that, you can see what Ruth had to say in reply to my author profile questions. She definitely wins the prize for most succinct and to the point answers!!! Very efficient.

Ruth Eastham

‘How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book?

Two, including this one:

Ruth Eastham, The Good Fairy

Best place for inspiration?

Anywhere with a view of the sea.

Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?

Yes. No.

What would you never write about?

Never say never!

Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in?

Mackerel fishing on a boat to Skomer Island.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

Yara from The Jaguar Trials.

Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing?


What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event?

Did you arrive by private jet then?!

Do you have any unexpected skills?

Gecko spotting.

The Famous Five or Narnia?


Who is your most favourite Swede?

Author Henning Mankell.

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?

By type.

Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader?

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be?


I’d not be surprised if Ruth really jetted in on a private plane. More surprised about the geckos. And that very early book The Good Fairy looks quite promising…

2 x Michael Grant

The place I had to be on Saturday afternoon was a nearby author hotel, where I was going to interview Michael Grant. Again. (He interviews so well! How can a witch not go for him over and over again?)

Michael had just arrived in Edinburgh, but had skipped immediate jetlag by doing research in England first. Some nautical research, and a wide-eyed new discovery in the shape of the London Oxford Street branch of the shop that is never knowingly undersold. Michael loved it, and had had no idea such a place could exist.

He looked better than ever, tanned and thin, and pretty unstoppable. This time I made sure he had coffee that didn’t politely go cold, although it might have been dreadful coffee for all I know. I had the tea.

I’d been reading his new book, out later this week, the second and last in his Messenger of Fear series. I wanted to ask why he’d gone in such a new direction, and what will happen next, and then what comes after that. Lots of books, is the answer. We got to admire his daughter’s new hair, which cost a fortune, and my photographer learned some financial tips from Michael’s son (who wasn’t there, and nor was his sister).

We got longer than planned, as Michael was hungry and wanted a sandwich as well. He can eat and talk at the same time.

Afterwards we walked over to Charlotte Square for his event, and I can tell you that was one long queue he had, waiting patiently. It’s always good when there are lots of teenagers at teenage events.

It was fortunate that Michael had already shown us the disgusting images on his laptop, so they didn’t come as a complete surprise when he started off with them. (His wife doesn’t like them, either.) And he set us a problem to solve, making the tent into a sealed brick building, with monsters coming out of the floor, wanting to eat three humans. He wanted to know what our monsters looked like. (Blue, in my case. A bit blobby.)

This time Michael had decided to preempt the perennial question about where he gets his ideas from, not wanting to get annoyed, or claim that they come from Tesco, next to the yoghurt. That’s partly the reason he’d found himself this software that produces such creepy and disturbing pictures.

At one point I thought Michael claimed not to have been on a riding course (and I could just visualise him on this horse), when I worked out he’d not been on a writing course.

One of his book ideas he described to his editor as The Seventh Seal, but with fewer Swedes and more teenagers. (You can never have too many Swedes.) As for sex, that is more fun to do, than to write about. Although we learned that he has a past writing Sweet Valley Twins books, which is actually a bit disturbing.

Michael has completely ruined his editor, who has gone from someone who recoiled from his suggestions, to actively embracing them. With Messenger of Fear he put in everything he could from his own fears, which have mostly to do with his children, and if he got rid of them, his wife. (He has tried.) Then it’s fire, and small closed in places.

Michael Grant

He’d never put himself in the books, but when asked who in Gone is most like him, it’s Quinn, ‘the unreliable friend, the backstabbing little shit.’

And on that note we stampeded to the bookshop next door, where he signed books until he eventually got rid of his fans.

As for me, I can’t now unthink some of the ideas Michael has put into my head; from bricked up book festival tents, to being the one fed to the monsters.

The #16 profile – Theresa Breslin

It’s taken me a while to tie Theresa Breslin down for a profile, but now that it’s finally happened you can see what a natural she is for this sort of thing. Theresa has a new book out – An Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Mythical Creatures – which is another of those gorgeous story books, illustrated by Kate Leiper (who does not seem to have a profile here… Oops). Well, let’s start with the Lego style Theresa:

Theresa Breslin Lego Girl

“How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book?

None. It was a One Strike Shot. Had a whole lot of support from a writers group and, in particular, a friendly female poet who pointed me in the right direction.

Best place for inspiration?

Walking in woods. Anytime of the year. The peace and beauty calms my spirit and makes me reflect – and always something to different to see.

Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?

Ahemmm! I did. Once. I was invited to contribute to a series and my name had to be Maria Palmer. The series was called ‘Horrorscopes’ (Get it? Horoscope > Palmer ) I became addicted to reading my daily horoscope. It all came in very useful later when I was writing The Nostradamus Prophecy

What would you never write about?

Couldn’t really rule out anything. I’ve already written about things I never imagined I would e.g. the scenes in Prisoner of the Inquisition.

Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in?

My writing has taken me to some amazing and unusual places e.g. Walking on the cobblestones of ancient cities along the Great Silk Road and travelling through the desert places which appear in the film Lawrence of Arabia. I’m fascinated by ancient writing and the language and literature of the world. I love meeting young people of many cultures – special occasions were talking to teenagers in Siberia and a group of extremely lively twelve year old boys in Hong Kong.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

That’s a tough one, but possibly Matteo in The Medici Seal because he is with Leonardo da Vinci as he does dissections, paints The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa, and when trying out his flying machine.

Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing?

I’ve had work adapted for stage and screen and was given very good advice from a fellow writer who said to me (in the words of the famous song!) ‘Let. It. Go.

But that’s very hard to do, especially when scenes are deleted and characters conflated or removed. I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve always been consulted and listened to, and have had it explained to me why it’s not possible to cram everything in. It’s a totally different medium and (gulp!) yes, sometimes changing the text / dialogue works better than keeping the original lines. The new musical theatre script of Divided City for Primary Schools is very much abridged, but it has to be so that Primary School children can perform it. The Primary School Divided City is set up so that there can be a large cast and every pupil is on stage. I think that makes it worth accepting that some scenes have to be cut.

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event?

Recently an eleven year old boy asked if, as well as doing all the writing about what was actually happening in a book, was it hard for me to work out the emotional problems of my characters! We chatted. He probably doesn’t realise it but he could become a great writer. In fact I think he’ll be terrific in whatever career he chooses.

Do you have any unexpected skills?

I cannot swim, cook, bake, shop for groceries, garden, keep house plants alive or do make-up, hair, or nail polish, and I don’t like driving. But, when my children were small and there was no shop-bought stuff available, I could make the best Hallowe’en costumes, ever. I also tell really good stories, especially Folk Tales….

The Famous Five or Narnia?

Growing up I was a Famous Five obsessive. I actually was George but had to keep this a secret from family and teachers at school.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

Way too many to choose, Sweden is a country that punches way above its weight in famous folks. Obviously there’s a certain Bookwitch persona but for me it’s Pippi Longstocking, created by the wonderful writer Astrid Lindgren.

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?

I’ve had bookcases specially made to fit around doors and have commercial ones and saggy shelf ones and that old favourite, pile-them-on-the-floor kind. My own work is arranged alphabetically. The surname part is relatively easy, but getting the titles in strict library order is a whole lot more challenging…

Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader?

I’d like to talk to that boy first. I’d like to know what TV he watches and what film he’d watch twice. What music puts him to sleep, and what might make him want to dance in his pants. I’d like to know if he’s a Minecraft Man or a Candy Crusher. I’d like to know what ‘set’ texts he’s been subjected to and what reading scheme his school is using. I’d like to know if he’d pick up a book with an illustration by Albert Uderzo or prefer one done by Chris Riddell. I’d like know if he loves limericks or longer ‘story’ poems. I’d like to know if anyone at home would ‘share’ the book with him. I’d ask him to do my Five-Finger-Word-Spread test. I’d like to discuss book production with him and explain paper weight and shading, and font form and ink colour, and what the terms ‘leading’ and ‘margin’ and ‘gutter’ mean, and how these can affect the enjoyment of a book, and how he ain’t to blame if some books would repel a book-eating boa constrictor.

Possibly at this point I might have to explain to him that I am totally crazily passionate about children (and adults) reading.

Then, and only then, would I show him my selection of books and we’d flick through them together…

Note: The Librarian in me won’t lie down!!!!!

If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be?

Oh, a real Stinko question at the end! And here was me thinking that you were a Bonnie Wee Witch! If all else fails then probably Reading. There’s nothing quite like it in the whole universe. Experience the resonance when you read a few lines, and, suddenly, your soul quivers like a struck tuning fork.”

Well, I say long live librarians! Especially colourful ones. But I’d obviously have to bring food should I ever approach Breslin Towers.

(As for the photo, it’s Theresa’s favourite. Just squint and you’ll see her.)