I want to write stories that matter, that have a real point to them. I’m not interested in vampires.
When I started out I thought that a life as a writer would be simply about staying at home, writing books, publishing them and moving on to the next one. But writers also have to be performers these days. I spend a large portion of my year either on book tours or attending international literary festivals and audiences demand that, if they’re giving up an hour to hear you speak, you give them a good show. And this is a skill that a writer only develops over time. There’s such a dichotomy between the two worlds: the first is so private and solitary, a life lived in the mind, the second so public and theatrical. Fortunately, I rather enjoy both.
I read everything that interests me – contemporary novels, biographies, histories, classics. Like most writers and avid readers, I have a pile of books beside me as I type this that I want to read.
My two greatest influences are Charles Dickens and John Irving, writers separated by more than a century.
When I was a student on the creative writing course at the University of East Anglia in ‘94/’95, I was taught by the novelist Malcolm Bradbury. He told us that we should write every single day, 365 days a year, even Christmas Day. That whatever we were working on would only get finished by writing, writing, writing. I followed this advice and it is quite rare that I spend a day without committing at least a few paragraphs to page.
The idea that you can’t explore contemporary themes in a historical setting is ludicrous. Do I want to write a novel set today? Only if I have the right story to tell. The times don’t matter at all – it’s always the story, the story, the story.
Children’s fiction is a place of incredible passion – among writers, publishers, librarians and teachers – and the standard of writing is higher than it has ever been.
It’s not easy making a living as a writer and for many years I worked at a Waterstones in Dublin. It was a good environment for an aspiring writer, with lots of events and authors appearing.
The truth is that I can’t remember a moment when I didn’t want to be a writer. From childhood, I loved books, I loved stories and I loved writing my own.
I think a lack of self-consciousness is important. Feeling that one can try different styles, different types of writing without everything having to be perfect. As a young writer, there is no chance that everything you write will be published so it’s worth experimenting.