I've recently been sent the first cover image of my newest little book with Franklin Watts. ARABELLA'S WEB is the story of a spider trying to build a web in all kinds of unsuitable places, and who finally gets it right. The inspiration for this came, as always, from things observed - late September spiders in my garden starting their webs in places where they'd inevitably be destroyed, and then, suddenly, one morning, I was looking at bushes draped in silver - like frost or a Christmas tree - and there they all were (not much fun for passing flies, though). I'm not sure about the Hollywood eyelashes, but the composition's nice.
At present, I've been re-reading Jeanette Winterson's 'WHY BE HAPPY WHEN YOU COULD BE NORMAL?' As with all good writing, there's always more to discover, and what an amazing question posed by Jeanette's extraordinary and terrifying adoptive mother. On the surface, the question's almost a joke - of course we would opt for happiness, why not? - but it wouldn't have been once. Until relatively recently, gay people would have been ostracised and severely punished (it was a criminal offence for men). Queen Victoria may not have recognised lesbians, but gay men were criminalised in the early Twentieth Century.
And - to digress totally! - would Jeanette Winterson have become a writer if she hadn't been exposed to the totalitarian Biblical views of Mrs Winterson, who read aloud the King James Bible daily? I think not. Words brand people. They're powerful. And what richness of language she was exposed to, despite the ghastly shortcomings and cruelty of Mrs Winterson.
Recently I was sent a brief for a new series aimed at boy readers. It needed adventures, swords, gore, mystery - quite a challenge, because it's not the way I usually write. By chance I picked up a book by Diana Wyn Jones - 'Castle in the Air' - an event per line (I exaggerate, but only a little), and perfect for this kind of brief. This kind of complex, event-filled plotting, comes close, in my mind, to mathematics - a subject I always found challenging. I've always written slowly, allowing plot to develop with my characters (and often run away with me). I wish I could write 'plot first', as some people can. I usually start with an idea and a vague notion of where it's going to take me.
To complete a very booky blog, I must mention 'My Innocent Absence'.
First published by Arcadia, these are the memoirs of Miriam Frank, whose early childhood was spent fleeing, with her mother, Kate, across Europe from the Nazis, and who ended up first in Mexico and then in New Zealand, where she studied to become a doctor. She, along with her husband, painter Rudolf Kortokraks, and their two children, became our next door neighbours a very long time ago, and since then, Miriam and I have forged a deep friendship. She was very new to writing and publishing when she started this memoir, and worked for many years to get her book published. This is the e-book version, currently available for 99p. She is a hugely talented writer, and this very well-reviewed book is fascinating. Do take a look.