For hasty jottings when waking in the night or pulling into a lay-by with a sudden thought, it’s a plain Bic ballpoint. (The kind that ruins your best jacket when it leaks into the top pocket.) For formal letters, those of condolence or thank-yous to People of Importance, it’s out with the Sheaffer fountain pen given to me by my wife on a special birthday. However, as I use it so rarely, it has usually dried out and I have to spend a good ten minutes washing, filling, etc before it’s functioning properly. But when it is… Ah! Even my worse-than-a-doctor’s scrawl becomes vaguely reputable.
For the really creative stuff, the vital notes, the crafted plans or first drafts when I’m without a keyboard, it has to be pencil. HB or B (odd how interpretations of standard degrees softness vary between companies) will do, and it’s at its very best when it’s half way between a post-sharpening point and worn-down bluntness. At that moment, for a few blissful words, the pencil almost does the writing for you.
The pencil or pen is only half the story. It works its magic only in conjunction with a surface. Own-brand notebooks of thin, scratchy paper produce thin, scratchy writing and are a waste of money. So too, in my view, are the glossy, multi-coloured ones, often ring-bound and hard-covered, with phrases like ‘Treasured Moments’ on the front. They are deeply impractical. No, the ideal notebook is the Oxford type: good quality paper, sensibly bound and 100% practical. The sort of book in which writers can do writing.
I don’t use much else in the writing process. Rubbers and Typex allow idiotic mistakes to vanish as if they had never been made; a stapler stops the wind putting p. 49 before pp. 33-39, and paper clips make useful tooth-picks.
I work in a large wooden hut in the garden. It’s cold in winter and stifling in summer, but it’s stuffed with books and its very special atmosphere allows things to happen. Moreover, when inside I can talk to myself without being thought odd.
My first book was published in 1984/5 (can’t remember exactly). I became a full-time writer on 1 September 1989, and have now published 300+ books of all sorts, shapes and sizes. Having been a teacher, I started by writing non-fiction for young readers – one could make a living from that back then. Next came adult non-fiction, mostly history, and two grown-up novels. As the non-fiction market dwindled, I have written more and more adult and children’s fiction. Some of my books (Moon, OUP; Into the Unknown, Walker) have won prizes.
I am currently working on three projects. The first is more titles for Timeliners, a wonderfully successful series that started life with Evans in 1995 as Coming Alive before morphing into Flashbacks. The current title was dreamed up by Dutch owners, ReadZone. At the same time, I’m writing a new set of Sherlock Holmes stories for Michael O’Mara – tremendous fun and by no means ‘elementary’.
The third project is selling / marketing / publicising The Salvation Project (Blean Books, June 2017) the third in my Soterion Mission trilogy. In theory its YA/A dystopia, but I strongly dislike categorising books. Whatever its genre, I honestly believe it’s the best and most important thing I’ve ever written.