“I was born in Birmingham and lived there until at the age of four my parents moved away to Evesham.
Here I grew up and remember little of those times. I do know that from at least the age of six I wanted to be an artist. I watched my dad drawing a picture of a lapwing, making a bird appear on a piece of paper using only a pencil, and I thought it was some magic that made this happen. So there and then I decided to learn how to conjure birds from paper and colour.
I went to school in Evesham to Prince Henry’s High School and I remember walking to school past shop fronts above which elegant buildings grew. I used to get told off at school for drawing and dreaming. Now I get paid to do both.
I remember walking in the park by the river, bank voles and weeping willows and bright flashes of kingfishers. I loved the ferry at Hampton where the ferryman pulled you across the river to a land of fields and blackberries, where my dad would walk with me and show me how to find birds’ nests and tales of when he was a boy.
After school I went to college, first in Hereford, then to Exeter where they told me that I would never make it as an illustrator and from there I escaped to Bath Academy, set in a beautiful stately home in Corsham. Here I developed a love for peacocks. These bright birds with their ridiculous tails would fly into our gardens.
After college I moved briefly to London, just off Balham High Road. I thought you had to live in London because that is where most of the publishing houses are. (It didn’t take me long to realize that I was not born to live in a city) It was here that my real education began as I took my portfolio around magazine publishers and book publishers. I worked in magazines and books for seven years, for The New Statesman, New Socialist, Independent, Guardian and Radio Times. I designed cards and calendars for Greenpeace and Amnesty International and fell into children’s books by accident.
I moved to Wales just before starting my first children’s book, Jo’s Storm, by Caroline Pitcher and have lived in the same place ever since, a small cottage held together by spider’s webs. Cats come and go. At the moment I share the house with Tom and Hannah, my son and daughter, Floss and Bella, two odd dogs, and Maurice, Pixie, Elmo, Martha and Max, cats of various colour but mostly ginger.”
… and to give you a few insights into this year’s nominees, we’ve asked them all a few questions…
Tell us one of your early favourite fantasy novels?
The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin was my favourite novel for many years. I wanted so much to be able to turn into a hawk and fly, to speak with dragons. It never occurred to me when I was reading it that the book was devoid of female characters, apart from a hedgewitch who was a bit useless really. I related to the main character and identified with him so very strongly. I loved the development of the character. I loved the way she wrote her dragons.
What fantasy novel was a real game changer, shifting the way you thought about epic fiction?
All of Robin Hobb’s books. And also The Cloven Hooves by Megan Lindholm who is also Robin Hobb. Her books, were they in any other genre, would sweep the board with awards. The style of her writing wraps you up in the story, the ideas she works with court the intellect.
Cloven Hooves is a work of pure magic. Many a sentence conflicts you with the need to read again, to read aloud, while the story pushes you on with a need to know what happens.
What do you like to see on fantasy novel cover art? What puts you off?
I like to see beauty, and am almost always put off by a man in a cape.
What classic fantasy themes always get your interest on the cover or in the write up of a new book? Any pet hates?
Love dragons, love beauty. Pet hate has to be seeing the characters on the covers. I think there is something of the magical alchemy of a brilliant book that means that every reader has in their own mind what the main characters will look like and to pin this to the cover like a dead moth in a cage is to kill something of that magic.
What’s the next big thing you’d like to see in epic fantasy fiction?
I have an idea or two….. but keeping close to my heart at the moment. I do love the freedom of this genre though. I find myself happiest in my reading when lost in the world of Robin Hobb, Patrick Rothfuss, Elizabeth Hand, Kij Johnson and more.