What is your current job title?
I'm not actually sure… I usually call myself a writer, or sometimes an author, and I often get introduced as a novelist or a filmmaker or an entrepreneur and once even an imagineer. I guess it's one of the best things about being able to do what you love for a living—you can give yourself whatever title you'd like! So, just for today, I will be a Professor of Ultimate Awesomeness. (I think I may get that printed on some business cards.)
Did you always want to be a writer?
Yes, it's the only job I have ever really wanted (apart from truck driver, which I would still like to try one day…). I wrote my first book when I was six (it's called the Little Monster Book, and I still have it and take it to schools and festivals with me), and I just kept on writing. I am really lucky to do this for a living—not that I believe in luck, or rather I believe that people make their own luck. I think that once you have found your passion in life—whether you're six or sixteen or sixty-six—you should just go for it. Believe in yourself, fight for it, love it, and most importantly never, ever give up. So much of success in the arts is down to hard work and patience, and persistence, and grit. Natural talent will only get you so far, it's the people who fight for it who get there.
When did you realise you could make a career of it?
I honestly wasn't sure if I'd ever be able to make a career of it, because it can be a tough business to make a living from. But money wasn't the reason I wrote. I just loved telling stories! The way I figured it, when I was a teenager, is that if I worked hard enough, and wrote the stories that I would love to read, then one day somebody would pay me for them. So I just wrote, and wrote, and wrote, and eventually somebody did! I got my first publishing deal when I was twenty-six, and immediately quit my job. I soon realised that my advance wouldn't even keep me going for a couple of months, so had to find work again, but being published gave me the confidence to keep writing. I knew that I was on the right track. And now I do it full time! My advice is never do a job because you think it will make you rich, do it because you love it. If you love it, and you work hard enough, and you never give up, then you will eventually make a career out of it. And the best thing about that is that you're doing what you love, so you will never actually do a day's work in your life!
How long have you been appearing at festivals? And how is this experience different from your usual work?
I love appearing at festivals and schools, it is one of the most rewarding parts of being a writer. I've been doing it since 2008 (back when I thought that speaking in public was one of the most terrifying things imaginable). Writing can be a pretty solitary job—just me and the cats, usually—and getting out to meet young readers and writers is so much fun. I love running creative writing workshops like the ones I'm running at Latitude this year. I am constantly blown away by the imagination and talent of the young people I work with. It is impossible not to be inspired by them (and you have to constantly remind yourself not to steal their ideas)! Seeing their enthusiasm for reading and writing is wonderful, and it makes me love what I do even more. Human beings are storytellers, every single one of us, and getting the chance to share stories like this is always amazing.
What is the biggest challenge in your work?
For me, the biggest challenge in writing was always just writing. It can be tough, sometimes, finding the motivation to write. Especially if your confidence takes a knock, or if you're having a bad day, or if you get a rejection. There are days when you feel like you just can't do it. I'm not the most patient person, and writing can be a slow process—publishing even slower. Actually my first ever novel got rejected, when I was eighteen, and I gave up writing for years because I thought that nobody would ever publish me. It was a ridiculous thing to do! Writing is like any other art or skill, you have to work at it. It's like learning the piano—nobody can do it on day one. You have to sit down and play every day. Write as often as you can, even on the days you don't feel like it. The more you write, the better you get and it's that dedication that will lead you to success.
What is the most enjoyable thing about your job?
I don't even know where to start! The whole thing feels like a dream. When I was a kid I used to imagine a future where I got to write stories all day and get paid to do it, and somehow that fantasy has come true. My working day (if you can call it work) involves writing books, reading books, talking to other people about books, plus watching movies and playing video games (because it's all good research, honestly). But the writing is the part of it I love most. There really is nothing like opening the first page of that brand new story, knowing that it can take you to the end of the universe and back. Meeting those characters for the first time, and setting out on that adventure with them, is addictive. You really do live a thousand lives in this job. And you know that these stories will live and grow in the minds of your readers for years, decades, maybe even centuries—your stories may actually change lives. It really doesn't get any better than that.
What advice would you give to any young people wanting to get into writing?
The first thing I would say is that anyone can be a writer. I honestly believe that. Like I said before, we're all storytellers by nature, we share our stories every day with our family and friends. Writing a novel (or a video game or a movie or a poem or a comic) is just an extension of that. But it takes practice, and patience, because writing is a craft that can take years to learn (and which will never be perfected, because with every story you learn something new). If I could tell the teenage me anything it would be to have patience! Write the stories you enjoy, too. Never write anything because you think it's what people want to read, or you think it's what publishers want to see—your heart just won't be in it. Write the story that YOU would want to read. Write the story that you simply wouldn't be able to put down. Because if you enjoy it, the chances are other people will too. Know that there will be rejection, and that there will be tough days. But know too that if you keep telling those stories you love then somebody else will fall in love with them too—an agent, a publisher, and possibly millions of readers. And never, ever give up. Mostly, though, my advice would be this: just write. Because it's who you are, it's what you do. Just write.
Want to get into writing? Check out the Creative Choices profile here