ANNE FINE'S BIOGRAPHY
When I was young, it never occurred to me that I might be a writer. I think I must have thought that books were born on the library shelves. But I was good at writing stories, and I had a good deal of practice.
My primary school teacher came in every Monday morning in a rather grumpy mood. He'd look at the work calendar on the wall, which told us that we should be doing maths, and put his head in his hands. Then, "Why don't you write me an essay?" he'd suggest. He'd write a few titles on the board - things like, A Day in the Life of a Lost Coin, Description of my Granny, or Adventure at the Seaside - anything like that. Then: "I want absolute silence till break-time" he'd say, nursing his hungover head. "The first person to whisper gets the strap."
I don't remember him ever giving anyone the strap (though we did keep very, very quiet, just in case). I loved those double lessons more than anything in the world (except for reading). No endless discussions. No sharing of ideas. No realising that someone else had also had your brilliant idea. I covered pages and pages, writing fast, hiding my work from the girl beside me. And I learned to judge the length and arch of a story. It was the best training I could ever have had, though I still didn't know I'd be a writer.
At school, I enjoyed languages most, and studied French and Spanish, along with History, for A levels. That meant there was no room for English, and so for my whole life I have been able simply to read what I want when I want, and only for pleasure or interest. I suspect that this has been really important for the way I write, making it so much easier to think always of the reader.
And then ...
I studied Politics and History at University, and the interest in political issues shows up in many of the books. (If you're ten or older, have a go at The Granny Project or The Book of the Banshee. And after that, if you're not the sort to get nightmares you could try The Road of Bones. I taught in a girls' secondary school for a year — exhausting! — and then moved with my ex-hubby to Oxford, where I worked as an Information Officer for Oxfam. I was only in this job for two years, but still it changed my attitudes to money, to 'things', and to what is truly important in life, for ever.
In 1971 my first daughter Ione was born. Unable to get to the library in a snowstorm to change my library books, in desperation I sat down and started to write a novel. Clearly this was the right job for me, for I have never stopped writing for more than a few weeks since.
I travelled with Kit Fine to California, Arizona, Michigan and Canada, where our second daughter, Cordelia, was born in 1975. Six years later I came back to the flat we'd left in Edinburgh, and a few years after that moved to County Durham, where I now live with my partner Richard, who is an orchid specialist, and our huge hairy Bernese Mountain dog. The list of books for both children and adults has grown longer and longer over the years.
Whether writing for children or adults, I work in the same way - always in absolute silence, mostly on computer now, but often with pencil and paper (and tea!) in bed early in the morning, or if I'm travelling on trains. I still hide my work if anyone walks past, and wouldn't dream of talking about what I'm writing or letting a soul look at it until it's almost completely finished.
Oh - and even after all these years I still prefer reading other people's books to writing my own!
A lot of my work, even for fairly young readers, raises quite serious social issues. Try Bill's New Frock or The chicken gave it to me. I believe that many personal decisions have a social or political resonance, and the way people try to pick their way through tricky family situations interests me (Step by Wicked Step, or Goggle-Eyes.). But people won't read books that don't hold their interest. Since I still adore books that make me laugh, and still write for the reader inside myself, I often just write plain. issue-free comedy. (For that, meet the Mountfield family in The More the Merrier, Eating Things on Sticks and Trouble in Toadpool.) But whatever I'm writing, I always end up with the kind of book I would have loved to read (if only someone else had bothered to write it for me).
My most demanding years must have been 2001-3. I'd been appointed the second Children's Laureate, and apart from my own particular projects (all of which are still going strong) I was asked to give dozens of talks on all sorts of topics related to children and reading: on creativity, the arts, libraries, politics in children's books, the way we teach English - it just went on and on. After, I was invited to become a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and was awarded an OBE for Services to Children's Literature. It was such a busy time that my accountant even queried my figures. "Surely you cannot possibly have been on all these trains!" I had, but I had had no time to write anything for myself.
I have seven grandchildren now, four of my own, and three steps. It's a greater pleasure than I ever imagined to revisit old, favourite books with brand new children.
If you need to know more about Anne and her writing — for example, for a project — the best place to find information is in An Interview With ... Anne Fine.
Published by Egmont, £2.99:
(Don't forget your librarian can reserve or order this for you if you ask for a 'request card'.)