Frequently asked questions

How do you write a book and how long does it take?

My books are written in three stages.

The first stage is a bit like cooking. You need to get your ingredients together. My books are (very roughly) half imagination and half a jumble of people and places, conversations and bits of music that I have collected up in my memory. This mixture is fixed together with a glue made up of jokes and characterisation. Imagine it in a cauldron. It would look like a bright, papery, fizzy, soup. It would steam: multicoloured, coffee-smelling steam, with sparks in it.

This cooking-the-beginning of a book is the hardest part. You must get your ingredients to stick together, but it is not easy. If you have not added enough imagination it will be lumpy and boring. If you have added too much, it will boil over and run away and be lost. Also the jokes have to be good jokes (bad ones go mouldy) and the characters have to be interesting. Otherwise the fire will go out, and the cooking will be ruined.

It sounds like it would never work, but surprisingly, it often does. One happy day you stir around in the cauldron and fish out a story.

After that, the second stage is easy. The characters find their voices and the book takes off without you. It is no longer cooking, it is a mad train. You have to run after it shouting, 'Oy! Wrong direction and much too fast! Too many passengers and the last three carriages have fallen off! Stop and let me drive!'

(This second stage is quite fun).

The third stage is not train driving or cooking. It is very quiet and careful. It is a sitting-down job.

I call it polishing. That is finding the words that will say what you want to say most clearly, and taking out the sections that slow things down, and (most important for me) seeing that it reads aloud well. I always read my books aloud, and it is surprising how many changes I make along the way.

All this takes me ages. That is how long it takes me to write a book: ages.