How did Tyne and Wear Folk Tales for Children come about?
I had written County Durham Folk Tales for adults and the book had done well. However, most of my time is spent running writing workshops in primary schools, so the History Press asked me if I’d like to write a children’s version of the book. I saw it as an opportunity to retell some of the folk tales from Durham, but I wanted to broaden its scope, and so it became a book which includes tales from both the River Tyne and the River Wear.
Which folktale is your favourite out of the collection?
There are obvious choices such as the famous Lambton Worm and Cauld Lad of Hylton but I like my co-author Dave Silk’s retelling of two witch tales – The Wallsend Witches and The Newcastle Witches. They’re such fun. I won’t tell you too much about them as I want you to enjoy the stories in their entirety rather just a simple synopsis.
What’s your favourite folktale from outside the UK?
There are so many that it is hard to choose. I travel a lot, visiting schools all over the world, and have delivered writing workshops in Vietnam, the Middle East, China, Malawi and many more. Every time I visit a new country I like to collect the local tales from that place. There are fantastic folk tales everywhere I go but I think that the Baba Yaga stories from Russia are my absolute favourite.
Why are folk tales important for children – and adults?
Stories appeal to all ages essentially because human beings are story animals – we thrive on them in all of their forms, whether news articles, stories in the pub, or experiences at work that we share at the dinner table. We communicate through story. We express our inner selves in the retelling of the story. Stories hold great power. Folk tales are powerful developmental tools for children and adults alike. They can have a dark side to them but generally good overcomes evil – they frequently contain moral messages too and are useful tools for promoting oral storytelling.
When did your love for writing start?
I began writing at school. I loved ghost, vampire and werewolf stories so used to write my own following the patterns of the stories I was reading. But it was when I discovered the Greek myths on holiday in Greece that I first wanted to write my own stories like those – they blew my mind and still continue to do so to this day.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I always exercise before I write, going to the gym or for a long walk. I just find that it focuses my mind and helps the words flow. I meditate every day too, which helps me to find my own written voice instead of replicating whoever I’m reading at that time.
Who are your literary influences?
Angela Carter’s reimagining of the fairy tale in The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories has been massively influential upon my own writing. To take the stories we know so well and interpret them in new and exciting ways is fantastic. My favourite author though is Haruki Murakami. He’s a Japanese author of around 30 books that have been translated into English and I adore every one of them.
What’s your favourite book?
I think that is an impossible question to answer – it varies several times throughout each day. Sometimes it’s classics such as 1984 or A Clockwork Orange, at other times it’s what I’m currently reading. I do love John Connelly’s The Book of Lost Things and John Kennedy Toole’s Confederacy of Dunces though, so perhaps those.
What projects are you working on for 2019?
I’m currently writing some reading scheme books for Hachette and have another academic book due for publication on how to help children write in greater depth. I’m always working on new fiction though – some gets published, some doesn’t. But it all helps in making you a better writer, as the more you write, the better you get.
What’s it like writing a book in collaboration?
It was great as Dave and I could split the book in half and write our own short stories. We have very different writing styles but that seemed to work in the book as a whole. I’m interested in seeing whether people can spot who wrote which story.
You’re from the North East – What’s your favourite thing about it?
I live in Durham and just love my home. The cathedral is one of my favourite places on earth, and I love being out walking in Weardale and along the beaches to the east of this beautiful county.
Describe your perfect weekend.
My aunt lives on Lindisfarne, so I’ve always loved the island since being a child. For me it is the perfect place to escape from everything. When the tide is in and the tourists have gone, the island takes on a magical, almost surreal, feel to it. Walking along the north of the island over the sandy beaches listening to the song of the seals sounds about the most perfect weekend I can think of.