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Interview with Peter Dickinson

Peter Dickinson was questioned by a group of students from Romsey Community School in Hampshire, led by Harriet Keane and Jonathan Murdoch-Smith with additional questions sent in by readers. We want to say a huge thank you to Peter, first of all for driving to Romsey in torrential rain on a really grim afternoon in July (in July!) and secondly for being so generous with his time, so open to the questions, so detailed and informative in his answers and such good company. It was a magical afternoon and the rain really didn’t matter in the end.

Why did you decide to write for children rather than for adults?

I didn’t. It decided. I was reviewing detective stories and I said, “Anybody can do this,” and I had a good idea and I started to write it and then I got stuck about two thirds of the way through. And then I had a proper old-fashioned nightmare in which I was being drowned for a witch in Weymouth harbour. This was a good, old-fashioned science fiction nightmare because I still read a lot of trashy science fiction and it finished up in a lot of nonsense but I woke up and then I told myself the story again (which is a good idea if you’re having a nightmare) and I said, “Suppose I were to write this as a child’s book, then it might unlock the other book, the detective story.” These two books were published the same year, which was 1968 and the detective story won the prize for the best detective story of its year and The Weathermonger is still in print. And I thought, “Oh writing is easy,” and I’ve spent thirty years finding out that it isn’t!

Many authors write using mainly characters of their own sex, yet you use as many female characters as male characters. Is there any reason why you find it easier to write about female characters than other male authors?

Yes, there are several things about it. I don’t get in the way. I don’t want to put myself in my books. And I think girls make better observers, they are more socially aware. All my kids are very, really unrealistically, over-confident, over self-reliant. They get into things that would have scared me stiff as a kid and I daresay would have scared most of you, too. If I had a magic wish it would be to be a woman for a while,not for the sex in particular, but just to see how different it is.

Did you base your characters on anyone you know... your friends or your family?

Not very much. I like making people up. You try to make them as real as possible. They come to you. Writing a book in one sense is like having a knock on your door and you open the door and see what comes in. You say, “I’ve got to introduce a new character here and she’s obviously got to be a bit of a sexpot, so the old man can fall in love with her, so I’ll put her into a convertible and it’s high summer. I’ll give her bare tanned arms” and you’re sort of started with somebody. Gradually this person becomes the only person she could be and you know what’s right for her. It’s like that.

Many authors write their books in one style because they are comfortable in it and know they can write in it well, yet you write in many different styles. Why do you write in so many different styles and do you decide a style before you start a book or sort of midway through?

It is absolutely wonderful writing for the young because it is a comparatively small field and you can do any darn thing you want in it. There is room. There are so many voices to use, so many worlds to explore.

Do you regret not getting a book published before you were forty?

Not at all. I’m now 73 and I’ve written 50 books. I don’t know how long I shall go on—as long as books get given to me. I was a very slow grower-up. I mean, we all grow up at different speeds. I have friends who were grown up by the time they were 15. I don’t think I was grown up until I was 26/27, something like that—

Read more interviews of leading authors by children.

YoungWriter was a magazine published from 1995 to 2003 by Kate Jones.
We here at Myst Ltd had the pleasure of producing the magazine for Kate.
Sadly, Kate passed away in 2010.