Did you ever meet Adolf Hitler?

No. I believe he did visit this country once before the War but he couldn’t have come here while his country was at war with us. He would have been captured or killed immediately.

Were you an evacuee in WW2?

No, because I lived in the country. I was at the other end of the process – evacuees from London came to us.

Did you have evacuees staying at your house?

Yes. First we had two Jewish girls. (I thought they were very beautiful.) They didn’t stay long. Then we had a boy from Bethnal Green. I disliked him because he broke my toy soldiers. He would line them up and shoot stones at them with a catapult. Most of them lost their heads, or an arm or leg. He stayed quite a long time but he left eventually, much to my relief.

How old are you?

I was three when the War began in 1939, so you can work it out. I can’t remember much from the early part of the War, but the middle years – and the end of it – I recall very clearly.

Why did you want to write stories for children?

I became interested in books for children when I was a schoolteacher. Later, when I taught at a college, I ran courses on children’s literature. By that time, I was totally hooked, and when I retired I decided it was time to try my hand at writing children’s stories myself.

How long does it take to write a novel?

It takes me about a year to write the first draft. Then friends and family will suggest improvements. After that, my agent will also suggest some changes. And when that is finished, my publishing editor will also want to make some alterations. Finally, it takes many months to complete the printing and publishing. Altogether, it probably takes around three years.

Do you draw your book covers?

No, and that’s a good thing! I’m not very good at drawing. The publisher has some very clever people to do that for me. One of them, Nick Stearn, designs the book, and there is an illustrator called Liane Payne who does the covers.  When she starts, she is given a ‘brief’ and then her first designs are sent to me and I can suggest changes. I have been very pleased with the covers.

Do you draw the maps?

No. I drew a rough kind of map, but a designer called Suzy Durham had the brilliant idea of putting little drawings in. So they are both maps and pictures. Many readers have told me how much they like them.

Did you have an air-raid shelter in your house?

Yes, we had a Morrison shelter in our living-room. It was like a huge table, made of metal, with grilles along the sides to protect you from flying debris or from shrapnel. These grilles had to be removed when we sat at the table for our meals so that there was space for our knees and feet. My mother put rugs and cushions in the shelter so that we could make ourselves comfortable during air-raids. But – strangely – she never went into the shelter herself. She sat in a corner, knitting. She seemed not to care about the danger of being bombed. 

Did you have a gas-mask?

Yes, and at first we had to take them everywhere we went. Every morning at school we had gas-mask drill. It was fun at first, but we soon got tired of them because they smelt of rubber and quickly steamed up so that we couldn’t see through the eye-piece. However, there was one consolation: if you blew in a particular way and held the rubber away from your chin, you could make very disgusting noises. This annoyed our teachers.

But the truth is that after a few months people forgot about gas-masks and they were put away and neglected. Luckily for us, there were never any gas attacks.

Were you ever bombed?

No, but bombers frequently flew over our village on their way to bomb the big cities of the Midlands.

Do you enjoy reading fantasy books?

Only good ones. I tried to write one once, but it was not a success. I prefer my stories to have their feet on the ground. Or perhaps I’m just no good at magic. 

How old were you when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

I can’t remember a time when I did not want to write stories.

Where do you get your ideas from?

All writers find this a difficult question to answer. I once heard another famous children’s writer who was asked this, and she turned the question back to the questioner. ‘Where do your dreams come from?’ she said. Of course, nobody could say. And she explained that it was like that with stories.

Which of your characters is your favourite?

I quite like all my characters, even the bad ones and the silly ones. The character I most admire is Molly. When I was a boy I would have liked to be like Adam. However, I wasn’t!

Do you write every day?

Almost every day, at the same time of day. A famous author (Philip Pullman) was once asked if he believed in inspiration. He said he wasn’t sure about it, but if inspiration was going to come to him he needed to be in the same place at the same time every day so that it knew where to find him. I do that too.

Do you have any pets?

Yes. I have two cats (Bessie and Tigger) and a tortoise. The tortoise is very old (we’ve had him for nearly 50 years) and he is called Houdini. The first Houdini was an escapologist, and so is my tortoise. He has escaped from my garden many times. 

Is Adam like you?

He is like what I would have liked to be when I was a boy.