All the time I was writing the first Montmorency books, I was also studying for a PhD in History. I my studies were based in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and for Montmorency I was working on the late 19th and early 20th. It could be quite a stretch, but at least I had wonderful facilities for researching the Montmorency books, and I continued to use them when working on Johnny Swanson.
Then came the wonderfully eccentric , a standalone title set in 1929 about a boy who makes money from people gullible enough to send postal orders in response to his personal ads. (His "miniature royal portraits", for example, turn out to be postage stamps with the king's head on them.) Unlike the meticulously plotted and researched Montmorency books, this is much more of a romp: fun is at the heart of it, though Swanson still manages to touch upon the very real horrors of TB.
I’m also a governor of the children’s charity, Coram, which is the modern version of the old Foundling Hospital, the first real orphanage in Britain. Being asked to become a governor there meant a lot to me because my father was brought up in the Foundling Hospital, having been admitted as a baby in 1913. Those of you who have read all the Montmorency books will know that the Foundling Hospital turns up in the story – but I won’t spoil things for those of you who haven’t got there yet by telling you what happens. You can find out more about Coram at
Author's Note about The Montmorency books grew out of stories I made up for my children at bedtime. I told them all sorts of stories, but they wanted to hear about Montmorency more and more, and before long he seemed almost like a member of the family. Over the years I did quite a lot of background research, with a vague intention of writing a book, but a couple of house moves meant my notes all got lost. Then I finally sat down and started writing when my husband was busy with a book about Tony Blair. I suppose I was jealous that he was getting to shut himself away with his work.I did the first draft when we were on holiday in Crete in the summer of 2001. I worked mainly at nighttime when it was cool.I still do a lot of my writing during the night. Jim goes to work at 3am (he presents the BBC 'Today' programme on the radio), and I often have trouble getting back to sleep after he's gone. It's a great time to work because the phones don't ring, and the children are asleep and undemanding.I always wanted to write, but was a bit scared of drawing attention to myself. Recently, I went to visit my old primary school, and was reminded that when I was 6 years old I was on the TV news reading a tiny extract from a story I had written. I now have a video of that — proof that I started at a very early age!