About Writing

Peter says he didn’t become a writer. He just is one, and always has been, ever since he can remember, the way a goldfish is a goldfish and can’t be anything else. Go to a zoo and look at one of the big birds, a condor, say, a creature made to soar above the Andes. They’ve probably clipped one of its wings so that it can’t hurt itself trying to fly around its cage, but it’s still a creature made to soar above the Andes. If you somehow stopped Peter writing, he’d still be a writer.

But he was a poet and a journalist before he started on books. He tried a murder story first, but got stuck half way through. Then he had a science-fictiony kind of nightmare, and decided to turn it into a children’s story, mainly to see if writing it would unstick the other book. (It did. That book won a prize for the best murder story of the year, and the children’s book was made into a TV serial.)

Since then he’s written over fifty books, most of them on a little old portable typewriter — one draft, to see what he’s got, and what else he needs to know and so on; then a bit of research; then a complete rewrite, beginning to end; and then, if all’s well, only a bit more tinkering. Sometimes it used to take a few months, sometimes a year or more. A few years back he moved over to a PC. It makes writing seem a very different kind of process — easier in some ways, harder in others.

The ideas come from all over the place — day-dreams, sometimes, or a kid on a long car-trip saying “Tell us a new story, dad.” Or something he’s heard or read — a voice on the radio saying “Even a hardened government soldier may hesitate a fatal half-second before he guns down a child.” For the best of them it feels as if the book had knocked on the door of his mind and said “Write me.” Then he’ll spend half a year or more letting the stranger in and finding who or what it is.

He has written all sorts of books, crime mainly for adults, though some of these are almost straight literary novels; but for children fantasies, historical, modern adventure, science fiction and so on. There won’t be many more. They used to come gushing out of the hillside like a mountain stream. Then he had to lift them up bucket by bucket from deeper and deeper wells, But now the wells are empty. He says.