Children say, in letters, "Where do you get your ideas?" I think they are hoping that the author has some magical secret to reveal to them -- but alas, it doesn't work like that. Ideas never come when you want them; they pop up unexpectedly, sometimes at the most inconvenient moments.
Ideas come out of the unconscious mind: that shadowy place in which -- though we don't know it -- we store echoes of everything we have ever seen or heard or done, every person we've met, every story we've read. In there, all these old scraps are melted together, as if in a furnace, and once in a while, if you're lucky, they fuse into something bright and astonishing. I think the process starts the day that you are born.
I was born in England, in Buckinghamshire, near London. I have a younger brother called Rod (also a writer), and we were both rather shy and read a lot. When we were small, World War II was happening, and our nights were often noisy, because German planes were dropping bombs on us and the anti-aircraft guns at the end of our street were trying, generally without success, to shoot down the planes. After I grew up, I put those days into a book called DAWN OF FEAR, which is almost all true.
I've been writing ever since can remember. In the year I turned ten, I wrote three plays for a puppet theatre built by the boy next door, collaborated on a weekly newspaper with the son of my piano teacher, and wrote and illustrated a very small book. The plays and newspaper were a huge hit with their captive parental audiences, and I was delighted. The book was read and praised by an uncle who found it in a drawer, and I was so appalled at its exposure that I burst into tears and tore it up.
Fiction remained a private matter for a long time after that. I edited the school magazine, became the first woman to edit the Oxford University newspaper and then spent seven rapturous years in London as a reporter and feature writer for THE SUNDAY TIMES. In my spare time, I wrote two novels; one was a fantasy for adults called MANDRAKE, and the other a fantasy for younger people, called OVER SEA, UNDER STONE. Then, to the horror of my friends and relations, I married an American widower and went to live in the United States, where at the age of twenty-seven I would have three stepchildren, aged eighteen, sixteen, and fourteen. I remember my youngest stepson being instructed to help me unpack my belongings. "Jeez!" he said. "What do you do with all these books?"
In America I wrote a weekly column for a British newspaper and several more adult books, including a biography of the English writer J. B. Priestley, and I produced two babies, called Jonathan and Kate. (My stepdaughter had her first baby two months before I had mine, and had to teach me how to change diapers.) I was homesick for years, and perhaps that was part of the reason for my discovering, one day, that I wanted to write a sequence of fantasy novels called THE DARK IS RISING. The first of the five, I suddenly realized, was OVER SEA, UNDER STONE, which I had written without knowing it would ever have a sequel, and now there would be four more. I sat down, on this astonishing idea-filled day, and wrote an outline of the sequence and the last page of the very last book. And then, over a period of six and a half years, I wrote THE DARK IS RISING, GREENWITCH, THE GREY KING, and SILVER ON THE TREE. I dedicated two of the books to Jonathan and Kate, though it was a while before they were old enough to read them.
I had a large-scale theme for that sequence. I was trying to deal with the basic substance of myth: the complicated, ageless conflict between good and evil, the Light and the Dark. My stories were set in my own parts of Britain: in Buckinghamshire, in the Cornish village where we had spent holidays after the war, and in the part of North Wales in which my grandmother was born and eventually my parents lived. And I think the books were haunted: by my childhood self, by a lifelong fascination with myth and legend, and by the whole of Britain's many-layered history, stretching back more than four thousand years.
Perhaps someday I shall write another sequence like THE DARK IS RISING. But my imagination throws a lot of different ideas at me; perhaps I haven't changed much since I was that busy ten-year-old. Over the years I've written the texts for several picture books and a mixture of short plays, songs, and verse for John Langstaff's CHRISTMAS REVELS, presented in a dozen U.S.. cities at Christmastime. With the actor Hume Cronyn, I wrote a play called Foxfire which ran for seven months on Broadway, and every year or two now, between books, I write a TV film.
For a long time I wanted to write a story about an invisible mischief-making spirit known in Britain as a boggart -- and then one day my dear friend Zoe and I were traveling in Scotland, and we found a castle where I instantly knew my boggart lived. So I wrote THE BOGGART and THE BOGGART AND THE MONSTER, lighter and (I hope) funnier books than I had ever done before. But then the idea for KING OF SHADOWS hit me like a thunderbolt, so off I went in a totally different direction again, with a story about my greatest hero, Shakespeare. Next time -- who knows?
Jonathan and Kate have both left home and married now, and I'm remarried to Hume Cronyn. We live in Connecticut, and because I travel a lot, our only pets are goldfish named Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, and Delta, who live in an outdoor pool. I love gardening, and I have to battle a big fat greedy woodchuck who thinks I grow my plants to provide him with dinner. It would be nice if the goldfish suddenly grew huge one night, and leaped out of the pond to scare or possibly devour the woodchuck. Now, maybe that's an idea for the next book.