Did you have a Worry Tree when you were younger?
No, but I wish I had as I was a real worrywart. I used to worry about all sorts of things: getting good marks at school, wondering if I was someone’s first best friend or second best friend, whether my dad, who was a shift worker, would be killed on the way home from work at night. (Well, people on TV were killed in the dark, so I figured it could happen in real life.) I even worried about who would cut my nails when I moved out of home. (I was eight at the time and my mum used to cut the nails on my right hand as I’m right-handed. I thought I’d end up with massively long nails and be known as the ‘Crazy Claw Woman’. Then I found out about nail clippers and was greatly relieved.)
Where did the idea of a Worry tree come from?
I had an idea for a story about an eccentric family, but I had no structure to hang the story on. Then one day, I was looking through a magazine and saw a photo of a girl's bedroom. There was a tree painted on the wall with animals in its branches. It occurred to me that as my main character was a worrywart, what she needed was a way of coping with her worries. I wondered what it would be like to peel away some old wallpaper and discover a tree you could hang your worries on.
What inspired you to write for kids?
In "You’ve Got Mail", Meg Ryan plays children’s book shop owner, Kathleen Kelly. Kathleen says, “When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.” I couldn’t agree more. I like creating stories that children will draw on throughout their lifetime, even
if only in small ways. I also like making people laugh, and children themselves are hilarious.
Do you base your characters on people you know?
My characters start off a lot like people I know, but after a while, they start behaving in ways the original person never would have. That's when I know my story is taking shape; when the characters start to do their own thing, almost as if I'm not in charge.
The main character in "The Worry Tree" is based on parts of me as a kid, except I wasn't anywhere as tidy as she is (just ask my mum!). I did, however, have many collections. Like Juliet, I had a bucket full of dried cicada shells I'd plucked off the liquidambar tree in our backyard. (I used to wear them as brooches.) I also had a
matchbox full of my baby teeth, and a notebook filled with the number plates of anyone who'd parked in our street.
Tell us about your writing process. Where do you write? When?
Inspiration tends to strike around 2 or 3 am so I keep a notepad by my bed so I can jot down any ideas and get back to sleep. I flesh them out the next day in my incredibly messy study, otherwise known as The Room That Must Be Locked When Visitors Come. After the first draft, I go through the ‘my novel is no good and I have no talent’ phase. I try to pass through this phase as quickly as possible so that I can get on with editing. With each new draft, the story changes significantly. I like to use plot cards where I write out the main incidents, one on each card, then shuffle them around until the story flows and there are no boring bits (at least, that’s the plan).
What were your favorite kinds of books to read as a child? Do you still reread your old favorites?
I love Beverly Cleary's Ramona books, the Anne of Green Gables series by LM Montgomery and Robin Klein's Penny Pollard books. When I’m sick in bed with a cold, I often return to these books as I find them comforting.
Which Worry Tree animal would be of the most help to you in your life today?
Piers the Peacock, because he looks after lost things and I am constantly losing my possessions!