I absolutely loved reading when I was a child. I can't remember learning to read: I must have been three or four. I think my older sister, Jocelyn, taught me. By the time I was eight I was a speed reader. It was a problem finding new books, so I read all my books over and over again, plus the children's encyclopaedia we had called Pictorial Knowledge. My favourite sections were myths and legends and the history of England, but I read the whole thing; lives of famous women, adventures of the explorers, natural history and so on.
I also liked making up stories, and usually had an on-going saga in my head that would entertain me when I was bored, in bed at night, on the school bus, and (I'm sorry to say) at school. Sometimes I would tell these stories to my sister at night, and I would make my friends act out my dramas. These were banned at my primary school when a game of circuses got out of hand and my friends who were all playing different animals found themselves being burned to death. They were all crying too much to do any school work for the rest of the day.
I liked books that were very dramatic and had a great deal of adventure in them. One of my all time favourites was Treasure Island. I loved Violet Needham's books, especially The Black Riders. Maybe they were an influence on the sort of books I write now.
I grew up in three different English villages, Potten End in Hertfordshire, Drayton in Berkshire, and when I was a teenager, Whiteparish in Wiltshire. My mother and my stepfather went to live in Nigeria when I was fourteen and my sister and I went to boarding school. The high point of our year was the trip out to Kano or Lagos on the BOAC Lollipop special for the summer holidays. It was really hard to return to school in Reading after that.
Perhaps it was going to Africa at this age that gave me my love of languages. I so admired people who were fluent in several languages. I longed to be like that. I studied Spanish and French at university, and am now learning Japanese. I think learning another language is brilliant practice for writing in your own language. In my books I am very interested in how my characters talk, and I often make up languages for them from the cat talk in the Jake and Pete books to the patwa in Galax-Arena and Terra- Farma.
My father died when I was fourteen. My strongest memories of him are the fun we used to have making up poems, reading them, and playing with words. He loved Edward Lear, Hilaire Belloc and Lewis Carroll. I think the nonsense poetry I write (Sharon, Keep Your Hair On, Hurray for the Kare Karaoke, and Prue Theroux the Cool Librarian) was inspired by this.
Apart from books I was one of those children who are absolutely mad about animals. I managed to have an assortment of pets, though to my utter despair I never got my own pony. I had a whole stable of imaginary horses, and would take them out on "rides" in strict rotation, cantering through the fields clicking my tongue to myself. I write a lot about animals. I spend a lot of time watching them. Some of the books in which animals figure strongly are Answers to Brut, Foxspell and Under the Cat's Eye. Flashback and Pure Chance are both about horses.