Questions (header)

Here are a few answers to questions you may have about Robin's work.

Where do you get your ideas from?

All of my books have begun as a series of pencil sketches, where I develop the various characters - though inspiration can come from just about anywhere. Often I can be inspired by a place, like Whitby for example. I first visited Whitby when I was at college in Newcastle, and found it possessed a marvellous, haunting atmosphere.

Then when I came to write about it some years later, I wanted to try and include as many of the local legends as possible. At other times I simply start doodling in a sketch pad and a new character will begin to emerge on the page. That's how The Oaken Throne came about, one night I had drawn a leprous old mole and around him, I constructed a storyline.

Do you do a lot of research for your books?

Yes, I always try to find out all I can about the subject matter in each new story and during this early stage all sorts of new ideas can suggest themselves. With The Deptford Mice trilogy, I incorporated some of the local history of Greenwich and Blackheath.

In the Alchymist's Cat, I researched into the Black Death and the fire of London, while for the Wyrd Museum it was the Second World War and Norse Mythology. I believe that if you can incorporate elements of documented history into fantasy, this will hopefully enhance the experience for the reader and make it more convincing.

How did you start writing?

I never intended to write books at all. I used to work as a model-maker for television programmes, and commercials.The Deptford Mice evolved when I was taking a break from designing a large, furry alien and fancied drawing something small for a change.

The Dark Portal, my first book was published when I was twenty-five. I had doodled some mouse characters in my sketch pad just for my own enjoyment, and a friend of mine saw them and suggested I send them to a publisher. To my amazement they responded very positively and asked if there was a story to go with the mice drawings. So I had a go, and it went from there. I didn't realise at the time that I would ever become a full time writer.


Have you won any awards?

I have won one award, and been shortlisted for quite a few others. It was "The Whitby Witches" that won the Lancashire Libraries award, which was wonderful, because it was actually judged by children.

Do you work to a deadline?

Yes, although my editors might not agree with me! The deadline is based around how long the book will take to write, then edited, proof read (checked for mistakes) and printed.

The actual writing usually takes about six months, but often the research, and developing the idea takes a lot longer. Unfortunately I have been known to exceed the deadline, at which times I usually hide from the publisher and don't answer the phone until the work is completed!

What materials do you use for your illustrations?

There is a huge range of materials to choose from, but to develop a "style" or "feel" to a series, I mostly use inks, acrylic paint, and airbrush for the cover artwork. The inside black and white illustrations have been pen and ink for the Deptford Mice series, black pencil for the Whitby series, and water-colour for the Wyrd Museum.


Do you design the covers of your books?

With a lot of help from the designers at the publishers!
When planning the composition of the final artwork you have to include enough room for the title and your own name.

When it comes to the back cover however you have to leave space for the blurb and that annoying box for the bar code. I'm always a little sad to see how much of the painting it hides! This was especially the case when dozens of Hobb worshippers that had taken a morning to complete were totally hidden behind it on the back of The Oaken Throne!

Which book have you most enjoyed writing?

I really enjoyed The Whitby Witches because it was my first book with people in it, but The Alchymist's Cat was quite a challenge because it involved both human and animal characters.

Of course I like all the books for different reasons. The Woven Path features my old Teddy Bear, so that was great to do, and the werling creatures in Thorn Ogres of Hagwood made me laugh.

There are some unusual and different characters coming up in the new novel Deathscent, I'd really like to make one of them in 3D.

My main pleasure though is in giving myself and the reader as much variety as possible. I'd hate to have to write about the same old thing all the time..

Do you prefer to write about humans or animals?

I enjoy both, but after writing the mice books, it was particularly nice to write about humans for a change. I tend to write about animals more than humans, because I think from a dramatic viewpoint, you can place animals in more dangerous situations than their human counterparts, and because talking animals are more the stuff of fantasy, it is exciting without being too frightening.


Where do you get your descriptive words from?

Its difficult to say, keeping a thesauraus handy is useful but I think it helps if you can try to "see" what it is you are writing about in your imagination. Having said that I always continuously go through the work as I'm writing to change sentence structure and swap words over until I'm happy with them. This can sometimes take quite a long time - apologies to my editors.

Who are your favourite authors?

My favourite authors are Lucy Boston, who writes the Green Knowe books, and Alan Garner who wrote The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. I also love Tolkien's books, and usually read The Lord of the Rings every other year.

Have you written for adults as well as children?

So far, I haven't written specifically for adults. I am however always pleased by the number of adults who write to me saying how they have bought the books for their children, and enjoyed reading them themselves.

Do you have any tips about how to become an author?

All I can advise is read as much as you can, and make decisions as to why you liked (or didn't like) a particular book, so that when you actually write your own, you can criticise it effectively.

I also write something called a synopsis of my books first. A synopsis is a much shorter overview of everything that happens in the story. That way I can work out the whole plot so I know exactly where I want to the characters to go before I start on the main bit of writing.

Not everybody writes like this, but it is essential for me. The only other advice I can give is to keep trying, especially at first. It can be very discouraging if your submissions keep being rejected by a publisher, but if your work is what people want to read, you should get there eventually!


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