Location and life experiences: where did you grow up and what incluenced you? I grew up in Durban, a once-sleepy seaside town on the east coast of South Africa. We were very poor growing up, but extremely happy. We lived in a shabby wood-and-iron house, next door to my great-grandmother, who owned both properties. What an amazing childhood.
A huge, overgrown garden with umpteen trees for climbing and building tree houses; a wonderful great-grandmother next door who told us amazing stories about her father mining diamonds at Kimberley (in the late 1800s) and driving around in an ox-wagon (no cars back then); four big dogs that loved helping us dig forts; and playing with the family of four children across the path (a dusty track!). My fondest memories are of me and my brothers sitting on my great-grandmother’s porch, looking up at the stars, while she told us astounding tales from her own childhood.
Where do you get your inspiration from? I would like to say I have no idea, because I am not sure where it comes from, but I think my own interests – ancient history, travel, geography, archaeology, myths and legends have strongly influenced my writing. I have always been fascinated by the ancient world, and my earliest books were encyclopaedias that lay around the house.
History is utterly fascinating and far more exciting than modern life. All the great inventions happened centuries, even millennia ago. I love reading about anything to do with ancient discoveries, both in fiction novels and non-fiction books.
Who would you like to acknowledge and thank? My late mother is the reason I have achieved so much and have become a full-time writer. Mom loved reading from early childhood, and I still have many of her original books. Television came very late to South Africa, so either kids read books or went outside and played real games with their friends and neighbors.
If we (my four brothers and I) moaned about being bored, she would tell us to read a book, and most times that’s what we did. Later, my mom was my greatest champion while I was at university. I won scholarships all the way, and studied in London (drama) and Paris (mime). Mom never let me give up, even when I felt I could not go on. My mother took me and my two young nephews to Egypt on an amazing tour, and that was the reason I began my middle grade book series. My mother was my best friend and most loyal fan. I owe her everything.
How many friends does a person need? When I was about ten, I asked my great-grandmother (who lived to an amazing 96!) about friends. She said, very solemnly, “If you can count your good friends on the fingers of one hand, you are very blessed.” I stared at her, thinking, “Poor Gogo (her nickname), she only has five friends.
That’s terrible. I want hundreds of friends.” That was a life lesson. As I grew up, I longed for loads of friends. That is, until I learned that my great-gran was right: having those few loyal, steadfast friends are all you need. I also am reminded of the adage: “When days are dark, friends are few,” or “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” I am grateful for my few wonderful, supportive friends.
What social issues interest you the most? Since my experiences with my adopted daughter and teaching her to read and appreciate books, it has to be child literacy. I loved growing up with books, and would happily read under the blankets with a flashlight until my dad made me turn it off. Books are the windows to wonderful worlds.
Kids that do not read are disadvantaged. Kids need books to learn life skills, to understand life’s situations, and to develop their imaginations. My second great passion is animals. I adore animals and am passionate about animal rights, both domestic and wild. I find cruelty and indifference to animals abhorrent.
Genre – Juvenile Fiction
Rating – G