Questions from readers

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Interview with Beth Webb by Merrie, Australia.

Would you tell us a little about yourself?

I was born in 1952 in a nursing home that overlooked Hampton Court Palace gardens. Mum said there was thick snow on the ground and the swans were pacing the lake, pecking at the ice. I grew up in Farnborough in Hampshire, always looking for adventures that weren’t really there.

I wanted to go to art school, but my parents weren’t very happy about that, so I did a degree in Sociology and Psychology which I never really liked. Afterwards, I lived in a houseboat in Amsterdam Central Harbour, a mediaeval castle in Bavaria and an ex-leprosy colony in the Netherlands.

I’ve been a cook, a cleaner, a journalist, a radio broadcaster and an illustrator of books for adults with learning disabilities.

The best year of my life was when I did an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa, and I LOVED it.

Do you have a favourite time of day when you prefer to write?

I start early in the morning, but for the first hour or two, I’m often just staring at the computer and drinking coffee until I get going at about 4.00 pm. I guess early morning and late afternoon with a walk or some gardening in between.

Who are some of your favourite authors, and have you had the opportunity to meet any of them?

Hummm – Katherine Langrish, Philip Reeve, Philip Pullman (I’ve met him briefly), Philp Gross (He tutored me when I did my MA). The amazing Diana Wynne Jones, Ursula le Guin, Susan Cooper, and Angie Sage (A friend of mine, she’s lovely). Oh, and Suzanne Collins, of course, and Darren Shan … I could go on for ever.

What was your favourite novel or novels as a child, and has it inspired or influenced the way you write?

There weren’t many good novels for children when I was a kid, so I grew up on a rich diet of myths and legends. BUT Alice through the Looking Glass I almost learned by heart and I loved the Pooh books and Kipling. The myths and legends have always been a big part of my writing. I hope it shows!

If you could choose any author to collaborate on a novel with, who would you choose and why?

It’d be my friend Sue Lord, and it’d be adult crime. Why? Because I just love her plots.

When writing a novel, do you outline the entire plot first, or do you like to let the characters guide you?

I tend to get an idea – a concept – for example, I played with Star Dancer for a long time before I started writing, I wanted someone who was born very gifted and wasn’t allowed to be who they are because of being the wrong skin colour, hair length, sex, size etc.

From there I think up what sort of person could explore what I’m thinking about, where they live, what happens to them and I guess the plot comes last.

And no, I don’t plan – except when I’ve got several books that have to be linked together, like the Star Dancer books, but that’s different.

How would you describe Tegen (the main character in the quartet) in ten words or less?

Determined, gusty, confused, frightened (at times) loving and gifted.

When writing Star Dancer what did you use for inspiration?

My main idea came while talking to a lady who wanted to be a vicar – this was years ago, long before there were such things as lady ministers. She would have been wonderful. I asked myself, ‘Why do people have amazing gifts, but aren’t allowed to use them?’ I was also doing a lot of story writing and creative writing workshops in a reconstructed Iron Age village at the time, that gave me the setting, then after that the story started to come into focus.

Out of all the books in your Star Dancer quartet what would be your all-time favourite line? And from which book is it from? 

‘All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.’

It’s in all the books as a sort of running theme. However, I didn’t write it, it comes from a mediaeval mystic called Mother Julian of Norwich. It just felt like something I could use that would give strength and heart to the characters, and I’m sure old Mother Julian wouldn’t have minded.

How would you describe the Star Dancer quartet in one sentence? 

Dramatic, historical, magical and thrilling.  Sorry, that wasn’t a sentence.

What are you working on at the moment, and is there anything about it that you can share with us?

While working on the Star Dancer books I wrote another four or five stories – so I’m now revisiting them all to see which one to finish. I have a vampire/ghost/were-wolf book (with a twist, the vampires are trying to find a cure for their condition). I’ve got a story about a stroppy, murderous mermaid, another about a sea-dragon, and another about an underworld goblin kingdom. Oh, and I have a psychic CSI novel as well. 

Have you got any ideas for books after finishing the Star Dancer quartet? Have you planned another novel yet? 

I’ve got ideas for a Steam Punk book and a futuristic novel about e-books – just in case I get bored!

Thanks Merrie, from Beth