I didn’t want to be a writer at all. As a child I wanted to be a librarian, so I could sit in the library and read all the books – which is what I thought librarians did! Plus they got to stamp the books and I quite fancied that too.
I was about ten years old when I read a book with a mistake on the back cover. That was when I realised there were people who came in between the author and the published book. From then on I wanted to be an editor – so that I really could spend most of my day reading. I started doing work experience at Scholastic Children’s Books at 15, and after university I basically hung around until they gave me a job…
I still didn’t want to be a writer though – I enjoyed editing so much. But I came up with an idea in an editorial meeting and fell in love with it. I wasn’t supposed to write it at all, I was supposed to think about it a bit more and then suggest it to an author. But after I’d named the characters and given them best friends, character flaws and guinea pigs, I knew I couldn’t give the idea to anyone else.
I wrote that book on trains – I used to commute between Reading and London, and the half hour each way was my writing time. Quite often the trains were so full that I used to sit on the floor at the end of the carriage and write.
That first book was published 13 years ago, and since then I’ve written over 120 books – which still shocks me every time I say it.
I have three children, who are all now at secondary school. This makes it much easier to write then it was when they were babies, but I’m still very bad at getting on with work. I wander round making too many cups of coffee.
I read and reread Frances Hodgson Burnett’s books The Secret Garden and A Little Princess as a child – I can remember exactly what my copies looked like. I was talking to my editor about our favourite books, and she was the one who suggested writing a sequel. It took me five years to come round to the idea (too scary!) but I’ve loved it.
I wanted to be Sara, the little princess of the title. On the cover of my copy, she had dark hair quite like mine, and I thought she was wonderful – she always had an answer to the bullying older girls at the school. I am still useless at arguing, and the way she never let anyone put her down was so impressive.
The research for The Princess and the Suffragette was fascinating. I knew a little about Suffragettes, but I don’t think I’d ever appreciated their determination and courage.
My characters are conflicted about the borderline between peaceful protest, resistance and direct action, and I am too. I just don’t know what my feelings would have been at their age. I hope I would have been brave enough to campaign for women’s rights. The online abuse that women who stand up in public are still getting now is incredibly sad.
The Princess and the Suffragette by Holly Webb is published by Scholastic, on sale now.