Photo Credit: D. E. Thaler

Tania Unsworth grew up thinking that being a writer was the best thing in the world to be. Her dad was a writer, and her family traveled around Greece and Turkey until she was seven.  Those years were wonderful, full of color and adventure. But because her family moved around a lot, she was never really sure where her home was.  Ever since then, she’s been caught between wanting to roam the world and wanting to stay safe. Her writing often reflects this.

She spent the rest of her childhood in England. She didn’t like school but she read a lot. Every year for Christmas, she wrote a story for her dad. They were just short little things, but because she wrote them in an exercise book and numbered the pages, she could pretend they were real novels. Sometimes she had to write using VERY LARGE letters to fill up the space.

Later she worked in a bookshop and then on the features desk of a women’s magazine. In the UK, she’s published two novels for adults. Brightwood is her second book for children.

Tania lives in Boston with her husband, two sons, a dog called Plum, and a pair of cats.

Author of...

The One Safe Place

Before We Began
The Seahorse

Author Q&A

1. What books/authors have inspired you?

I always loved fairy stories, even long after I was told I was “too old” for them. And ghost stories too.  Also the Narnia books, T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, anything written by the historical novelist Henry Treece, Night Birds on Nantucket and other books by Joan Aiken, Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast, stories from Greek and Norse mythology, The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, The Mouse and His Child by Russell Hoban. More recently, Holes by Louis Sacher may, in my opinion, be one of the best books for kids ever written. I was also blown away by the Golden Compass series. And I love Michael Morpurgo’s books . . . I could go on and on.

2. What’s your writing routine?

I spend a lot of time trying to avoid writing. I play computer games and gnaw on my lip and make yet another cup of coffee. Then I start to panic because I know I have to pick the kids up from school soon, so I plunge in. I think I need the panic.

3. Which part of your book was the most fun to write?

For me, the fun part comes before I ever write a word. A random thought grows into half an idea and then the shape of a story starts to emerge in my mind and I think perhaps I could write this. And perhaps it could be good. Perhaps the best thing I’ve ever written. Perhaps the best thing ANYONE has ever written! So I sit down and with great excitement write Chapter One. And that’s when all my troubles begin…

4. Which part was the most difficult?

Apart from Daisy’s mother who disappears right at the start, there are only two ‘real’ main characters in BRIGHTWOOD. This presented a huge challenge. To get around the problem I had to invent a cast of imaginary characters, including a little boy in a painting and a bossy, delusional, yet strangely helpful imaginary friend called Frank. Of course in a larger sense, all fictional characters are imaginary friends. Frank is the figment of a figment. I love the irony of that.

5. Is there one character you most relate to?

As a child I had a lot in common with Daisy. I lived in a world of my own. All sorts of contradictory things seemed not just possible, but likely, including my belief that everything – even inanimate objects – had secret lives and could think and speak under the right circumstances. It was hard for me to have to leave that world, although writing BRIGHTWOOD was an opportunity to remember the feeling of being there.

6. What advice would you give aspiring writers?

The first thing I would say sounds very obvious: You have to want to write. A lot of people want to be writers, not so many want to actually do it. Writing is very hard, and most of the time, it’s not much fun. There’s a lot of rejection involved. You have to be stubborn. You have to write when you don’t feel in the mood. You have to fail. You have to get it wrong and start over. And then get it wrong again. You can’t do any of this unless you’re in love with writing itself.

7. Cats or dogs?

It would be terrible if I had to choose, because I’m crazy for both. I have one dog and two cats. I’d really like another dog to even things up.

8. If writing weren't part of your daily work, what career would you like to have?

When I was a kid, I planned to have a store. Nothing would cost more than a penny. I thought by keeping the prices so low, everyone would come to the store, and I’d be hugely successful. It was a long time before I grasped exactly why this scheme was doomed. But I’d still like to have a store. I’d sell things that made you feel happy to look at.

9. Which author would you most like to spend the day with?

This is hard, because truthfully, writers aren’t often great company. They tend to write about interesting things rather than do interesting things. Also they like talking about themselves a lot, which can be dull. But I would like to spend the day with my dad, who was a writer. He was very funny and very clever and I was never bored when I was with him.

10. What is your secret super power?

I can go for a long time without peeing. This doesn’t sound very useful, but once I was on a bus in India and the ride took all night and we never stopped at any bathrooms. Instead, people got off the bus and peed on the side of the road. I was too embarrassed to do this, which was stupid. But I made it through the night!