Q: Is there a particular book, author, or film that had a particular impact on you in your childhood?
A: As a child (a phrase which, incidentally, makes a completely false distinction between how I acted when I was under 14 and how I act now) I devoured - not literally - just about any fantasy book going. It started with The Faraway Tree books and quickly progressed up the credibility spectrum to The Dark is Rising. I'm still unsure whether the Enid Blyton was entirely healthy, but it was all part of the amazing and constant literary diet supplied by my mother. Later on it was Ursula le Guin and David Eddings...and then I discovered Terry Pratchett, beginning a one-sided love affair that Sir Terry is thankfully still unaware of.
Oh, and I loved the film The Dark Crystal. I recently found a copy and re-watched it. Great stuff.
Q: What did you enjoy most at school?
A: Easy: English, Art and Biology. I still do two out of three.
Q: What is your earliest memory?
A: Hang on....I'm sure I used to know this one.
Q: Is there anything you’d like to tell us about your pets, past or present?
A: We had a dog called Sadie. Sadie buried disreputable objects in flowerbeds. She chased our neighbour's cat down the garden, receiving such a bad clawing that we had to put her in a bath of diluted disinfectant. She could look more comfortable in an armchair than anyone, person or animal, I have met since. In winter she would hog the fire and nearly pass out with the heat; and even then she had to be told to go and lie somewhere else. She regularly moulted enough hair to mitigate several oil slicks. She once climbed onto the dining table and ate the contents of the margarine tub and sugar bowl. She would roll in anything as long as it smelt bad enough. One summer we took her to the beach where she spent a happy hour drinking seawater. Then she spent an extremely unhappy night having rampant diarrhoea on my grandparents' rug. She once dived into the river and only discovered it was frozen when she hit the ice. She chased anything that went away from her fast enough. This included several cars, many rabbits and, sometimes, joggers. She caught one of each. (We apologised to the jogger, who got slobbered on.) When any of us came home she would hit us at a flat trajectory out of the door: a huge, grinning bundle of energetic, squeaking enthusiasm. She used to sleep in my bedroom and once managed to get into bed with me during the night. I woke up in the morning to find her head on the pillow next to mine. She did not have good morning breath. One Christmas, as we all sat down to dinner, she ate Auntie Mary's present, which was a large box of chocolates, and threw it up under the table.
In short, Sadie was a proper dog. It was an honour to have known her.
Q: What is the most unusual job you have done?
A: I'm an ecologist and now, excitingly, I seem to be writing novels. These are both the most unusual jobs I have done, and prove this on a daily basis.
Q: What is your most treasured possession?
A: My ability to rise above material concerns. Yeah, right.
Q: Can you list three things we don’t know about you?
A: I imagine so! I can barely think of three things you do know about me. Oh, all right...Erm...
So there, that's three, and I'm not even past the feet!
Q: Do you have any hobbies.
A: Oh, lots! I always loved walking and still do. Most of the others seem to involve getting injured. I used to fence (with swords, not with bits of wood, wire and little 'U' shaped pins) but broke myself. I used to rock climb but...erm...broke myself again. I tried snowboarding once and broke my wrist. I now do archery, which is great - I nearly broke myself, but didn't.
Q: When did you first start to write stories?
A: I'm one of those irritating, smug people who always thought they would get around to writing. I remember when I was 10 and at Primary School I wrote a piece that the teacher (Mr. Dixon) read out in class, saying it could have been taken from a novel. I thought "Wow. Really?" and then became an ecologist and forgot about writing - except for an aborted attempt at a fantasy book when I was 22 and some very silly Christmas plays that I sometimes wrote with my friends*.
(*Or "mentors" as they now insist I call them.)
In 2003 a friend persuaded me to write a science journalism piece for a New Scientist science writing competition (naturally about water voles). I was utterly stunned when someone phoned up four months later and told me I'd won it. The article was published, I felt good, and then I forgot about writing again (I had voles to study).
But I started writing properly - meaning just for me, with a view to being good at it – about seven years ago. I borrowed my house-mate's laptop and wrote a short story about a possessed snowman (no, really). I was ridiculously happy with it and entered it for a major competition...and it utterly failed to get anywhere. I suspect that it wasn't very good. Anyway, I settled down and wrote a lot more stories and then, a year or so later, I wrote a piece about a teddy bear in a graveyard. That story won the 2008 JBWB spring short story competition and gave me a real boost. By then I was already hooked, but that story seemed to change something in my head: a kind of "Ooh, I might be good at this" feeling.
Q: Did you enjoy writing The River Singers?
A: Yes, I absolutely loved it. Initially I some sort of weird, internal prejudice against writing "a book about animals". But I quickly realised that there’s no such thing: a story is a story and it doesn't matter whether characters are animals, humans or anything. The fact that they happen to be animals, of course, dictates the details of the world that they find themselves in. But stories unfold a certain way and characters think and feel and react to them; readers relate to the characters and as long as there's a level of connection and understanding then hopefully everything works and it's fun to read. And writing about water voles is great because the problems they face tend to be life-threatening. Their world is an odd mixture of beautiful, extremely dangerous, very familiar and quite alien. It lets me place my characters in strange and difficult situations and then look to see what sort of people they are. Once I'd grasped the above points I felt like a complete twit for ever having been reluctant to start.
Q: Why do you write?
A: I think that it's some sort of disease. Every day that I don't write I feel guilty, like I'm wasting my life. There's a part of me that's only happy when I'm sitting at a laptop with words in my head, music on and fingers tapping. Or when I'm reading over a manuscript, trimming out words and getting the sentences flowing properly. It's amazingly satisfying. Sure, there are sessions where the words won't come. But just occasionally you can write 2,000 words in one, amazing sitting. (And delete most of them next time you edit, but that doesn't matter.)
In short, ever since I started writing I haven't been able to stop. Despite numerous requests.
"Something was approaching the burrow. Something deadly. Something that made Sylvan’s fur bristle with fear..."
Knowing their lives are under threat, Sylvan and his brother and sisters have no choice but to abandon their burrow for ever. Together they set out on an epic journey along the Great River; but with dangers lurking at every turn, will they ever find a safe place to call home?
Adventurous, exciting, and bursting with charming illustrations - this is a book you'll want to treasure for ever. The River Singers is Tom's first published novel. More books will follow.
Just the sort of book I would have loved as a child. — Gill Lewis, author of Sky Hawk
A hymn to nature, written with compassion and flair. — Lauren St John, author of The White Giraffe
The River Singers is a compassionate celebration of nature and a gripping story. It's uplifting and sad and Moorhouse takes you right into a world of creatures "as sweet as apples and as brief as day”. — Martin Chilton, The Telegraph.
Actually that title isn't 100% true. I've been writing quite a lot recently, and have some more to do, but what I HAVEN'T been doing is writing blog posts, tweets or Facebook updates. Which is, of course, a completely terrible thing to have to admit, because I absolutely should have been doing all those things. The guilt is awful. Okay, the guilt isn't that bad, but I acknowledge that I've a bit lax. My excuse is that I've run into what I imagine is a fairly common authorial problem: I don't seem to have quite enough time to do everything I would like to - and so the blogging, tweeting and general carrying on had to go for a few months.
At the moment I am putting the finishing touches to book three. (Yes, I'm writing a book a year and a half before it could possibly be published, and eight months before my second book, The Rising, will hit the shelves. It feels weird but also also kind of cool.) And that means that unfortunately I have run out of room in my brain for anything other than the surge of rats that comes with the writing, on top of the fun and frolicks of my day job. (And if you've ever wondered what a surge or rats in the brain feels like, by the way, it tickles. And it smells funny.)
Anyway, this is a post with little point other than to say that I'm going to be finishing book three very soon and then I will get on with being an exemplary social-media-type person. But until then I'm afraid that I'm going to be just a little bit rat-obsessed. (Guess the subject of book three, anyone?)
And in token of that obsession, here's today's fun rat fact: Did you know that rats cry blood? Well they don't, strictly, but they do cry red tears. The tears are red because they are full of a substance known as porphyrin that leaks from their eyes and nose when they are stressed or ill. So now you know! You can store that knowledge for some time when it'll be useful (possibly under a somewhat bizarre set of circumstances).
I have to admit that I'm more than slightly wary of writing another "How to get published" article, or, indeed, of penning another warning to all those who think that making the transition from budding writer to published author will be a short process.
So why, you may ask, am I writing this, then? Well, I have recently been asked by two of my friends - independently - on how to go about this whole publishing thing, and I am new enough to the game to remember my own bamboozlement with the system. (Oh my goodness: the rejections!) But rather than repeat the wonderful work of other authors on this subject I'm going to simply point you in the direction of this article: http://www.ian-irvine.com/publishing.html
I can't remember when I first stumbled across Ian's above post, but I think he pretty much leaves no trucluent, moss-covered rock un-meddled-with in his quest to disabuse people of the notion that writing for a living is in any way easy. And the vast majority of what he says is familiar to me from my own (limited) experience. He has been in this game a lot longer than me, and so I am certainly unworthy of adding to his list of lessons except by taking a step back to a time when your first novel is no more than the heart-thump feeling of "I can write a book", and you're sitting wondering if you can write a story, and whether you're any good.
My advice to anyone at this stage is this: write short stories. Write a LOT of short stories until you feel you are getting good at it. Then send one or two of the very best out for a professional critique (it'll be an eye opener and good practice for all the criticism to come). Also enter them for writing competitions. NOTHING gives you more affirmation and hope than a placement or a prize. (And nothing, in those first years, quells the doubt in people's eyes better than some sign of accomplishment. That alone is worth the entry fee.) But it will probably be years of practice before you're getting there. And in those years you should write not because you want to be published, but because it's unthinkable that you wouldn't write.
(Because it's the most fun you can have on your own with a laptop. Yes, I say this advisedly.)
So there you go. My own, slim, contribution to the ever growing canon of advice to new writers. But do read Ian's article. It'll sound incredibly pessimistic, but it will help!