About me

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karenWant to find out some stuff about me? Well, here’s my FACTFILE!

Name, please.

Karen McCombie (middle name, Grace, if you’re going to get picky).

Born when?

Yes, I was.

Very funny. When exactly?

28/8/63, since you’re asking. I know that makes me sound not-very-young, but I wear the same sort of clothes (T-shirts, jeans, trainers) as I did when I was 17. And my hair is pretty much the same style too. So’s my brain (ie, it’s full of films, bands, books and silliness).

And where?

Aberdeen, Scotland. (Think scenic castles, not-so-scenic oil rigs and plenty of thermal underwear and you get a feel for the place.)

Do you still live there?

Nope. I now live in North London, near the amazing Alexandra Palace. (Google it.)

Who else lives in your house?

A loud, funny Scottish person called Tom (who I’m married to), a lovely, funny, pretty person called Milly (our thirteen-year-old daughter) and a beautiful but bitey cat called Dizzy.

How did you get started writing?

I worked for loads of teen magazines, including ‘J17’ and ‘Sugar’, which aren’t around any more but used to be HUGELY popular. Over the years (and magazines), I’ve been a fashion editor, pet correspondent, quiz writer, features writer and sub-editor (a job where no-one knows what you do – but trust me, if there were no sub-editors, magazines wouldn’t come out and websites would be full of mistooks. Ha!).

OK, so you were a sub-editor and all that other stuff. Thenwhat happened?

Then my friend Marina – the deputy editor of ‘Sugar’ magazine when it first started –asked me to write some short stories for the magazine. Once I did a few of those, I wrote off to loads of book publishers with photocopies of my short stories and ideas for full-length books for teenagers. Lots of publishers wrote back saying, “Thank you, but go away”. Luckily, the very cool children’s book publishers Scholastic thought I didn’t stink and asked me to write some stuff for a series they were doing. After that, Marina – now the editor of ‘Sugar’ magazine by this time – wanted to do a series of ‘Sugar’ books (for HarperCollins), and got me involved (I owe her a big hug for that). After I worked on a ton of them, under a pseudonym, I got asked to write a series by Scholastic, which turned out to be the best-selling ‘Ally’s World’. I’ve been busy writing ever since.

Where do you write your books?

Mostly in a small bedroom-turned-office at the back of our house, overlooking the garden. It’s has pink roses on one wall, which makes me feel very girly. My other ‘office’ is the local garden centre cafe, which is as lovely and flowery as my office, with the added advantage of cake. I start writing as soon as I shoo my daughter off to school, and then stop at 4pm-ish, when she wanders in demanding snacks (in the nicest possible way). But sometimes I do end up staring at the clouds, or e-mailing my friends and asking how their weekends/lives/cats are when I should be working.

Are you quite disciplined when it comes to writing?

Yes.

No, honestly.

Oh, right. Well, sometimes. And then there are the days when I get distracted by cleaning the litter tray, tidying endless bits of stuff-ness, catching up on endless work e-mails and re-arranging drawers.

When you’re not cleaning the litter tray, tidying endless bits of stuff-ness, catching up on endless work e-mails and re-arranging drawers, what are your hobbies?

I like seeing friends, reading, watching DVDs, going to see bands with my husband, eating crisps, patting cats and nagging people to come with me for walks in the nearby woods (think I need a dog).
And most of all, I like hanging out with my daughter. (What will I do when she’s older and too cool to hang out with her boring old mum? I’ll definitely have to get a dog…)

Do you have anything else you’d like to add?

Oh – is this the end of the factfile?

Yes.

Well, bye, then! *Author scuttles off to pat a cat/find some crisps/write a book.*

And while we’re here (you’re still here, right?) I thought I’d share some of the FAQs that come my way…

“How did you start writing?”

I was a magazine journalist first, which I guess taught me to write quickly and make things interesting (I hope). But writing quizzes etc for magazines is very different from writing a full-length novel, so I was pretty nervous when I first started, and wasn’t sure if I could do it! Still, once I got an idea for a story and characters –and then took my time planning it all out chapter-by-chapter – I felt much more confident. I still got a lot of ‘no’s from publishers before I got a ‘yes’, though! (For more on how I got started, check out About Me, here on the website.)

“When did you start writing?”

I think I was about 34… But that’s the great thing about writing books – you can be any age.

“How many books have you written?”

Doing a quick count-up now (summer 2015) I’ve just realised I’ve written 82 books. Phew! A couple of these aren’t in the shops yet, and some are out-of-print and only available in libraries, or on Amazon as second-hand copies. But for all my in-print books, go to the Books page on this site.

“Can you come and visit my school?”

Well, if your teacher or librarian would like me to come, they can go to the Author Visits section and find out how to contact me. Then we’ll see what happens!

“How do you think up your characters?”

My diaries from school have given me lots of ideas for characters, as well as friends, relatives and people I’ve worked with. The trick is to take a bit of one person, mix in a few different quirks, and make them look like someone else. Hey, presto!, you’re got an individual character, and your friend can’t recognise herself reading the book and get cross with you because you made her hair a bit funny or made her say something mean.

“How do you get a book published?”

In the reference section of libraries, there’s a big book called ‘The Children’s Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook’. It lists every book agent in the country (and the kind of books they’re interested in), as well as every publisher, and what they’re into. Some authors get agents right from the start, who try to sell the book to publishers for them. But when I was starting out, I couldn’t get an agent interested, so I send my book off straight to publishers. It’s not easy to get published – every agent and book publisher has a teetering pile of ‘manuscripts’ to read through, and they can’t all get turned into books, sadly!

“Do you have any advice about writing?”

Check out my Writing Tips, here on the site.

“How much money do you earn?”

A lot less than you probably think! Did you know authors only get a few pence of the book price? But if you want a comparison, I earn around the same as my teacher friends, which obviously means, I’m WAY short of being able to buy ruby-encrusted cat collars or personal crisp factories just yet.

“Do you know JK Rowling/Jacqueline Wilson etc?”

I’ve never met JK Rowling, but I once shook hands with Jacqueline Wilson. It was a bit embarrassing – she didn’t have a clue who I was (why should she?), so I just got a bit tongue-tied and ran away! The thing is, you have to remember that most of the time, a writer is stuck indoors looking at a computer screen, so it’s not exactly the sort of job where you sit having tea and biscuits with lots of writer chums. Though you do meet up with some at book festivals, which is fun.

“Do you have any kids?”

Yes – I have a fantastically cute and funny thirteen-year-old daughter called Milly. She is very proud of what I do, and often comes with me to book festivals and events in the holidays or at weekends!

“What job would you do if you weren’t a writer?”

Oh, something to do with animals, I reckon. Is there such a job as a professional cat snuggler?

“Do you live in a mansion?”

Er, nope. We live in a little terraced house with a weeny garden.

“Are you Scottish?”

Well, I have a very Scottish last name and a Scottish accent, so, I guess, yes – I AM pretty Scottish! But I’ve lived in London since 1990, so I consider myself very much British(ish).

“What’s your favourite football team?”

Er, don’t have one. If there’s such a thing at football dyslexia, I think I may have it. When I try and watch a match on TV, all I see is a jumble of legs running and can’t figure out who’s who, or where they’re headed.

“What’s your favourite colour?”

Yellow to look at, green to wear. But I’m pretty addicted to looking at colours: from the pink of cherry blossoms to the peach of sunsets to the weird rainbow swirls of oil in a puddle.

“What’s your favourite biscuit?”

Er, ALL biscuits are good biscuits. Especially if they’re chocolate-y. And oat-y. But if you held up a packet of biscuits and a packet of crisps, I’d pick the crisps every time. (And hope you gave me the biscuits too…)