Hilary McKay was born in Boston, Lincolnshire and is the eldest of four girls. From a very early age she read voraciously and grew up in a household of readers. Hilary says of herself as a child “I anaesthetised myself against the big bad world with large doses of literature. The local library was as familiar to me as my own home.”
After reading Botany and Zoology at St. Andrew’s University Hilary then went on to work as a biochemist in an Analysis Department. Hilary enjoyed the work but at the same time had a burning desire to write. After the birth of her two children, Hilary wanted to devote more time to bringing up her children and writing so decided to leave her job.
One of the best things about being a writer, says Hilary, is receiving letters from children. She wishes that she had written to authors as a child, but it never occurred to her to contact them!
Hilary has written many books but is probably best known for the award-winning Casson family series.
Hilary now lives in a small village in Derbyshire with her family. When not writing Hilary loves walking, reading, and having friends to stay.
Hilary’s awards include the Guardian prize for The Exiles, the Nestle Smarties prize for The Exiles at Home, and the Whitbread (now Costa) Award for Saffy’s Angel.
Interview with Hilary McKay
What books were your favorites as a child?
All the classics, L M Montgomery (loved Emily of New Moon). Ursula Le Guin, Tolkien, Joan Aiken, Rosemary Sutcliff, Elizabeth Goudge, Eleanor Estes, Nesbit, Kipling, Blyton, Arthur Ransome, John Masefield, all of those plus many more. As much Natural History as I could get my hands on.
Are there any that you still go back to as an adult?
I go back to them all.
I’ve heard that Forever Rose will be the last of the Casson books. True?
Yes, yes! Hurray! Hang out flags, light rockets, open a bottle of something that fizzes, it IS the last.
In explanation as to why I am stopping:
I am a great believer in: Stop While You Are Ahead
(First rule of child rearing): If you love them let them go.
How do you go about naming your characters?
I collect interesting names. For instance, if I’m in the back of a cab, and I notice that the driver has an unusual name, I’ll jot it down in my notebook. (Just the other day, I was driven across town by a cabbie named Bellatrix. She was a very pleasant lady with the ideal name for a villain. I can already see the character in my head. She’d wear extra-long Lee Press-On Nails and raise chinchillas.)
What advice do you have for young writers?
My best advice would be to read a lot. I love reading. And also listen to people telling stories, that’s where you get ideas. Read and listen, that would be my advice.