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Mal Peet

As a child

I grew up as a member of an emotionally impaired family on a council estate in a one-horse market town in north Norfolk. The three things that kept me sane were: my bike; books; football. The bike took me great distances (Norfolk is, famously, flat, although there are hills that can sneak up on you). Books took me further away, often to islands – Treasure Island, Coral Island, and wherever it was that the Swiss Family Robinson found themselves. I also loved comics, and originally wanted Keeper to be a graphic novel. As for football, by the time I was sixteen, I was playing at least three full matches a week – for my school, for my county, and for the town.

As an adult

After university I had some lost years, like many of my peers. I tried teaching to start with. Then I quit and went on walkabout. I worked in a hospital mortuary. I hung out with a bunch of gypsies who did dodgy tarmac. Once we did an abattoir; what with the heat and the carnage it was an authentic vision of Hell. I came to Devon because I liked the sound of it and worked on building sites. I went to Canada and worked with a road crew consisting of mad Newfoundlanders, North American Indians, Black Americans and exiled Irishmen. I met a love-sick man in Ontario who wanted someone to share the drive to Vancouver where his girlfriend was. That week-long drive across Canada was one of the best and worst things I have ever done.

As an artist

Like many people (I suspect) I had no real interest in children’s literature until I had children of my own. It'll sound a bit evangelical, I suppose, but I truly believe that there are few things more important, useful and protective than sharing stories with your children. After their bath, heaped into a big, deep chair, doing the voices, discussing the pictures, softening your voice as the rhythm of their breathing deepens... You start to understand why certain books work and others don't.

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