Author Sue Hampton’s first book was praised by children’s laureate Michael Morpurgo for being ‘beautifully written and insightful’. In her former role as a primary school teacher she wrote and edited the school magazine and penned pieces to be used in the classroom, but it wasn’t until she approached a significant birthday that she felt ready to devote herself to writing full time.
She said: ‘I had already written a story, The Waterhouse Girl, in the school holidays and sent it to Michael Morpurgo simply because I loved his stories and I felt the emotional power of them. He rang me to tell me that he loved it, it was beautifully written, had moved him and was insightful. As I approached my 50th birthday I reduced my teaching hours and only worked one day a week. I was sitting in a little flat on my own with my laptop from seven in the morning until ten at night because that was my chance.’
The Waterhouse Girl deals with alopecia (hair loss), a condition which Sue herself has. As well as writing from personal experience, she also tackles a range of subjects and genres: ‘I like to do all kinds of different things as a writer. I would not find it interesting to write a series. I feel it is much more fun for me to try all different genres, for different age groups and that way I am adapting my style.
‘There is always an essence of me that comes through and I do write historical stories. I have written a pair of books set in the future and I wrote the second one because I kept being asked for it by people who had enjoyed the first book. I also write contemporary stories, that are made up but completely real in the sense that anything that happens to my characters could happen to anyone that reads it. I also write stories where there is an other-worldly element, perhaps ghostly encounters. I have now got 16 books in print, plus one adult novel, Aria, that is available as an e-book and audio book.
‘My starting point is normally an idea that comes from a character and my characters direct my stories. Sometimes I simply start with a ‘what if?’ idea and see where that leaves me. If the plot becomes quite complicated I might stop halfway then do a diagram to show how the story needs to be pulled together. Sometimes a degree of planning is necessary when you have got that level of complexity.
‘My husband, Leslie Tate, is a poet and we do collaborate. We read each other’s work and some of the key scenes in our books have arisen through conversations with each other. Our work is always modified and edited in the light of what the other one says. Sometimes just talking about it helps me to see where the plot is going. I have never scrapped a whole story once I have started, but I do delete whole pages at a time, I am quite ruthless with myself!
‘I made the top three of The People's Book Prize last year, which David Walliams had won two years earlier. Voting took place online and, in my round, I knocked out Skulduggery Pleasant and made it to the final! That was a big thrill. I am doing what I love and it is very exciting because, not only am I always writing a new story, but I have been to 300 schools all across the country to talk about my work.’
Librarian Mrs Adams said: ‘It was a real pleasure to welcome Sue to Brooke Weston, she really engaged with the students, leading workshops and giving a presentation which kept our Year 7s and 8s absolutely spell-bound. We have her books in the library which will give students some idea of the breadth, quality and imagination of her work.’