Karen McCombie (middle name, Grace, if you’re going to get picky).
‘McCombie’… your last name sounds suspiciously Scottish. And a little bit odd.
Yes, it IS Scottish, and it IS a little bit odd. The ‘Mc’ part is very common in Scotland, but there’s not a lot of McCombies around. I really hated my surname growing up, but as I got older, I grew to like its oddness – it makes it more memorable. In fact, when I got married, I couldn’t bear to give it up, so I stuck with McCombie. (Name fact: when I worked on teen magazine ‘Sugar’, my nickname was ‘Mrs McCrumble’, which makes me sound like a nice biscuit.)
So where exactly did you grow up?
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 fourteen-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. Then what 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. So I wrote a few, got the fiction bug, and ended up sending photocopies of my short stories and ideas for full-length novels to loads of book publishers. And loads 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 new series of theirs. After that, Marina – the editor of ‘Sugar’ magazine by this time – wanted to develop a series of ‘Sugar’ books (for HarperCollins), and got me involved (I owe her a big hug for that). In the end I wrote 12 in the series, under a pseudonym. Next, I was 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 very small bedroom-turned-office (my husband calls it ‘the writing cupboard’) at the back of our house, overlooking the garden. It’s has pink roses on one wall, and books and notebooks in teetering piles all over the place. 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 write every day, including weekends if a deadline is looming, 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?
Oh, right. Well, sometimes. And then there are the days when I get distracted by cleaning the cat litter tray, tidying endless bits of stuff-ness, catching up on oodles of work e-mails and re-arranging drawers.
When you’re not cleaning the cat litter tray, tidying endless bits of stuff-ness, catching up on oodles of 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 then…)
Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
Oh – is this the end of the factfile?
Well, bye, then! *Author scuttles off to pat a cat/find some crisps/write a book.*