Want to find out some stuff about me? Well, here's my FACTFILE!
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 person called Tom (who I'm married to) and a lovely, funny person called Eddy (our grown-up kiddo). There's also Dizzy the cat (elderly, beautiful, bitey) and Bonnie the dog (young, scruffy, silly).
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).
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, book publishers Scholastic didn't say go away, and actually 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). Next, I was asked to write a series by Scholastic, which turned out to be the best-selling 'Ally's World', way back in the early 2000s. I've been VERY 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. My other 'office' is the local garden centre cafe, which has 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 box-sets, going to see bands with my husband, eating crisps, patting cats and nagging people to come with me for walks in the park or nearby woods (the dog is ALWAYS up for it - husband and kiddo not so much).
Do you have anything else you'd like to add?
Oh – is this the end of the fact-file?
Well, bye, then! *Author scuttles off to pat a cat/find some crisps/write a book.*
[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width="1/2"][vc_column_text]And while we’re here (you’re still here, right?) I thought I’d share some of the FAQs* and FAWQs** that come my way...
* Frequently Asked Questions
** Frequently Asked WEIRD Questions
"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.
"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?"
'Fagin's Girl' (March 2022) is my 98th published novel, and 'How To Hide An Alien' – the follow-up to 'How To Be A Human' (2021) – will be my 99th book when it publishes this July. I've written two more since, but I'm not sure which is going to be published first, ie which will hit the magic number 100!!
BTW, lots of my older books are out-of-print and only available in libraries, or on Amazon as second-hand copies, but for all my more current novels, go to the Books page on this site.
"Can you visit my school?"
Well, if your teacher or librarian would like me to come in person – or do a virtual visit – they can go to my Author Visits page and find out more. Then we'll see what happens!
"How do you think up your characters?"
My diaries from my childhood/teenage years 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’ve got yourself a 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 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. It’s not easy to get published – every agent and book publisher has a teetering pile of ‘manuscripts’ to read through, and they don’t all get turned into books, sadly. But then again, it can happen, if you do your research, have a great idea, write it really well – and get lucky!
"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? As in 7.5% of a full-price, not-discounted book? But if you want a comparison, some years I earn around the same as my teacher friends, some years less... 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 Roald Dahl/Jacqueline Wilson etc?"
I get asked about Roald Dahl quite often, but he died a looonnngggg time ago, sadly, way before I became an author. I did once shake 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 always fun. We all get a bit giddy when we get together, as if we've come out of our writing caves, blinking into the light! And thank goodness for social media; we all catch up on what each other's doing on Twitter.
"Do you have any kids?"
Yes! Eddy is 20, though they'll always be my kid, no matter how old they are! Eddy is very proud of what I do, and often comes with me to book festivals and events as my sort-of assistant. I pay Eddy in cakes and milkshakes, obvz.
"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.
"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?" (Yes, this is an ACTUAL question I was asked.)
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...)