I was born in 1974, in Northumberland, which is possibly the one part of England where more animals live than people.
My father Paul worked for the family engineering business in Newcastle, while my mother Jane ran a children’s bookshop in Hexham called Toad Hall Books. Alongside my younger brother Nick, I spent my very early years crawling around on the floor of that shop, surrounded by piles of books right from the start.
I was extremely lucky to come from a writing background. My grandfather Roger Mortimer was a racing journalist who wrote hundreds of very funny letters to his children and grandchildren, and you can learn the extraordinary story of his life in Dearest Jane, by him and my mother, Jane.
I enjoyed reading, writing and drawing from an early age. My parents loved reading to me, and I particularly enjoyed books with good pictures – such as the Moomin stories by Tove Jansson, The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien and Hergé’s Tintin graphic novels. Other favourites included Roald Dahl, C. S. Lewis’s Narnia series and Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. My mother was always writing as I was growing up – newspaper articles, gardening and cookery books, local history – and it seemed a normal thing to want to do.
My first cartoon, aged 7, was about a superhero called Super Sid, which won a competition in a local newspaper. I started making comics, and my first one was about all the sheep who lived on the hills around us, called…The Sheep! At school I spent most of my time in the library or the computer room, writing plays, short stories and funny articles for the school magazine. After that I went to university, where I was meant to study English Literature but mainly wrote, directed or produced plays and comedy shows.
My first job, in 1996, was in a fringe theatre in London, The Pleasance, where I started working behind the bar but was eventually allowed to read a few scripts and then help choose what plays were put on, both in London and at their Edinburgh Fringe Festival venue. I was very fortunate to be a Trustee for the last 15 years.
Then I co-ran a theatre production company, touring new plays and promoting comedians. I also worked in TV for several years, for independent production companies such as RDF Media, Tiger Aspect and Talkback, including a short spell in Los Angeles, coming up with ideas for everything from reality shows to hidden camera pranks.
On a break between TV jobs one summer in 2008, I booked myself onto an Arvon writing course at Ted Hughes’s old house on the West Yorkshire moors, and it was there I began writing the adventures of a boy called Kester who can’t talk to people but can talk to animals, in an environmentally precarious world.
Finally, after 17 drafts, and many early mornings and late nights later, The Last Wild was published in 2013 by Quercus Children’s. It was nominated for the Carnegie Award shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, the UKLA Award, and won both Stockton Children’s Book of the Year and Calderdale Children’s Book of the Year. The book has been published in 14 other countries, including the USA and China.
That same year, I married Will Tosh, who is Research Fellow at Shakespeare’s Globe in London.
In 2014, the sequel to The Last Wild, The Dark Wild, came out, and won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. The third and final book in the series, The Wild Beyond came out in 2015, and was shortlisted for Islington Book of the Year.
After my father died in 2013, I found his last unfinished novel (a political thriller for adults) amongst his papers. With the agreement of my brother and his agent and editor, I finished the book for him , and The Death of an Owl was published in 2016 by W&N.
That Christmas, my fourth book for children, There May Be A Castle was published by Quercus Children’s. It was a Children’s Book of the Year in The Times.
I also occasionally write articles and book reviews for The Guardian, The Daily Express and The Spectator, amongst others.
I have been a judge for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, the Costa Book Awards, Indie Book Awards and the Coram Voices writing competition. In 2018, with my brother Nick, I co-founded the Paul Torday Memorial Prize for Debut Authors over 60, in collaboration with the Society of Authors, first awarded to Anne Youngson for Meet Me at the Museum in 2019.
Like many writers I also spend a lot of time teaching writing as well as doing it, and am a regular speaker at schools both here and abroad, and at festivals and conferences. I speak to children about reading and writing, and also to teachers and educators about their practice at CPD events. I occasionally teach adults to write for children, at Writers and Artists Masterclasses, Arvon, SCWBI and the Emirates Literature Festival, amongst others.
My adaptation of John Masefield’s classic The Box of Delights opened at Wilton’s Music Hall in London in Christmas 2017, directed by Justin Audibert, designed by Tom Piper, starring Matthew Kelly and Josefina Gabrielle and was revived in Christmas 2018 starring Theo Ancient (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child).
I am now delighted to also be an Associate Artist at Wilton’s.
I am passionate about the opportunities for imaginative futures that reading allows, and have been a trained Reading Helper with Coram Beanstalk for five years, working with children on their reading on my local primary schools.
I am delighted to be Patron of Reading for Croxteth and Garston Primary schools in Liverpool, and am a Trustee of the Ministry of Stories, a charity which works with children in East London and further afield to enable their creativity and storytelling skills in multiple different forms, and the Unicorn Theatre, the UK’s leading theatre dedicated to producing work for young audiences.
I am also a Patron of the magnificent Shrewsbury Book Fest, a visionary book award, festival and school outreach scheme all in one.
My latest book series is Narnia inspired, beginning with The Lost Magician. Published in September 2018, it won the Teach Primary Award 2019. The sequel, The Frozen Sea, came out in September 2019, and was an iPaper Book of the Year. My latest play is a retelling of the Charles Dickens festive classic, Christmas Carol, which featured the first ever female Scrooge on the English stage. It opened at Wilton’s Music Hall in December 2019, directed by Stephanie Street, designed by Tom Piper, with Sally Dexter playing Fan Scrooge.
I am currently also working on a new book and play but spend most of my time wrangling our very naughty – but adorable – dog, Huxley.
Shrewsbury Book Fest
Shrewsbury Bookfest was founded in May 1999. It was at the time the only exclusively children’s literary festival in the country. Since then, Bookfest has grown considerably, developed new projects and has established a fine reputation for excellence amongst authors, publishers and keen supporters.
It obtained charitable status in 2007, and in 2009 won a Queen’s Award for Excellence in the Voluntary Sector – the equivalent of an MBE and the highest award that can be given to a voluntary organisation.
Shrewsbury Bookfest has always been an independent, not-for-profit organisation, governed by a non-executive Board of Trustees. The Committee is primarily made up of a group of dedicated, hard working volunteers who collectively put in hundreds of hours to deliver continually evolving and successful reading development projects.
The Last Wild was shortlisted for the Shrewsbury Book Fest Award in 2014, and I have worked with the Festival since on school visits or supporting their work in other ways, and I am delighted to now be a Patron of this inspiring Festival, alongside Martin Brown and Ian Whybrow, with our President Jacqueline Wilson.
To find out more or support the excellent work they do, please follow the link below.
The Ministry of Stories
The Ministry of Stories is a local writing and mentoring centre in east London, where anyone aged eight to 18 can come and discover their own gift for writing. It lives in a secret space behind the fantastical Hoxton Street Monster Supplies.
Through a range of innovative writing programmes, and one-to-one mentoring, The Ministry helps young people discover and realise their own creative potential. It builds confidence, self-respect and communication skills in both workshops for schools and out-of-school writing clubs. And they provide a publishing platform for young writers, so these fresh, exciting voices are shared with the world.
I’m delighted to have joined as Trustee and look forward to helping them in their mission to make writing fun and accessible, and help young people find their voices. If you would like to support the Ministry’s work, or even get involved yourself, click on the link below
Coram Beanstalk is a national charity that provides one-to-one literacy support to children who struggle with their reading ability and confidence. They recruit, train and support volunteers to provide consistent, one-to-one literacy support to primary school children who need our help. Those trained reading helpers give them the support they need to improve their reading ability and confidence.
I am very lucky and proud to have been one of those volunteer reading helpers since 2012, working with children in Islington and Haringey. Our regular sessions are a highlight of every week. Volunteering with Beanstalk not only helps children who need it the most, but you can get so much out of it too, and I learn something new with every visit.
To find out how you could volunteer with Beanstalk or support their work in other ways, please follow the link below.
All my public events and school visits are suspended during the Covid-19 pandemic. To be kept informed on rescheduled events and future availability, please contact Victoria Rontaler or sign up to my mailing list. Stay safe!
If you are a teacher, you may read aloud individual chapters at a time, that are not recorded, via a closed virtual learning environment for pupils only. Please don’t read whole books aloud in one session or record any of your readings. Thank you!
During the school closure I am going to be reading out all of my books, chapter by chapter, every weekday on Instagram Live at 2.30pm GMT. If you miss the live reading, you can always catch up later on Instagram TV or my YouTube channel.
There are some excellent free classroom resources for “The Last Wild” provided by Sustainable Learning
I will be putting up more here for all books very shortly, watch this space.
Teachers could sign up to CLPE’s excellent Power of Reading scheme and get a whole teaching sequence based on “The Last Wild”.
School visits are currently suspended during the lockdown and schools closure. For more information on how to arrange a future visit (or rearrange an existing one) the sessions I offer, and fees, please contact: