Hilary McKay

I was born in Boston, Lincolnshire, the eldest of four girls. I grew up in a household of readers. That sounds peaceful, but it wasn't. Far from it, at times and thank goodness for my local library, a few steps from my primary school. It was a grim dark building, steel shelves, squeaking floors, a smell of dust, and a place where children could confidently expect to be glared into silence at the slightest remark. I absolutely adored it. These days, my local library is an eighteen mile round trip away. How do poor children in need of peace and quiet survive? I was so lucky to have it. It is so shameful that they do not.


Anyway, to continue. I went to school. I remember three good teachers and many dreadful ones. The three goods were: Mrs Robinson who taught us music, willy nilly, whether we liked it or not. Mrs Rule, who believed we could do anything, got me writing my first book, read aloud to us, brought in her pets for our entertainment, and was, and is still, my unthanked heroine. Thank you, Mrs Rule. Mr Leggott, who made maths not only possible, but easy and entertaining. No mean feat. But we loved him for his leather jacket and his motorbike more than his maths. What a breath of fresh air in that stifling girls's grammar school.


At St. Andrew's University I studied Zoology and Botany (officially) and English lit and Fine Art unofficially. You could walk into any lecture in those good old days, and I did. I loved St Andrew's. It was too far away for my family to contemplate visiting, a private medieval, sea swept paradise, if you ignored the golfers. Which we did. I admit, the dissections were almost my undoing. Why did they make us do that? You love Natural History? Chop it up! Four afternoons a week.

I fled to the English department where kind Professor Bailey actually marked my essays and let me take the exams, as a sort of refugee scientist.

After university I had various unlucrative jobs. Very various, and very unlucrative. Also I started writing books. What a strange thing to do but I did it, and here I am, still doing it, hundreds of years later.

Very odd.