TTLG Author/Illustrator Profiles

F.E. Higgins

F.E. Higgins

I was born in a London suburb in the sixties but my memories of my early years are random and patchy.  It might sound odd, but I don’t know whether or not I can trust the memories.  I can recall quite vividly my older brother falling down the stairs and breaking his ankle.  I can still see my father picking him up at the bottom of the stairs.  The strange thing is, however, in the memory the stairs are on the right-hand side of the hall.  I know for a fact that the stairs in that house were on the left.  It makes me wonder, how much of what I believe to be true from the past is actually false?

I left England when I was seven, my family moved to Ireland, my father’s birthplace, and I spent the next decade or so in a small seaside town on the east coast.  My parents still live in that town, in the same house, but it is a very different place now.  Journeys we made on narrow potholed winding roads that used to take hours today take a fraction of the time on wide dual carriageways.  The green hills and sea views of my childhood are now obscured with rows of houses.

I went to a girls’ primary school at the other end of town.   For six years I walked the mile distance there and back with my best friend twice a day (we came home for lunch) in rain, hail, sunshine and snow.  I was a quiet child, very shy, but I loved to write - poetry and stories and the odd song - and in those days it seemed that I was able to do this whenever I felt like it.  I also loved to read, there was little else to do for entertainment, there were no distractions, no computer games, no computers even, and only four channels on the television, one of which was snowy.

I am often asked what writers inspired me and I am certain that the books I read as a child must have been a major influence on my style and ideas but I have to be honest and say I can only remember a few of them.  I know that I read Enid Blyton as if there was no tomorrow, and I remember The Hobbit and the Narnia series, but I know there were many others, darker books perhaps, that have escaped my memory.

After a wonderfully creative time in primary school I went to the nearby secondary, an all-girl convent school run by the Dominicans.  My overriding memory of the next five years, however, is one of studying and exams and long walks along the beach with my best friend discussing how bored we were.  There was little time for writing or even reading.  After school I went to Dublin and trained to be a primary teacher, an ambition I had had since I was very young, and I returned to London as soon as I qualified.  I started supply teaching in London, taking temporary contracts in different schools, but it wasn’t long before I realised that perhaps I had been a little hasty in my choice of career.  I enjoyed teaching English but there were many other areas of the curriculum where I struggled to stay motivated.  I decided to try my hand at other, more artistically fulfilling if not financially rewarding jobs.

For some years I ran a small mail order business selling candle-making equipment and latex moulds, and I also worked part-time as a private tutor.  At the weekends I ran an outdoor market stall selling candles - many of which were my own creations - and blown-glass oil lamps made by a friend of mine.  It was hard work; early starts, unpredictable earnings and numbingly cold in the winter.  I sold bottles of lamp oil with a very low freezing point and in the depths of winter the bottles would be so cold that when you picked them up your hand felt as if it was sticking to the outside, like licking the ice in your freezer.

It was at this time that I began to think about writing again, I was already producing a newsletter for my business, so I signed up for a correspondence course and began to write short articles and stories which I sold to various magazines.  I realised that I wasn’t cut out for journalism so I turned to novels.   My first attempts were for adults, one was a light-hearted romance, but eventually I gravitated towards a younger audience.  I believe I have at least three finished books in my attic at the moment that will probably never see the light of day again.  I have no illusions about the quality of my early writing or the preposterous nature of the plots, but we all have to start somewhere and with writing, as with most things, practice makes perfect.

My first book, by that I mean the first book I was happy with, was The Black Book of Secrets.  It was published in the UK in 2007 and I have written three more since, The Bone Magician, The Eyeball Collector and my favourite so far, The Lunatic’s Curse into which I poured many of the ideas I have been saving up for years.

It’s a long time now since I taught in a classroom but I do travel around the country visiting schools, talking to children about my books and about writing, and even asking them up on stage to act out scenes from my books with the aid of scripts and costumes.  I now live in Kent, the garden of England, a beautiful county rich in history and certainly a great source of inspiration to me.  Many of the houses and buildings in the area are hundreds of years old.  My own house dates back to the 1400s and has architectural features that are unique to the county.   The model for Jeremiah Ratchet’s house is a mile or so down the road from me in another village.

I write in a study under the stairs at the west end of the house.  When I need a break, or I’m looking for a new idea, I step outside and squeeze through a gap in the hedge into the neighbouring churchyard.  I pass the gravestones and the bell tower and climb over the gate into the wheat field.  I cross the field and enter the hillside orchard on the far side to walk between rows and rows of apple trees, and I climb and climb until finally I reach Pluckley, the most haunted village in England.

What better inspiration for a writer could there be than that!