Biography by David Almond
I was born in Newcastle and I grew up in a big Catholic family in Felling-on-Tyne. I had four sisters and a brother and lots of relatives in the streets nearby. My dad had been in Burma during the war. He and my mum married in the late 40s. Dad became an office manager in an engineering factory. Mum was a shorthand typist until she had the children. We moved several times when I was a child, but always within Felling.
Felling had been a coal mining town, but by the time I remember anything the pits were all closed. The river at the foot of the town was lined with warehouses and shipyards. At the summit was a wild area we called the Heather Hills. I loved playing football in the fields above the town, camping out with my friends, messing about with my grandfather in his allotment. I was an altar boy, and I still know snatches of the Latin mass by heart. I loved our local library, and dreamed of seeing my books on its shelves one day. Favourite books as a child/teenager included the tales of King Arthur and his knights, the books of T. Lobsang Rampa, and Hemingway's stories. I also used to read my sisters' Enid Blytons. I always knew that I wanted to be a writer. One of my uncles had a small printing works. My mum said that she used to take me there as a baby and I used to laugh and point at the printed pages coming off the rollers - so maybe I began to fall in love with print when I was just a few months old.
I went to primary schools in Felling and Sunderland - both of which I liked. I went to grammar school in Hebburn - which I disliked. To the surprise of some people (eg a few teachers and especially my headmaster) I went on to the University of East Anglia and did a degree in English and American Literature. After stints as a hotel porter, postman and labourer, I trained to be a teacher. It seemed the perfect job for a writer: short hours, long holidays, what more could I want? How wrong I was. I wasn't just exhausted by it, I also found it fascinating, and I learned a huge amount. I worked five years in a primary school on a large estate in Gateshead.
While I was there, my first short stories began to be published in little magazines. I needed more time to write, so I resigned and sold my house. I went to live in a commune based in a dilapidated mansion in a beautiful part of Norfolk. I lived for a year and a half on a few hundred pounds and wrote my first decent stories there. When my money ran out, I found a job writing booklets for an adult literacy scheme. This led to my final teaching job, in a school for children with learning difficulties.
My first book for young people, Skellig, was published in 1998. Before that, many short stories had appeared in magazines and anthologies, and were broadcast on Radio 4. Two collections of my stories for adults, Sleepless Nights (1985) and A Kind of Heaven (1997), were put out by IRON Press, a small North Eastern publisher. I was editor of the fiction magazine 'Panurge' from 1987-93. I wrote a novel called Seances that took five years to write and was rejected by every publisher in the country. Then Skellig came along. It seemed to come out of the blue, as if it had been waiting a long time to be told. At times seemed to write itself. Since Skellig, I've written several more children's novels: Kit's Wilderness, Heaven Eyes, Secret Heart, The Fire-Eaters, and Clay; and a collection of stories based on my childhood, Counting Stars. My first picture book, Kate, the Cat and the Moon, illustrated by the wonderful Stephen Lambert, came out in 2004. I also write for the theatre. My first children's play, Wild Girl, Wild Boy toured the UK in 2001. My stage adaptation of Skellig was produced at The Young Vic in 2003, alongside my play for younger children, My Dad's a Birdman. Heaven Eyes was premiered at The Edinburgh Fringe in 2005.
I live with my family in Northumberland. We live just beyond the Roman Wall, which for centuries marked the place where civilisation ended and the waste lands began.