Antonia Barber

Antonia Barber really knows about ballet - her daughter studied ballet from the age of three and attended the Royal Ballet School junior associate classes at Sadler's Wells. Antonia is well-known for such best-selling picture books as The Mousehole Cat (with Nicola Bailey) and Catkin (with J P Lynch). Her novel, The Amazing Mr Blunden, was runner-up for the Carnegie Medal. Antonia lived in Kent.

Middlemarch by George Eliot
'Every Time You Say Goodbye' by Ella Fitzgerald
Family Photographs
The African Queen with Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart

When did you start writing?
I wrote my first children's novel in 1966. My second, The Ghosts, written two years later, was a best-seller and was filmed as The Amazing Mr Blunden in 1972. Now a new film version is planned, as well as a stage musical version. My picture books for younger children include The Mousehole Cat about a fisherman and a cat who live in my Cornish cottage (see Favourite Place). Most recently I wrote Tales from the Ballet and then, for Puffin, the Dancing Shoes series about Lucy Lambert who wants to be a ballerina.

Where do you get your ideas?
Often from my own life or other peoples'. The Ghosts was inspired by a visit to an old house; The Ring in the Rough Stuff by going sailing with friends on an old Thames Barge; and The Mousehole Cat by a song I found in Cornwall. For the Dancing Shoes series I had help from my daughter Gemma, who did ballet lessons from the age of three until she was fifteen.

Can you give your top three tips to becoming a successful author?
1. You must be interested in people and all ages. To create good characters, you have to be able to imagine yourself in someone else's shoes and know how they would feel.
2. Read lots of books by good writers and try to see what it is that makes you enjoy them.
3. Write your story, then put it aside and do something different. Then go back to your story and try to read it as if someone else had written it. This makes it easier to see mistakes and to put them right.

Favourite memory?
A sailing holiday in the Greek Islands with my children and my husband, the summer before he was killed in a road accident.

Favourite place in the world and why?
My cottage in the little Cornish fishing village of Mousehole. We don't know how old it is, but it had to have a new roof after some marauding Spaniards set fire to it in 1590. It is small and snug and I can watch the blue-green sea and the little harbour from my window. I go there to rest and unwind and sometimes to work in peace because there is no telephone. It is full of happy memories of holidays with my children.

What are your hobbies?
Walking, especially along the cliffs in Cornwall. Gardening in my poison-free, wild-life garden in Kent. Going to the theatre, ballet, opera and cinema. Watching television, especially BBC classic serials. Best of all, reading books.

If you hadn't been a writer, what do you think you would have been?
I like the idea of myself as an actor or dancer... a painter would have been good too. Unfortunately I don't think I would have had enough talent for any of these. But really I love books, so if I couldn't write them, I think I would have a little bookshop in a small country town.

(courtesy Penguin website)

Books by Antonia Barber