Mal Peet (1947–2015) is the acclaimed author of the Carnegie Medal–winning novel Tamar as well as the Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor Book Life: An Exploded Diagram and three Paul Faustino novels: Keeper, The Penalty, and Exposure, a winner of the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. He is also the co-author of Cloud Tea Monkeys, Mysterious Traveler, and Night Sky Dragons, all of which he wrote with his wife, Elspeth Graham.
Mal Peet’s story in his own words . . .
As a child:
I grew up as a member of an emotionally impaired family on a council estate in a one-horse market town in north Norfolk. The three things that kept me sane were my bike, books, and soccer. The bike took me great distances. (Norfolk is, famously, flat, although there are hills that can sneak up on you). Books took me further away, often to islands: Treasure Island, the Coral Island, and wherever it was that the Swiss Family Robinson found themselves. I also loved comics, and originally wanted Keeper to be a graphic novel. As for soccer, by the time I was sixteen, I was playing at least three full matches a week – for my school, for my county, and for the town.
As an adult:
After university I had some lost years, like many of my peers. I tried teaching to start with. Then I quit and went on walkabout. I worked in a hospital mortuary. I worked at an abattoir; what with the heat and the carnage it was an authentic vision of Hell. I went to Devon because I liked the sound of it, and there worked on building sites. I went to Canada and worked with a road crew consisting of a variety of interesting characters, including mad Newfoundlanders and exiled Irishmen. I met a lovesick man in Ontario who wanted someone to drive with him to Vancouver, where his girlfriend was. That week-long drive across Canada was one of the best and worst things I have ever done.
As an artist:
Like many people (I suspect), I had no real interest in children’s literature until I had children of my own. It'll sound a bit evangelical, I suppose, but I truly believe that there are few things more important, useful, and protective than sharing stories with your children. After their bath, heaped into a big chair, doing the voices, discussing the pictures, softening your voice as the rhythm of their breathing deepens. . . . You start to understand why certain books work and others don't.