Who is the inspiration behind Knitbone Pepper?
When my daughter was little, she told me that she loved our old dog Finn because he was ‘the person’ who really understood her feelings. A true animal friend is a very special thing.
One day I found myself wondering if an animal’s devotion could be strong enough last forever….suddenly Knitbone Pepper popped into my head and it wasn’t long before he had a whole gang of friends. Then the story began to write itself and I had to run to keep up.
Knitbone Pepper is a funny sort of name. Where does it come from?
A herbalist ( someone who studies plants for medicine) friend gave us a plant to put in our vegetable patch. She called it knitbone and I had to look it up. Knitbone is the old-fashioned name for a plant called comfrey and I really liked the word. It seemed like a perfectly unusual name for a very special sort of dog, especially as it has powerful healing properties. It’s a remarkable plant.
Pepper is sparky, spicy and an old-fashioned treasure – everything I needed the family to be.
Is Starcross Hall a real place?
No, although there is a real place called Starcross in Devon, not far from where I live. I always thought it was a wonderful name, a place where magical things might happen.
Is Claire BARKER your real name?
Yes, it really truly is!
Did you like working with Ross Collins, the illustrator of Knitbone Pepper?
Me and Ross at the Edinburgh Book Festival August 2015
Ross is a pencil wizard who has won lots of awards and written several books himself. Straightaway he understood the characters. It was if he had been rummaging around in my head, like someone had drawn pictures of my dreams. His illustrations are full of energy and somehow often manage to be both sad and funny at the same time. That’s very clever. The brilliant team at Usborne knew he was the right man for the job and they were spot on. I think I’m very lucky. You can find more about him on his website, which is full of brilliant illustrations and terrific books here:
Are any of the characters in the book like you?
Hmm. I think my children would tell you I’m most like Lady Pepper. I really like gardening but they weren’t very keen when I made a beetroot cake. Or the time I presented them with sugared primrose petals. I’d like to be like Winnie though. I DO like hats….
Do you have any hobbies like the ghosts in the book?
Definitely not ironing or sock-sorting but I have always painted pictures. I often paint portraits of characters before I write about them, so I can get to know them better. Here for example, are the earliest versions of Gabriel and Valentine:
Do you have any pets?
Oh yes, lots; eight sheep, nine chickens and a goose (I hatched her out of an egg and she thinks she’s a chicken. It’s complicated.) We have a Border Terrier called Sam who is quite naughty, but very, very sweet. He likes sitting in the bicycle basket and being cycled around. Click here to see Sam drying himself off after a bath.
I live on a small, very old farm with my family and over the years we’ve also had a pony, a cat, pigs and cows too. At one point we had over forty free range chickens wandering about the farmyard laying eggs everywhere. That was a bit mad, but apparently my great grandma used to let cows into her kitchen so maybe it’s genetic. Living in deepest, darkest Devon, on the edge of a wood, we have lots of bats and owls, hares, badgers, foxes and deer. I really, really like animals and just being around them makes me feel happy.
Do you believe in ghosts?
No, but then I don’t know everything. I DO believe in friendship, loyalty and good stories.
Do you do school visits?
Yes, and libraries and festivals too. I’d love to hear from you. You can get in touch with me on my Contact page here.