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Carol Hughes

Marcy Malloy

Carol Hughes was born in Yorkshire, England, and grew up in a seaside town in Lancashire. She now lives in San Francisco with her husband and daughter.


My world upside down . . .

I have been a writer my whole life, but oddly enough I didn’t realize it until I was grown up. Looking back I can see that I was always writing and making up stories. I always loved writing essays at school and, when I went to art college, I filled my sketchbooks with stories instead of drawings.

In my late twenties, I met my husband. He turned my world upside down by pointing out to me that, as I was forever writing, perhaps I ought to try my hand at writing a book. Amazed by this revelation, I wrote Toots and the Upside-Down House and Jack Black & the Ship of Thieves.

All I had to do was go for it . . .

I have been incredibly lucky in my life. For starters, my parents always told me that I could be whatever I wanted to be—all I had to do was go for it. They always encouraged and supported me in all the mad, often nutty, schemes I dreamed up.

The only real difficulty I ever faced was when, for some reason, I lost all my confidence. It was terrible. For almost a year I couldn’t write anything and everything I tried to write was awful. Then a friend, another writer, gave me an incredibly useful piece of advice. She said “Just give yourself permission to write really badly and then get on with it.” So that was what I did. Everyday I wrote. Most of it was dreadful, but the more I wrote the less I worried about whether it was any good or not. And after a while I began to enjoy writing again. That episode showed me that you have to find the fun in what you are doing—otherwise, what’s the point?

I do all my acting on the page instead of in the spotlight . . .

In school I always wanted to be an actor, but I was very shy so, instead of getting up and acting characters out on a stage, I started inventing them in my notebooks and diaries. Even now I sometimes think I am really an actor, but I do all my acting on the page instead of in the spotlight.

When I’m writing new characters, the actor in me emerges. I suppose all the characters must, in some way, be part of me (even the horrid, mean, and conniving ones like Gadfly or Sabrina) and, when I write about them, I get to see what it would be like to be that way for a while. The really horrible characters are the most fun to write. The Maggo sisters in Toots Underground are my favorites. I didn’t have to do any work to find out who they were—one day they started talking and I just copied down what they said.

I love strong, capable characters . . .

I’m probably most similar to Toots. Like her, I tend to take the long way round to learning life’s important lessons and, like Toots, I often get in my own way. I wish I were more like Olive Brown. She’s so kind and positive and good-tempered. Of course, if I could be anyone, I’d like to be the kind of self-sufficient lady who could support herself on a desert isle like Dorothy Dobson in Jack Black or, if I were very daring, I’d be an adventurous aviatrix like Beryl. I love strong, capable characters.

I spent a lot of time searching for secret passageways and hidden worlds . . .

When I was little, my parents kept a small hotel that had 20 bedrooms. It was a fantastic place to grow up. All summer it was full of guests, but in the winter it was closed and I had the run of the whole place. I remember I spent a lot of time searching for secret passageways and hidden worlds. My favorite book back then was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and you’d think, wouldn’t you, that in a hotel with 20 huge, old-fashioned wardrobes at least one of them would lead to Narnia.

Most often the starting point for my stories is my desire to go somewhere I can’t physically go. I began Toots and the Upside-Down House because I wanted to visit the ceiling and see what it would feel like if my world was turned upside down. Once I started writing it, I got to go inside the walls of the house and discover the bits of buildings we don’t normally see. With Jack Black & the Ship of Thieves, all I knew was that I wanted to fly on an airship and the whole story grew from that one desire.


“Sailing through the skies or sailing through the seas, the action never stops.”—The Horn Book Magazine

“With a swashbuckling style and an imagination in overdrive, Hughes grabs readers on page one and never lets go.”—Publishers Weekly

“Successfully [combines] humor, adventure, and serious issues such as loyalty and honesty.”—Booklist

Author Bookshelf

Dirty Magic

By: Carol Hughes

After a night of particularly strange and vivid dreams, Joe is visited by a girl who seems to be all gray, from her hair to her eyes to her clothes. Wherever she steps, the world melts away, replaced by a land of...

Jack Black and the Ship of Thieves

By: Carol Hughes

Jack Black is thrilled when his father, the captain of the largest airship in the world, invites him on the ship’s maiden voyage. Once aloft, Jack overhears a plot to sabotage the ship. But before he can tell his father,...

The Princess and the Unicorn

By: Carol Hughes

Noble, with hooves and horn of gold, the unicorn is the embodiment of magic. When Princess Eleanor of England catches sight of him in Swinley Forest, she can’t resist taking him back with her to Buckingham Palace....

Toots and the Upside-Down House

By: Carol Hughes

If only Toots hadn't been so angry with her father. If only she hadn't run home by herself. If only she hadn't seen the fairy on the ceiling. . . .

But then again, if things had been different, Toots's whole world...

Toots Underground

By: Carol Hughes

Toots is having the worst spring vacation ever. She should be spending every minute playing with her best friend Jemma, but they’re having a fight. And there’s something wrong with Toots’s garden–it’s...