Children's author David Almond tells Steve Pratt how he's turned notes by an American writer into a story about Felling.

AWARD-winning children's novelist David Almond has taken notes for an unwritten story by American writer Raymond Carver and turned them into a short story set in the North-East.

The award-winning children's writer, who grew up in Felling, Gateshead, will be reading his new work as part of a Festival of Stories presented by New Writing North, Northern Stage and Live Theatre.

He's one of a group of writers from the UK, Russia and the US participating in the package of 14 new stories and a play, all inspired by Carver and Anton Chekhov.

The brief was simple: write a short story inspired by notes for stories that the two men never wrote. Almond opted for a snippet by Carver, fashioning a story about children in Felling from it.

"The story had to be readable in about 15 minutes, so it's about 2,500 words," he explains. "Whenever I am writing, I read out loud all the time. I always read in the voice as well as write on the page. I enjoy reading my work."

He'll be reading his Carver-inspired story, Counting Stars, in one of the Writer To Writer events at Live Theatre during the Festival Of Stories, this month. "I've written a story about some kids in the area where I grew up in Felling. It's loosely based on my own life and family and friends," he says.

"One of the dangers of doing a commission is they can be extraneous to everything else you're doing. This fitted in because one of the things I'm working towards is a collection of stories based on Felling."

The event coincides with the publication of his first picture book Kate, The Cat And The Moon, with illustrations by Stephen Lambert. It also comes hot on the heels of winning a major US award, The Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, for his book The Fire-Eaters.

Almond has been a full-time writer for five years since his first children's novel, Skellig, became a success. Before that he combined writing and teaching part-time.

"Writing was always what I wanted to do, but you have to find a way of looking after yourself and that was by teaching. I don't think anxiety and poverty are very creative," he says.

He's now established as a writer of children's novels, although he has a huge adult audience as well as an army of younger readers. His work is finding outlets other than publishing. There has been interest in making films of it from both here and the US. He's working with an American composer, Tod Machover, on an opera of Skellig, and feature films of that novel and also The Fire-Eaters are under discussion.

Almond has just finished a stage version of Heaven Eyes for Pop-Up Theatre, which will tour theatres next year. In Limbo, a stage version of his story The Baby, will tour the UK next year with Cambridge-based Classworks Theatre. In addition, he has a new novel, The Legend Of Stephen Rose, due for publication next year.

Despite the specific North-East settings, as well as linguistic and cultural references to the region, his books have found success across the Atlantic. "They seem to have universal appeal," he says. "In America, they are more used to regional writing than we are here. They are just open to Geordies."

Pleased with his first picture book, Almond is keen to embark on another called Mouse, Bird, Snake, Wolf. "The great thing about working in the children's world is there are so many different things you can do. There's no equivalent thing you can do for adults," he says.

* David Almond features with Andrew Crumey (UK), Evegeny Popov (Russia) and Natalia Smirnova (Russia) in the Writer To Writer session at Live Theatre, Newcastle, on Sunday, October 24 at 7.30pm. Tickets 0191-232 1232.

Published: 16/10/2004