Gillian Cross says the world has room for only one superstar children's writer - and she seems happy to let J.K. Rowling stay on the throne. After writing 40 books and selling more than a million copies, Cross gets quite enough attention. She would much rather stay in the dark, window-less room in which she polishes her sensitive thrillers for young readers. The converted larder behind her kitchen allows Cross, 58, to work on her own terms, away from the till-ringing hype generated in Britain by the success of children's literature and authors such as Rowling and Mark Haddon, who last month won the Whitbread prize for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The demands of success forced the mother of four to hire her first agent about three years ago. By that stage Cross had achieved so much - including the 1992 Whitbread Children's Novel Award, for The Great Elephant Chase - that editor and publisher Philippa Milne Smith called to offer her services. 'I began to feel anxious about keeping up with the changes in the [publishing] business,' Cross says. 'They were taking time from my work ... now I don't have to worry. 'It is very exciting at the moment. Children's books are like a funny kind of see-saw. Sometimes they get terribly fashionable and literary. It happened in the 1970s and it's happening now. And there are periods when the literary world gets bored with children's authors and I like that, too. The point is that children's books need to be engaging, and while authors need to be constantly aware that their readers are children, that is no reason to not aim high while keeping their feet on the ground. These books should be very accessible but challenging.' But Cross is happy to leave the larder for research. She jokes that Wolf, which won the Carnegie Medal in 1990, was nearly her last book, after the head keeper at London Zoo took her into the wolf enclosure. 'At first the wolves retreated, but then they surrounded us and started howling. Half of me was worried, but I was more afraid of what my daughter, Katie, would think if she came round the corner and saw me. 'It was a wonderful experience, a magic moment. It encapsulated so much about the book itself.' Cross generally starts her stories with just a germ of an idea. The spark for Wolf came with a simple scene of her heroine waking up in her grandmother's flat. 'I had that bit and knew it was dangerous and something to do with wolves, and the rest came out of exploring the ideas as it went along. I like to get a sense of structure as I write. I like to be surprised.' She says she spends nine months on each book, and prefers editing and rewriting to the rush of finishing a first draft. Festival patrons will be given a preview of her latest effort, The Dark Ground, which is the first part of a trilogy and is due to be released in April. Patience, it seems, has been one of the secrets of success. 'I had written five books and then waited five years before anything happened. And then I sold two books in the space of a week.' Another key to her writing is the use of locations that were part of her childhood in north London. 'I had been writing for a long time until I realised the significance of various places in my books,' she says. But unlike many authors, she avoids writing about people she has come across in real life. 'Some of my characters and stories may have had an initial stimulus, but I make things up. I would hate to use real people. I would be paralysed by politeness.' Just for Kids, March 9, 7.30pm - 9pm, Central Library $50; Awesome Authors Young Adult award winners, March 10, 9.30am, 1pm, Central Library, $50 school booking only; Story Planet Upper Primary, March 11, 9.30am, 1pm, Central Library, $50 (school booking only).