Q. Where did you get your inspiration for writing TQFG?
A. When I was a teenager, I often wondered what it would be like to run away – just leave home, quit school, and take off on a journey somewhere, anywhere, different. I never had the nerve to do it for real but the curiosity was always there: Where would I go? What would happen? Who would I meet? What would life on the run be like? How would I avoid getting caught?
Twenty Questions for Gloria is rooted in that unfulfilled urge for adventure. The original idea was a semi-fantastical novel about an encounter between a genie-like boy called Uman and a teenage girl, Gloria, who wishes her life was more interesting and exciting. The reader would never have been sure whether the boy was an actual genie, with magical abilities, or if he was a figment of Gloria’s imagination.
In fact, when I came to write the novel, I’d moved away from the fantastical idea and went down the realist route instead. I turned Uman into a flesh-and-blood boy who turns up in Gloria’s school and wows her with his daring and transgressive behaviour, whisking her away on a life-changing adventure that she may come to regret.
Q. Did you know you wanted to become a writer from a young age?
A. Yes. I was an only child and spent a lot of my childhood playing by myself, creating imaginary worlds for my toys and writing stories and film scripts of the adventures I invented for them. I was also an avid reader and much of my interest in storytelling grew out of this love of entering the make-believe worlds of the books I read. Although I went into newspaper journalism after I finished my education, I always wanted to be a fiction-writer more than anything. I was thirty-six before my first novel came out, though!
Q. How did you formulate your protagonist’s personalities? Where they based on anyone you know?
A. When I first started writing novels, I used to base my main characters quite closely on people I knew (or on myself, sometimes). But, with each book, I gained more confidence in moving away from reality and inventing characters from scratch. Gloria isn’t based on anyone. To an extent, I’ve drawn on my own memories of being a 15-year-old looking to escape on an adventure but, in terms of her personality, she isn’t much like my teenage self. As for Uman, I don’t know where he came from. Well, I do, of course – he came from my imagination. But how he got in there is beyond me!
Q. What has been the greatest challenge of your writing career?
A. Each novel poses its own set of creative and technical challenges, then there are the crises of confidence which strike you from time to time over the years (this novel is rubbish … I’m a rubbish writer … etc.) But if I had to single out one particular challenge it would be the period after the publication, in 2006, of The Island of Lost Souls, my last novel for adults. Over the next few years, my father died, I left my teaching job after health problems and I wrote an adult novel which was (rightly) rejected by my literary agent. At that point, my career was on the point of collapse. Then, I had the idea for a novel for teenagers and – even though I’d never written for that readership before – I decided to give it a go. That was Flip, which came out in 2011 and has been my most successful book so far, winning several prizes and outselling any of my adult novels.
Q. What are your next novel plans?
A. I’m currently putting the finishing touches to the second draft of another teen/YA novel, provisionally titled Our Time to Sing. I don’t want to say too much about it at this stage, as I find my ideas can go stale on me if I discuss them before I’ve finished writing them. All I’ll say is that it’s a story told from the alternating viewpoints of four teenagers on a school trip abroad that goes horribly wrong.