Congratulations on More Of Me! What inspired you to get into writing?
Thank you, it really is a long fought for dream! What inspired me? I love language: talking, performing, poetry, prose – all of it. And I’m a bit of a show off really, writing was another way to show off. At junior school I set up a little magazine, there were three of us that ran it, we called ourselves The Tiger Club. We were definitely awesome and not the geekiest kids in the class ( we were, we were!!)
For those who haven’t read it, could you describe it in ten words?
I am so bad at these 10-line pitch things! “Teva fights for life against her former, and future, selves.” No, yuk. Let’s have, “Teva hides an impossible secret. Eleven other Tevas.” I stole that one from Usborne’s website. See, hopeless– this is why I can’t write a picture book, I need 70,000 words!
The book tells a really unique tale. Where did you get the idea for Teva and her story from?
I wasn’t very happy for some of my childhood but when I look at pictures of myself then, they don’t feel like me. They feel like some other sad little girl I feel a bit sorry for. That’s kind of how Teva feels when she looks at Six. And don’t we all sometimes talk about our past selves as if they were real? Say, you wish your last night self had actually done the homework you now have to rush to get finished on the bus. It really wasn’t such a big step to imagine those former selves still existed. That Teva really could touch and talk to them – could fight with them!
What is it about the idea of growing up that made you want to write about it?
How hard it is. I mean, how really, really hard it is. I think so many of us teetered on the brink of coping/not coping as we navigated through our teenage years. Parents and teachers can help a bit but they aren’t really in it. You might feel alien in your body, you might be dealing with first love/friends/exams and you’ll definitely be dealing with the terrifying prospect of an unknown future. But it’s also a wonderful time – you’re beginning to make choices for yourself, you’re on the cusp of a future that might just be great, you have everything to play for, everything. It’s terrifying but also very hopeful. Teva’s story is a metaphor for that. I hope I got the balance right.
Do you draw from any of your own experiences in life in this book?
All writers have to, I think. When you’re training to be an actor, you learn how to access the residual emotions from your own experience, I think writers have to do this too, to give authenticity to their work. That sounds so pretentious but it’s true. In every break up scene I’ve written, I’ve drawn on my own first serious break up – you have to put yourself back there, remember the pain, the shock, the sudden shifting in your reality. I also thought a lot about what I was like as a teen, really unaware of any troubles my mum and dad might have been going through – I had enough to deal with in my own life. In some ways, Teva is a lot like me, pretty wrapped up in herself and her own problems. I badly let down a friend in need when I was about 16, I think Teva might have done that too, just by not listening, like she does with Ollie really. So yeah, hands up, a lot of my life experience spills into my characters.
How do you write? Do you have a specific process?
I usually start with a character – I’ll have a picture in my head of them in a scene. Don’t ask me where that comes from, I have no idea. I’ve always conjured up little scenes. I used to make up characters and play out scenes in front of the bathroom mirror. For a book though, you need context. So I trial a few “What if” scenarios and see if an idea takes hold. I think about it a lot, I allow characters to form before I write a word. I look on the internet for pictures of people that fit the way I see a character and print them off. I read around the subject that might be part of the genre element of my story. I explore stuff and let ideas grow. Then I open a new notebook and start jotting things down. The stuff sticks is the stuff that comes out in the notes! I use Scrivener to draft and edit up to the point of the book going to my agent. And I’ll write that first draft as fast as I can, editing as little as I can, allowing it to be rubbish. I make margin notes for things to go back and correct later. When I have a draft, I’ll do a structural edit. And then I’ll make a pass for character development and another for continuity – it’ll already have been edited several times, and probably read by my critique group, before it gets anywhere near my agent.
Aside from writing, what else do you enjoy doing?
I’m a big believer in being busy! I actually enjoy my other job – I run a soft fruit farm with my husband. I love being a Mum. I read A LOT. I blog. I love to travel to unusual places. I belly dance, I used to perform but these days I mostly just go to class once a week. I’m a poet on www.thefuneverse.com And I fence epee, which I really love, I train twice a week. I’d love to be better but at my age I seem to be constantly injured – still, I’ve won a few medals and I hope to win a few more before my knees give out!
What’s next for you?
I’ve nearly finished the first (rubbish) draft of my next book so edits to come. I’ve got some festivals and promotional stuff lined up in the UK and More of Me comes out in a few other countries next year so am hoping to do a bit of promotion abroad too. I did have to agree to go to New York if my US publisher wants me to – didn’t have to think about that one very hard YES PLEASE. I’d really love to write something for a younger audience too – I love school visits and want an excuse to get into more schools!
What advice would you give to any aspiring writers who may be reading?
Learn your craft. I was very lucky that when I first began submitting to publishers, an editor gave me that advice. She suggested I join SCBWI which I did (I’ve been a member now for YEARS and am such a passionate supporter I volunteer as their finance co-ordinator). Go to workshops, read about writing, join a crit group – read, read and read some more. And, obviously, write. Don’t give up, it took me fifteen years from beginning to write seriously to publication. Get your bum in the chair and do it – I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve said to me, “ I could write a book.” I always think, maybe, if you’re prepared to put in the hours to get the words on the page.