The early years...
What were you like as a toddler?
In light of my notoriously bad memory I checked with my mum
and my cousin, who both said I was cute (of course), but with
a certain glint in my eye. No idea what that glint was all about, honest! Apparently I was hugely irritating to my big brother.
This makes me feel proud.
How did your schoolteachers describe you?
Pretty much every teacher thought I should participate more in class discussions. PAH! Other than that, they kind of liked me - I did my work on time and kept out of trouble. Dullsville, right?
Is there anything you'd like to say to your teenaged self?
I would say: participate more in class discussions. Not really.
I would probably say 'Hey, you're OK. Don't worry about stuff so much. School will be over soon and university will be AWESOME.'
What would your teenaged self think of you being a
Ooh, she'd think it was unbelievably cool. She'd probably say zomething like 'So you actually did it, huh? Impressive. But what
took you so long?'
When did you know you wanted to be a writer, and when did you actually start writing?
I can't pinpoint an exact moment, but I was probably 13 or so.
I don't think I thought it was a realistic goal for me though, 'cos you have to, you know, write a book and stuff. And I've always been pretty lazy. Still, I managed to write a bit when I was maybe 14 or 15. It was nothing major - just a few pages on a couple of different ideas. Looking back, I think the ideas were pretty good and the writing was OK. Maybe I'll revisit those stories someday...
What inspired you to start writing?
Christopher Pike. I devoured every C.P. book I could get my hands on. The first thing I ever wrote was a shameless attempt to write a story worthy of Master Pike. It wasn't.
How did you come up with the idea for ENTANGLED?
The teeny-tiny kernel of the idea came to me in an English Language
A-Level exam. We had to write the first chapter of a novel. How cool is that? Getting to write ANYTHING in an exam!
So I wrote about a girl who'd been abducted. It was fun to write,
and the idea never really went away.
It stayed filed away somewhere in back of my brain for years afterwards. When I eventually uncovered it back there, it had changed into something entirely different (and hopefully better... at least, that's my excuse for not writing the novel sooner).
How long did it take you to write ENTANGLED?
Just under three years. I know writers who finish the first draft of their novels in a matter of weeks. This makes me feel deeply inadequate. But, in my defence:
1. I didn't think I'd ever actually finish it - just didn't think I had it in me! I needed a lot of prodding/bullying every step of the way.
2. I got Repetitive Strain Injury and didn't work on the novel
for about a year during that time.
3. Did I mention the fact that I'm really lazy?
Publishers: please note that three years is not indicative of my general writing speed. I'm almost 100% sure I can write faster...)
What was the hardest part of the story to write?
When I realized I'd finished setting up the story (definitely the
fun bit) and actually had to start resolving the problems I'd created. I suppose it was the moment I realized the story needed an ending.
I couldn't just carry on writing the middle bit forever. Although,
I do quite like the idea of writing a never-ending novel, just
Are you scared about total strangers reading your book,
or just excited?
Definitely both. It's a strange idea to get my head around, but also feels like the most normal thing in the world. Because that's the point: writing something that people would (hopefully) like to read. Well, first and foremost, I write for me. It has to be something I want to read. But I guess if I didn't want anyone else to read it, I'd have just printed off the manuscript and left it in a drawer, instead of trying this getting-published malarkey. The thought of actual people out there reading the book though? Scary biscuits! And yet,
I'd love as many people as possible to read it. Confusing, isn't it?
General writing and other bits and bobs...
Where do you get your best ideas from?
The news, overheard snippets of conversation, listening to music. Ideas can spring from anywhere, usually when you least expect it.
I seem to get a lot more ideas since I finished Entangled. Not sure why. I've got them all written down somewhere - hopefully some of
them will turn into books one day.
How has being an editor helped or hindered your writing or the process of getting published?
It's definitely helped my writing. Or rather, my editing. I spend hours each days looking at text, working out ways to make it better, so hopefully I'm pretty well equipped to do the same with my own writing. Everyone needs an editor though - sometimes you're so close to the text that you can't see the bloomin' obvious (i.e. this bit is rubbish/pointless/dull). Editors rock!
As for getting published, I'd say that being an editor has helped too. I've been lucky enough to get advice from lovely publishing bods and to know how the process works. Sometimes it's felt like I've had access to too much information! There are no short cuts though:
I still had to write the dreaded covering letter and synopsis to submit to agents, and adhere to each of their ever so slightly different submission guidelines, and endure long queues at the post office and all that fun stuff.
How do you make up names for your characters?
With great difficulty! I check out baby names on the internet, and sometimes use the names of people I know. I have no qualms about stealing real people's names. If it's right for my character, I'm taking it - sorry! I do change character names as I go along - thank God for 'find and replace'. When you've got the right name, you just KNOW. And it always helps if it's an easy word to type. I'll have to name someone Qwerty one day.
How much time to do you spend writing each day?
Eek. On a normal day: none. I don't write every day, or even close to every day. I'm hoping to change this ASAP, but that's the truth at the moment. Sometimes I write on Sundays, and occasionally I'll write after work during the week. I tried the whole 'early-morning writing' thing for a bit and quite liked that. Maybe I'll revisit that idea. I go on little writing holidays with my best friend - that's when I get a lot done. It's good to be away from home, with nothing else to do but write. And I take the odd week off from work to write at home - not quite as productive, but still better than nothing.
What are your ideal writing conditions?
When the moons of Saturn are aligned with Jupiter, and the lesser-spotted lotus flower is budding on the slopes of Mount Fuji? THEN I can write.
Ideally, I have music playing in the background, a cat or two by my side and no noisy neighbours to drive me crazy.
What's your best remedy for writer's block?
I just sit down at the computer and write. It's the only thing that works. If I'm stuck on a story, with no clue what's going to happen next, I'm never going to figure it out by doing anything else. It usually works itself out.
What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Me? Give advice? Well, OK... you asked for it. Here are my
1. Write. Sounds obvious, doesn't it? You're never going to be a very good writer unless you WRITE. And do it as often as possible. Do as I say, not as I do!
2. Read. Anything and everything in your chosen genre and beyond.
I read A LOT of YA. Maybe 90% of the books I read are YA, and that's the way I like it. I know what I like and what I don't. I know the kind of books I want to write, and the kind I like to read, but don't want to write.
3. Talk to other writers. Seriously, they're the only ones who understand! If you don't know any writers in real life, get onto the interwebs... read and comment on blogs, get on Twitter, get involved. (N.B. Don't spend more time doing this than actually writing. The internet can suck up hours of your valuable writing time like nothing else on earth. Except maybe a gigantic, specialized writing-time-sucking-vacuum-cleaner.)
Which books do you think have had the biggest influence on you?
Speak - Laurie Halse Anderson
Looking for JJ - Anne Cassidy
Elsewhere - Gabrielle Zevin
Three mighty fine YA books. If you haven't read them, please do.
Who are your writing heroes?
Christopher Pike. For writing A LOT of hugely entertaining books.
Harper Lee. For writing one perfect book.
Laurie Halse Anderson. For her ability to write brilliantly in different genres: gritty YA, historical YA, picture books... That is one talented lady. Some of her prose is so breathtaking you have to read it again and again to savour it.
What is your favourite writing snack?
I don't usually eat when I write. Crumbs + laptop = potentially unhappy laptop. I tend to drink tea, and maybe a cheeky glass of
wine if I'm writing in the evening. Sometimes I use food as a reward:
'If you do some writing this afternoon, you can have a particularly delicious dinner that somehow involves cheese.'
What's your favourite biscuit, and why?
You can't beat a chocolate digestive. It has to be milk chocolate though. Every time.