At some point last term, a lovely fan whom we shall call ‘G’ wrote to me with a simple question for her book report: what was my aim in writing Sequins Stars & Spotlights – the last book in the Threads trilogy?
Dangerous question, G! Poor girl. I’m sure she wanted a couple of quotable sentences for her report, but I had quite a lot of aims in writing the book. Soon, it will be almost completely overtaken in my head by the book I’m writing at the moment and The Look, which comes out in seven weeks. Seven weeks, people! That’s nothing. But before I forget, I thought I’d share what was on my mind when I was writing Sequins Stars & Spotlights, and rounding off the stories of my favourite foursome.
So here, for the record (and for anyone else with a book report to write), is what I wrote back to G …
“I think it’s important to have lots of aims when writing a novel – or the story will quickly seem very thin. You were probably hoping for two sentences in reply, but you asked a really interesting question, so here goes … (If you need 2 sentences, skip to the last bit.)
First of all, the ‘Star’ of Sequins Stars & Spotlights is Jenny. I wanted to show how she had a real talent for acting and singing, despite her horrible experience in the movies, and how she became a genuine musical sensation. However, I was also interested in exploring the sacrifices that big stars often make. Their lives aren’t simple and they have to give up so much to focus on their work. In Jenny’s case, she had to give up caring for her mother.
I’d assumed that I would write about another big issue of child exploitation, as I had in books 1 and 2, but Jenny’s mum’s story took over, and in the end I wrote about depression. It’s a huge issue, suffered by many children who live with a depressed family member, and hardly anyone talks about it. I wasn’t sure how that storyline would end when I started plotting the book, and I was so proud of Edie when she took over. The depth of Edie’s compassion really showed through. There were hints in the other books that Edie wouldn’t have been happy at Harvard – she hates travel – but I also wanted to show how people’s ambitions can change over time, and that’s OK.
This was really Jenny’s book, but I also wanted to explain some of Nonie’s lack of self-confidence. Nonie always seems so bright and breezy, but she’s often insecure. This book gave the details of her family background […]. When Nonie discovers how much she was always loved, it transforms her. Nothing will stop her now. I also wanted to show that Nonie has to face up to the problems of not taking school seriously for a long time. It matters! Exams are stressful! Poor Nonie. But once she concentrates, she discovers new depths which make her very proud of herself.
Oh, and Edie [… PLOT SPOILER, which I’ve removed. You’ll have to read the book!] … That was a fun ending to write.
Writing about Crow was the hardest of all in this book. My aim for her was to show that if you’re going to be a truly great artist (which she is), you need to grow roots, and not overstretch yourself while you’re growing up. If you spend your teens manically producing things on demand, not absorbing new influences, you risk running out of ideas later on. The big story for Crow is that she doesn’t give in to the demands of the fashion industry, but instead focuses on her friendships, her family, her studies and developing her ideas. It doesn’t make for such an exciting story, but it means that if I ever write about Crow when she’s older, she’ll be a deep, grounded and fascinating person, with a lot to give. She won’t be burnt out by the time she’s twenty. (I’ve read arguments that John Galliano’s big problem was that he was so overstretched by having to do a new collection every few weeks for Dior that it drove him to alcohol. I wonder if that’s true. I’m also interested that the young winners of things like the X Factor generally burn bright for a short time, but don’t go on to have long careers.)
I certainly didn’t want to tell my readers what to do with their own lives. But I wanted to describe lots of different ways that talented people can approach that complicated time of becoming an adult. I wanted to show the good bits and the bad bits, and let my readers decide what they would do in that situation.
Most of all, I wanted to write about the joy of making musicals, which I love, and of designing wedding dresses, which I also love, and New York, which is an inspirational city, and my characters, who were all growing up in interesting ways. It meant I ended up with four different plots, all going in different directions and intertwining at different points. It was a nightmare to write! Thank goodness for my editor. In my next book, I have 2 main characters, which is quite enough.
Er, that was it, I think! I hope that helps.