I was tagged to take part in this on-going tour by Keris Stainton and I said yes because I think it’s a great idea – I’m always fascinated to know about what authors are up to behind the scenes, aren’t you? – and because Keris (author of Della Says OMG! and the up-coming Reel Friends Starring Kitty) is a fantastic writer friend and basically I do whatever she tells me.
I’m waiting for the copy edits to come back from my publishers for my new book, The Castle, which comes out in the summer. Meanwhile, I’ve been deciding between two ideas as to what to write next. I did lots of school visits for World Book Day and, based on the advice of my insta-focus groups, I’m going to work on the love story idea. There will be a hot boy (a very hot boy), and a girl, and a fabulous, falling-apart old house.
I haven’t written a classic love story before, because the idea for one hasn’t come to me before, but now I’ve had the idea for this one I can’t wait to get going.
2. How does my work differ from others in the genre?
That is a very tricky question. I think I risk being shot down in flames here, but here goes …
I write books about things that many girls are interested in (not all, I know!) such as fashion, modelling, music and what it’s like to be famous. These are all described a lot in YA fiction, but not examined as much as I think they should be. I like to peer behind the scenes of all these worlds and find out what it’s really like, what’s involved, what sacrifices do you have to make to be successful, what talents do you need?
I think my readers are interested in more than just the superficialities of fashion and fame, and deserve to know about the hard work, the obstacles and the pitfalls that make every so-called charmed life more difficult than it looks. So my books are funny, but serious, too. Yes, I’ll go into the niceties of couture dress design or doing a photoshoot, but I’ll also talk about child labour in illegal factories, or the manipulation of young models by rogue photographers, or the trolling of celebrities online.
I write a lot about family and friendship too, and in both cases not everything goes as my characters might want or expect. I’d like to think my books are accessible, but intriguing. And I hope they’re planting ideas for my readers to think about later.
Overall, I’d say I write accessible contemporary coming-of-age YA literature … with an edge.
Because these are the things that interested me when I was 14, and I still find these worlds so fascinating in the twenty-first century that I can’t seem to tear myself away from them. One day I’d love to go back to writing mysteries and detective stories, which is what I started out doing (not that any of those got published). But not yet!
4. How does my writing process work?
It’s always evolving, but there are some constant elements to it. I think about the next book while I’m writing the one before, so usually I have several months for the story to come together in my head. It will emerge from a small number of competing ideas: over time, one will stick. The basic story arc comes quickly and generally doesn’t change much, but the details of characters and situations will emerge from life around me: places I visit, people I read about, things that inspire my imagination.
However, in this case I’ve been thinking about a different story, so I’ve had to develop my ideas on the new book very rapidly. I’ve been reading relevant autobiographies and books with the kind of atmosphere I’m after, and looking up locations on the internet and in magazines. It’s all coming together and I’m madly writing notes on post-its and little bits of square paper, which I’m sticking on themed sheets. I’m also – for the first time, although I’ve meant to do this for ages – using the largest sheet of card I could find to act as my storyboard, and sticking post-its with plot highlights onto it so the story on the sheet matches the one in my head.
For Threads, I kept a kind of scrapbook of inspirational fashion designs and I think I’ll do the same sort of thing with my themed sheets (locations, people, highlights …), because all that paper is getting out of hand, and I have lots of pictures now too.
I’ve written a one-page synopsis as a pitch for my agent, and now I’m working on a 3-4 page description of the main plot points. It’s not quite a chapter breakdown but it’s close. It’s useful for showing me where the baggy bits are, and where there might be gaps.
Once I’m ready to start, it will take me AGES to get the voice. It always does. I’ll become convinced I’ve made a hideous mistake and nearly give up. Only my love of the story will make me keep going. Eventually I’ll find it and I’ll write the first draft for 3 or 4 months, aiming to write 2-3,000 words a day, but with lots of rewriting from day to day. Then the top-to-toe rewrite, when almost every scene gets a radical makeover to tighten it and bring it to life. Then the other rewrite. Then the edits … Overall, the process will take me about a year.
Oh yeah, and while I’m doing that, my husband and I will be taking the kids to school, managing the house, trying to get out and about in London, keeping up with friends and doing all the usual basic living stuff. And the next idea will be forming …
Next week, the lovely Lara Williamson will be posting her own What, Why and How on my blog, here. Lara was one of my early readers for The Look and now her own debut, A Boy Called Hope is out, and has just been shortlisted for the IBW Book Awards. Hooray!
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Very interesting answers. I’m not sure whether you have a Middle-Aged Mum Fan Club, but I’ve been an admirer of yours ever since my daughter (now nearly 16) first read “Threads” some years ago, and I enjoy reading your books as much as she does – not just for the fashion and V&A references (wonderful though these are), but for the warm and intelligent way that you deal with wider issues in the world. I love the way that you really seem to care about teenage girls, and give them substance as well as style. This for me is what makes your books really stand out from the crowd.
Oh thank you so much! That’s what I was hoping I’d been doing, so it’s very lovely to know that that’s how it comes across in the books. sophia
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Hi, Sophia! I’ve been following the what-where-how blog trail and it led me to you. I really enjoyed this post. Your love for your work is evident as is your determination to strike a balance with family life. I admire that you write about glamorous occupations but give a fully-rounded view, including the downside. Thank you for sharing this insight!