Do you have a writing ritual or routine?
Despite being a creature of habit in all other aspects of my life (I’m not overly adventurous and familiarity is my friend), all my attempts to impose something vaguely representing a routine on my writing have failed miserably. So… my routine is not to have one. I write what I like when I feel like it, from scribbling notes in a book on the train, to staying up until two in the morning typing at my computer.
How long does it generally take you to complete a first draft?
Umm… a long time? Trouble started brewing something like October 2009 and was sent out to agents March of 2012! I reached the end of the story mid-2011, I think, which is what I’d consider to be the first draft. Book 2 appears to have taken a similar trajectory (18 months-ish), but it didn’t really get much attention in the early stages, so it feels like it’s taken more like six months to sculpt a first draft.
Do you have a clear idea in mind when you begin or do you let it develop as you write?
I start with a premise, a beginning and an end – then I do a spot of character work before plunging in and getting to know my characters allowing whatever story there is to emerge from them.
What kinds of things inspire your stories?
Music. I like American pop punk – it’s what I’ve been listening to ever since I started to write, and it’s still the thing that pulls me back to whatever story I’m writing. I’m also heavily influenced by TV and film, seeing characters onscreen make me want to put my own on the page.
What kinds of details do you consider when you’re creating a character?
Everything – I like to have my own image of them in my head, so I do the usual of jotting down what colour hair and eyes and whatnot about them, although these rarely manifest themselves in the book once I start writing, since it’s up to the reader who they see. Then I think about what their family and friends are like, how they’ve grown up, how they feel about school… how people behave in any situation depends on what’s happened to them in the past. And then I think about what they’re into, what music, films, TV… what hobbies. The things people care about and choose to define themselves by will inform how they talk and give them a filter as they look out at the world around them. And most importantly, I hang out with them on the page, typing it out until I know them. No writing is ever wasted, even if you’re the only one who reads it.
What kinds of stakes do your characters face and how do you raise them in a realistic way?
Well, Hannah finds out that she’s pregnant at fifteen, which is pretty high stakes already, but this is a story, so I raised the stakes by giving her a reputation, a baby-daddy she can’t name, a difficult family situation and a frenemy of the highest order. Her stakes get piled on pretty heavily, pretty quickly! Aaron’s are different and are much more slow-burn, he starts his story with believing he has nothing to lose, but slowly begins to accumulate the kind of emotional attachments he wanted to avoid, with Hannah and with Neville, who he visits in an old people’s home. As he gathers friends, he gathers things to lose. I like to think that everything that happens around my characters is realistic, but I’ll be the first to confess that having Aaron volunteer to pretend to be the father of Hannah’s baby doesn’t instantly seem plausible… but it’s my job in telling their stories to make you believe it is.
Do you come to a point where you feel your book is done?
I guess. With Trouble I wouldn’t let anyone read it until it was good enough for me to have considered commissioning it myself (I was working as an editor for an independent children’s publishing house called Catnip at the time). But there was a lot more work after that. Once I started working with my (amazing) editors, I adopted the attitude of working at it until they told me to stop.
Are you able to let go of your stories once they’re published?
Yes. I love books so much as a reader because they are intensely personal and private – I want anyone who’s reading the book I’ve written to form their own relationship with it. It’s not mine any more. (Having said that, I adore hearing people’s interpretations of it… especially when they interpret the characters the way I hoped!)
Which books inspired you to be a writer?
None. I started writing when I was fourteen because there weren’t enough books about the things I wanted to read about – real teenagers doing the sorts of things I was most curious about doing myself. Don’t get me wrong, I am a book-lover of the highest order and always have been, but I didn’t start writing in order to create books similar to the authors I loved reading, like Robin Jarvis and Dick Francis, I wanted to write my own.
Why do you write? (feel free to wax poetic)
I write for a million and one reasons… Reading is a wonderful luxury, but writing is the ultimate freedom – I can create anything I want however I want. I can live any number of different lives in different worlds (OK, at the moment I’m mostly just living in a perpetual state of teenagdom, but I’m fine with that!). My characters can do things I never would/could and I get to do it too – imagination is an amazing and exciting thing if you give in to it and a lifetime of reading has given me plenty of practice giving myself over to the fictional. I write because I can’t not – if I go too long without writing, I go a bit twitchy and a lot unpleasant. My number one piece of advice has always been for people to write for the love of it alone – it is a lonely occupation, an awkward one, and if you write only to get published, well… the odds aren’t in your favour, lots of people want that and there are only so many readers and even fewer publishers. But if you write because you love it then that is its own reward, it will keep you going and make you better. I wrote for half my life without really worrying about getting published and if I never get published again, I’ll still carry on writing.
Pieces of Sky
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