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When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I think I always wanted to be a writer – I certainly always wrote – but I didn’t think of writing a novel until I was in my mid-twenties and then it was like one of Oprah’s “Aha moments” – I knew that was what I was supposed to do. It still took me about seven years to finish a novel and then another couple to find an agent and a publisher, though.
What’s your proudest writing moment?
Seeing my book cover for the first time. I couldn’t stop looking at it and I couldn’t stop grinning.
Who inspires you?
I’d love to be as prolific as Meg Cabot and her books always make me laugh. I’m also inspired by Maureen Johnson because she writes (brilliantly) in so many different genres. But mainly it’s my online writing friends. Most of us started out in the same writing group and they’re all so talented and have been incredibly supportive and encouraging over the last few years. Also, I’m inspired by good TV writing: 30 Rock, Gilmore Girls, Parks & Recreation, The West Wing, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Friday Night Lights.
Describe a typical day.
I home educate my two sons, so my typical day involves fitting writing around them. I try to get up at about 6.30 with my 9-year-old so I can have a cup of tea and get 750 words written first thing. It’s amazing how much more relaxed I feel if I get the writing done straight away.
I can faff online all day if I let myself, so I try to stick to a To Do List of replying to emails, blogging, etc., and then I’m free to do something with the boys. If the weather’s nice we go to the park or to a home ed meet-up. If not, they’ll play at home and I can get a bit more done (I’d like to say writing, but it’s more likely to be tweeting/more gaffing).
How long has it taken to write your novels?
Well the first… few… still aren’t finished, but I wrote my first full novel, FORGET ME NOT, in the 30 days of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I wrote DELLA SAYS: OMG! pretty quickly too, it probably took about six months all in, but that was because my baby was due at the same time as the book and so I knew I had to get it done.
I always try to write the first draft as quickly as possible – I work best that way – but then there’s a lot of editing/rewriting.
Have you got any abandoned manuscripts no-one will ever see?
I’ve got lots of abandoned manuscripts, but I’m hoping to resurrect all of them… or at least bits of all of them. Waste not, want not, as my mum used to say!
The first novel I ever finished – I wrote it for NaNoWriMo in 2004 – has just turned into a Christmas novella for Hot Key Books.
Do you plan books out beforehand or plan as you go?
I tend not to plan really. For the first draft at least I just write and see what happens. I might then try to organise what I’ve got and work out some sort of a plan, but to begin with I have to just write, write, write.
Are you a slave to the word count?
I used to be, but I try not to be now. I try just to tell the story as well as I can and see where I end up.
Why did you decide to write for teens?
I didn’t really decide, I just had an idea. But writing for teens works for me, since I still feel about 15 myself.
How do you get the balance right for YA novels when writing about relationships and ‘contentious’ issues?
Again, I try not to think about it. I try to just tell the story and represent the characters as realistically as possible. I certainly don’t TRY to be controversial, I just keep asking myself what the characters would do in each situation.
How did you get the idea for Della Says: OMG!
When I was a teenager, my sister had a party while the rest of the family was away and she was supposed to be staying at a friend’s house. When I got home, I couldn’t find my diary. It wasn’t missing for long and I found it under my mattress (with a very unpleasant message scrawled across one of the pages), but while it was lost I was a nervous wreck, wondering who might be reading it. If, back then, someone had taken my diary the worst they could probably have done was read it out at school or, at a push, photocopy the odd bit. But now with all the social networking? Potential for huge embarrassment.
Which of your characters is most like you and which is your favourite?
I think Della is probably the most like me, but there’s a bit of me in all of them, I think. (Isn’t that what all authors say?) My favourite character is actually a guy named Bob in one of my unfinished adult books, but since no-one’s read that… I have a soft spot for Oscar in Emma Hearts LA.
How has the internet influenced your writing?
The internet changed everything for me. First I started my blog which helped me to write every day. Then I started an online writing group, which was the best thing I ever did for my writing. I made loads of amazing friends who are all incredibly talented writers, plus I got great feedback and critiques and now there’s Twitter, which makes me feel like I’m working in an office full of really cool and funny people instead of at home with my inside-the-television friends (they count as friends, right?).
What was the first thing you did when you got your book deal?
Apart from a little happy dance? I phoned my husband.
Which three living authors would you most like to have cocktails with?
Marian Keyes, Martha Beck and Meg Cabot.
If you didn’t have to earn money, what would you be doing?
I would still be writing because I’ve always done it. When I was in hospital waiting to have my son Harry I asked my husband to bring a notebook and pen in for me because I had to write about it. I never really know how I feel about something until I’ve written about it (and sometimes not even then).
What was your favourite music when you were 17?
Ah 17. That was an important year for… music. I was 17 in 1988 which was – *back in time finger wiggles* – the year of Bros. I was Bros obsessed. I was a Bros-aholic. I went to lots of gigs and travelled to London to stand outside Matt Goss’s house with a moony expression on my face. The following year I moved to London … and spent the best part of the next two years standing outside Matt Goss’s house with a moony expression on my face. No, really.There are photos.
Which would you rather be able to do: sing really well or fly?
How do you know I can’t sing really well, hmm? (I can’t.) While I would love to be able to sing, I think flying would be better. Having said that, I quite often dream I’m flying and I really hate it, but I think that’s because usually I can’t get back down.
What was your favourite TV programme when you were a child?
I loved Sesame Street and I still love it – the old ones from the late seventies/early eighties. I also remember being totally in love with a drama series called Flambards and then I was obsessed with Dallas and Dynasty. And Knots Landing. And The Colbys. Flamingo Road. Falcon Crest. All the greats. Then in my mid- to late-teens there was a “magazine show” called Network 7 that I absolutely adored. I had to watch it alone and with no interruptions and then my friend Peter would phone me and we’d discuss the whole show in great detail.
Who was your first celebrity crush?
As far as I can remember it was Bruce Boxleitner in a mini series called How the West Was Won. I just looked it up on IMDb to make sure I’d got it right and just reading the character’s name – Luke Macahan – gave me a little frisson. You might know him from Babylon 5 or Heroes. Or you might not know him at all. He’s quite old now.
What film is guaranteed to make you cry?
It’s not exactly a weepie, but The Sixth Sense makes me cry in the same few places every single time I watch it (I would actually cry now if I wrote them down). I’m quite likely to cry at pretty much any film really. I sobbed all the way home on the bus after watching Ghost. I once cried at the “Holidays Are Coming” Coca-Cola advert. And I was in the gym.
Who is your favourite comedian?
Oh that’s a toughie. I absolutely love stand-up and I don’t get to go as often as I’d like. One of the best gigs I ever went to was Bill Bailey’s Part Troll, but then I saw his next show and I was disappointed. Same goes for Steve Coogan (recent show was dreadful). I love Ed Byrne and Lee Mack. I love Tim Vine and Daniel Kitson. I saw Danny Bhoy a few years ago and he was brilliant. If I ever need cheering up, I watch his stuff on YouTube. One of the funniest gigs I’ve ever been to was Ben Elton. It was years ago, but I remember getting laugh fatigue – you know when you think, “Okay, that’s enough now. I can’t take anymore.” Oh and for gentle comedy you can’t beat John Shuttleworth.
What would your last meal be?
I had a good think about this, but I think it would probably have to be fish and chips. Especially if I could eat it at the seaside. There’s nothing better.
Which TV programme would you love to appear on?
Oh my goodness. Strictly Come Dancing. I would kill to be on Strictly. Okay, maybe not kill. But almost certainly maim. Actually it might be even better just to go on It Takes Two because then I wouldn’t have to make an awful berk of myself dancing.
Which TV programme would you refuse to appear on, even if they paid you a million pounds?
Big Brother. I don’t like anything about it.
If a film was made of your life, who would play you?
A couple of lovely people have said I remind them of Ginnifer Goodwin. I’d be happy with that.
If you could live anywhere, where would it be?
There are so many places I’d like to live. I’d like to give New York a try, but I don’t think I’d want to stay there forever. I also love California and Oregon. I’d like to live in Italy. Most of all, I’d just like to live by the sea. Anywhere.
David Mitchell or Russell Brand?
At first I thought this was an impossible question to answer. I love them both. They’re articulate and hilarious and sexy. But it’s got to be Russell. Just the thought of it makes me go all… *wibbles*
(Thanks to Orla Doherty, Jennifer Chevais, Diane Shipley, Joanne Mallon, Beki Hobbs, Wondrous Reads, Cally Taylor, Shelley Dickinson, Michelle Teasdale, Jon Cook, Helen Redfern, Kirsty Greenwood)