In my past career I occasionally had to make up ‘frequently asked questions’, so I could provide some useful answers. However, these ones are real. I hope the answers tell you all you need to know.
Do you have children?
Yes, four. Two stepdaughters and two sons.
Where do you live?
In Wandsworth, South West London. Although, having grown up as an army kid and travelled a lot as a student, I’ve lived almost EVERYWHERE.
Do you have pets?
Yes, but as I’m allergic to cats and dogs (much as I love them), only onee goldfish. Who’s called Goldie. I’m very fond of him.
Where and when were you born?
In Yorkshire. In 1966.
What is your favourite …?
I get asked a lot about my favourite all sorts of things, so there’s a list of them here. Check them out.
Do you have bodyguards?
Sadly, no. I think you’re confusing me with Angelina Jolie. Which is great! Thank you.
Do you get recognised in the street?
Only by people who know me from my children’s schools. So, basically, no.
How many books have you written?
I wrote 4 books which were never published before I wrote Threads. I don’t count those – but they were very useful practice for writing. There are 3 books in the Threads series (all published in the UK and available online from The Book Depository), and I’ve also published The Look, You Don’t Know Me, The Castle, and Love Song with Chicken House. And Following Ophelia and Unveiling Venus with Stripes. As of summer 2017 that makes 9.
How long does it take to write a book?
In brief, it takes me about six months. But it’s more complicated than that, of course. Threads took 4 years of thinking up the characters and storylines before I wrote it down. Then I spent 2 months writing in a different voice from Nonie’s and it didn’t work. Once I found Nonie’s voice, it took about 3 months, followed by a lot of serious rewriting before I was happy.
Nowadays, books take longer because I’m usually writing one book and editing the one before at the same time. And promoting the one before that. But 6 months for writing and a couple of months for editing, on and off, is about right. Love Song took a lot longer, though, because the theme is very delicate and I found it particularly hard to bring the characters to life.
What would you say are the themes of your books?
Find out what your talent is and make the most of it. Work hard and have fun. We only have one life and we all deserve to sparkle.
The world is full of imbalance and injustice. It’s up to each of us, individually, to do what we can to make it right.
Friendship, loyalty and integrity will get you a very long way – even when it seems the world is against you. Stick together with the people you love and amazing things will happen.
My books are realistic – they’re not fantasy or science fiction. But they’re funny and optimistic. They show what can happen on a very good day – if you’re the best you can be and your dreams come just a little bit true.
What is your favourite book?
I have many, many! If you’d like to see some examples, click here.
Have you met any famous authors?
Yes! Loads! And you can too! The way to meet famous authors is to go to literary festivals, like Cheltenham, Hay or Edinburgh in the UK. They’re a wonderful opportunity to hear about books, listen to amazing authors read their own work, and get to see them wandering about. You may end up sitting next to one while she sits in the audience at somebody else’s event. You never know …
Which other famous people have you met?
Er … er … When I was six, I was kissed by Anne Bancroft (a peck on the forehead, I hasten to add). She was famous for playing Mrs Robinson in The Graduate, and was playing the part of Winston Churchill’s mother at the time. I’ve also met Carey Mulligan, very briefly. However, I do have Cathy Cassidy’s autograph. And I know loads of people who’ve met JK Rowling. Loads.
How long have you wanted to be a writer?
I can’t remember not wanting to be a writer. I’ve seriously wanted to do it since I was twelve. Not wanting so much as deeply, deeply needing to be able to call myself a writer. It was a massive relief when I finally got a publishing contract. It was as if I could finally be myself.
What other jobs have you had?
In no particular order: librarian’s assistant, earring packager, tour guide, lobbyist, university supervisor, dictionary researcher, management consultant. It took me a long time to be a writer.
How do you make money out of writing?
I’m not exactly sure. I SO don’t own a beach house in Malibu. But if you want to be successful at writing, you have to be good, and that means practice. That might well mean offering to write for free, or for very little money. So I’d recommend taking any writing opportunity that comes your way. And think about all the different sorts of writing you can do: journalism, copywriting, translating, game development, TV … Writing fiction is just one small, risky part of a big industry. Or, do a job that pays well and allows you to write in your spare time.
DO NOT become a writer if your big ambition is to live in a big mansion and drive Ferraris. Do become a writer if your idea of heaven is for a reader to come up to you one day and tell you that reading one of your books has changed her life.
Would you like to see your books made into films?
No. I’m lying. Yes, of course. Any writer who tells you otherwise is either weird, or not being entirely honest. Having imagined Threads so vividly in my head while I was writing it, I would love, love, love to see it on screen. Ideally with Alex Pettyfer as Harry and Joanna Lumley as Granny. Other parts are up for grabs! Oh, wait – I need a deal first. I’m free, Disney. Call me.
ABOUT THREADS AND THE LOOK …
Why do you write about fashion? Where do you get your ideas from?
I write about creativity, really, and teens with unusual talents. Threads happens to be about fashion because I’ve been fascinated by clothes and costume since I was very small. I adore the Oscars and all those red carpet moments. I write about things that obsess me a little bit, and that I’d like to know more about. Writing stories gives me the chance to live out some of my childhood fantasies.
Where did you get the idea for Threads?
It came to me suddenly one day when I was doing the laundry. A girl who was secretly very talented at design, and who was discovered and enabled to make beautiful clothes. This was a chance to use all the fashion and celebrity stories and anecdotes I had gathered together. The story kept telling itself to me for years, until I finally wrote it down.
How did you get the idea that Crow was from Uganda?
Originally, Crow was just a girl from London like all the others. But one day I was in the London Underground and saw a poster talking about the Night Walkers in northern Uganda. Then I read more about them. Their story made me so angry – because not enough people were helping them – that I wanted to write about it. The only way to do this seemed to be to make one of my characters a Night Walker. And so Crow’s history was created. It made the book much harder to write, but much deeper and much more satisfying. It wouldn’t have been the same book at all if I hadn’t seen that poster.
(By the way, as I write, the Lords Resistance Army has pulled out of Uganda but is still performing atrocities in Congo. There are still children and families in displacement camps. There are still child soldiers. We still need to make it stop.)
Which is your favourite Threads character?
I love them all. Even Sigrid Santorini. My favourite character changes from time to time, but I’ll always love Nonie because of her bright, enthusiastic spirit and kookiness. Crow, of course, is special and unusual. And I have a secret soft spot for Harry. Many people do!
Why do you think Threads got published when the others didn’t?
Because of all the rewriting. When I sat down to write Threads, I was much more professional about it. Every day I would write a few thousand words, but the next day I’d often delete half of them or more, because the characters weren’t lively enough, or the scene didn’t go quite as well as I hoped, or it was all too predictable. Then I’d rewrite. And the next day I’d rewrite again.
Before I used to love everything I’d done and think how great I was. Now, I had much higher standards for myself. I read that Elmore Leonard fills a bin every day with the paper he throws away (he works on yellow foolscap, not a laptop). If the great Elmore Leonard can be so strict with himself, then so can I.
ABOUT LOVE SONG …
A reader called Holly asked me all sorts of questions about Love Song. Of all my books, I think it’s the one that makes people wonder most of all about what happens next. Also, they want to know how real it is. Here’s the lowdown. (Also, Holly talked to me about Nina’s favourite band member. That’s quite controversial. I chose him very carefully because I think he is the one most likely to treasure her and make her happy. See if you agree.)
Holly: Are the people in the band based on real people? Or anyone else?
S: The boys in The Point come from my imagination, but they were partly inspired by members from One Direction, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Duran Duran and other bands. There are a lot of musicians I’m fond of. The band member most close to a real person is Conor, who is largely based on the young John Taylor from Duran Duran. I read his autobiography as research for the book and loved it. (As I loved him as a teenager.)
Holly: Is the song that The Point wrote about Nina and her sister real?
S: All the songs in the book are things I made up in the bath. I wanted to quote other bands’ songs in the book but that’s really expensive, as I discovered when I was writing You Don’t Know Me. So now I write my own. It’s a great thing to do – I highly recommend it.
Holly: How did you come up with the idea of this book?
S: It came from my sense that One Direction must be on the verge of splitting up after all their relentless touring, and wondering what it would be like to be close to them. (They subsequently split after the book was written. I’m sad about it, but I think they all needed their own privacy and space by then. As you’ll see from the book.)
Holly: Who is your favourite character altogether? And who is your favourite member of The Point?
S: My favourite character is probably Orli. I also love Windy. My favourite member of The Point changes all the time. I’m fond of them all. Right now, it’s Declan.
Holly: Who do you relate to the most?
S: Nina, of course. Of the boys, I relate to Jamie the most. He’s kind and creative, and I try to be both.