What can our readers expect from your current novel Fifteen Going on Grown Up?
The novel is about fifteen year old Hally who has suffered low level bullying at school because her figure developed disproportionately. Despite this she is mature for her age but lacks confidence. So when she meets Wes, a boy three and a half years older she is very nervous about the relationship. The story follows a year and a bit of Hally’s life, her final official year at school, and explores all of the usual things teenagers face, her first sexual experiences and some more unusual but realistic events. It also uncovers a secret that Wes has been keeping that threatens to destroy Hally’s happiness.
Where did your inspiration come from?
The root of the novel came from my own daughter’s experience of being bullied at school but is not at all about her. Some of the characters have developed from my own interactions with teenagers especially girls and how they communicate and my own personal experiences.
The book is suitable for both adults, young and old, did you intend the book to work on both levels?
Yes I always wanted the novel to be enjoyed by people of all ages as I think many adults can still relate to their teen years. Also I would like to think that some parents who find it difficult to talk to their children might find it helps.
You have been compared to Meg Cabot, Karen McCombie and Judy Blume. How does this make you feel as a writer?
It makes me very proud and humble. They are all very experienced and popular authors. I feel it is a personal achievement to be compared to such brilliant writers.
You were an avid reader from being very little; what did you read when you were a teenager?
I have to confess that I discovered Mills & Boon for a bit of romance and light reading. But I also enjoyed Stephen King, Dean Koontz and Thomas Hardy. A bit eclectic I know.
You were a keen writer from a very young age. What did you most like to write in the early days?
When I was very little all of my stories were about princesses in fairy tale worlds. I had a favourite coloured crayon, a golden yellow and I would draw their hair as big as I could, a bit like Madge from the Simpsons, only not blue. They would then meet a prince and live happily ever after. As I got older I began to write various ghost stories and tried to make them as scary as possible. I don’t think I succeeded. Adventure stories came next. Some of my characters would enter caves looking for treasure whilst being chased by bad guys. Other times the stories were mysteries that had to be solved by my leading character and her friends. I even began writing a play once about three friends who had to find some stolen treasure from a museum. During my teens I wrote love stories which I have to confess did include some sex scenes, but I never showed anyone these.
Who have been your greatest inspiration, other than your daughters and your career?
Actually I would say my mother was my first inspiration. When I was little everything in our home was an object of play. She never minded when my sisters and I took all of the books off the bookshelf to play libraries with, or the tins and packets of food out of the cupboard for our shop. Even the garden had an area that was left for us to dig in, plant seeds and make mud pies with. She encouraged us to use our imagination and create stories through our play. After my mother, Enid Blyton and Robert Arthur influenced my writing. At that time though I didn’t think about who had written the stories, only that I wanted to write stories like that too.
Your family and work have clearly given you a great deal of material. In what way have they provided this?
My husband and I have always encouraged our children to talk to us openly and ask questions about anything. Therefore no topic was taboo in our household. Because of this all of our children felt they could come and relate stories about their friends and other teens at school. Many of their friends who couldn’t talk to their own parents would come and chat to me too. This gave me a mental treasure chest of the way teenagers act and interact. Also I have always found it easy to communicate with children of all ages and because they are ever changing as they grow, provide an infinite source of material.
Why do you prefer to write for teenagers?
Because although children of all ages are interesting, teenagers are particularly so. Not only are they funny and inspiring, they have such mixed emotions and ideals. And I still remember what it was like to be a teenager.
How difficult do you believe it is for a girl to grow up in such a body-obsessed society?
I believe it is very difficult. Images of the ‘perfect’ body are plastered over every form of media. Many young women are researching cosmetic surgery and even very little girls are body conscious. We all want our children to be fit and healthy but I think society has gone wild about how we believe we should look.
What is next for you and your writing?
I am already writing two other novels both very different from ‘Fifteen’. One is called ‘Caramel Cupcakes’ and is about a twelve year old boy called Daniel who has learning difficulties and is quiet and gentle. His father believes boys should be tough and sporty and because Daniel is neither of these his father abuses him verbally and physically. Daniel’s mother stands by and lets it happen, and it is only with the support of his school that he is able to cope and realise a skill he never knew he had. The other is called ‘Hot Pink Lip-gloss√ Hot Pink Bikini√ Hot pink Boys?’. It is about a thirteen year old girl called Radella who is quite a little drama queen. She lives with her mother who is a single parent and struggles financially. Because her mother has to work full time, Radella is sent to her grandmother’s during the summer holidays every year. Her grandmother is quite strict. However this year is different, not only is Ella, as she’s usually known, now a teenager with raging hormones but Gran is busy with her new toy boy and lets Ella off the leash. The story is written in the form of a diary covering the six weeks of Ella’s summer holiday with gran.
Interview by Lucy Walton