Feral Youth is about an angry fifteen-year-old girl called Alesha, who's had a pretty bad start in life, but she's feisty and loveable and over the course of the book (which is set in the build-up to the August riots) we see that there's more to her than meets the eye. The novel is written from Alesha's perspective, because I wanted readers to think about how it feels to be someone who has fallen between the cracks of our society.
This is your sixth novel, so please tell us about your previous publications.
All my books are light-hearted, but based loosely on true stories or issues I feel strongly about. I've covered City sexism, Polish migrants, fame culture, lads' mags and now disenfranchised youth. I guess they all unearth some kind of stereotype or prejudice without ramming anything down the readers' throats… that's what I'm told, anyway!
It was never your intention to become a writer, so where did it all kick off for you?
I started my career in the City, working as a junior investment banker. It was horrible. I loathed the culture, the sexism, the hierarchy and the greed. It was so different from the world that had been described to me (in 2002) on the graduate 'milk round' that I felt as though the world needed to know about the reality. Looking back, I was naïve. I didn't have a clue about how the world worked, but then, neither did a lot of other twenty-somethings and I wanted to share my story with them. Golden Handcuffs was the result.
Why are you a passionate champion of the underdog?
I don't actually know. I hate to see inequality going unnoticed. My novels will never change the world (even I'm not deluded enough to think that), but I hope they'll open up readers' minds to get them thinking about the people we never hear about - the ones without a voice.
Why did you decide to walk out on HarperCollins?
I got the contract with HarperCollins based on my successfully self-published debut novel, Golden Handcuffs. I assumed that the deal would allow me to write more books like this, and to extend the following I had built up. With hindsight, I signed to the wrong publisher. The editors I worked with hadn't even read my first book and they certainly didn't want me to write about social issues. It was 'chick lit' all the way, and that's how my books ended up being branded. With titles like The Fame Factor and It's a Man's World and cover designs that involved silver stars and leggy girls, I quickly realised that I was being pigeon-holed in the wrong genre. After three years of being at odds with my publisher, I walked out. I did it publicly, so that people could see the issue - and lots of other authors wrote to me saying they'd experienced the same problem: because they were women, it was assumed that their books were chick lit.
Tell us about your monthly slot on Sky news.
It's a slot on the Sunrise breakfast show and it involves picking out interesting stories from the newspapers and discussing them on air. It came about straight after I dumped my publisher; I guess they wanted someone who didn't hold back…
Why is self-publishing so important to you?
The most important thing for me is that I reach the readers who are going to enjoy my novels. Under my traditional publishing contract, I had no say over the covers, titles or in fact themes of my books. Self-publishing allows me to have control over those things. I was advised not to write Feral Youth (by members of the literary community), but I felt really strongly that it had to be written, so self-publishing enabled me to do that. A lot of people assume that 'self-publishing' means you do everything yourself. It doesn't; it just means calling the shots. I worked with a great team of designers, editors and collaborators this time round and it was a really fulfilling experience.
You also play the violin and football, so when did your interest in these hobbies begin?
I've played violin for years and in my first week at university, when I was on crutches following a nasty car accident, I started an all-girl string quartet called No Strings Attached. (Cheesy, I know…) We still play together now, semi-professionally, at gigs up and down the country. Once my broken leg had healed, I got heavily into sports, and football was the one that stuck. I play for Acton Ladies - but not in any way professionally!
What are the biggest stereotypes in woman’s fiction?
There's an assumption that books written by women must only be for women. Then there's another assumption that in order to appeal to women, the cover must be pink, with a swirly font and/or 'girly' image. It's not always the case. Some women want to write for a non-gendered audience - just look at JK Rowling.
What is next for you?
Feral Youth the movie! Seriously… I'm in talks with the director!