There I was, sitting at my kitchen table, eating my French toast (made with eggs laid by hens from Swindon)…when suddenly, unexpectedly – I received a text from Gillian Philip. She kindly asked me if I’d take part in the great Writing Process Blog Tour. I danced around my kitchen, said yes, eat my breakfast (which tasted revolting because I can’t cook without the help of McDonalds) – and then I got to work!
Before I answer any questions, I’d like to talk about Gillian Philip. Gillian is the author of Bad Faith, The Opposite of Amber, The Rebel Angels series and many other books. Her latest book is Icefall. Some of her best books have come courtesy of Strident Publishing, which is my publisher too. That’s how I found her books. She’s a fantastic writer who – even when writing about fantasy or dystopian worlds – is never anything less than completely authentic. Read her!
Okay, I’m sitting on the big black leather chair. I have the bright hot spotlight on me. But it’s okay, I’m wearing deodorant. It’s time to answer the questions:
1. What are you working on?
I sent my second book off to the publisher last week. It’s a tale of teenage misfits who create their own fantasy world – a country which exists only inside their heads. They have rules, regulations, a hierarchy…and it all makes sense to them, but not to anyone else. They find solace in each other, away from the school bullies and their parents. But events spiral out of control when their leader declares war on the real world. Everyone is a target: teachers, bullies, friends, and family. It ends in fire. This book has big concepts which tap into certain things that obsess me; dreams, whodunits, mental illness, dysfunctional families, and teenage bullies. What would happen if you invented a world that you preferred to your real life? And what if the world you invented couldn’t co-exist with the life you actually lead?
These ideas were my starting point for this book.
2. How does your work differ from others in its genre?
I think my sense of humour and style of writing marks me out as different to other writers in the YA genre. I hope! I tackle dark topics in quite a light way. But a book can’t be consistently dark; otherwise it becomes a slog to read. It has to be funny, and there is a lot of humour to find in the lives of teenagers. I have a long memory! I like to mix the gritty with the fantastic and unreal. Conjuring The Infinite, for instance, is about a group of teenagers stuck in a youth offender institute – but one of them contacts angels from another dimension and tries to destroy the world. Or does he? In my forthcoming book, I have a girl who speaks to unicorns while she plots to kill her classmates. That mixture of real and unreal is my calling card. Weirdness ahoy!
3. Why do you write what you do?
I always joke with people that I’m trying to be the author that the teenage version of me would adore. But it goes far deeper than that: the YA genre is so important to me. I don’t ever want to write anything other than YA books. I think they’re the best – and culturally most important – books in any bookshop and library. I have so much I want to say to my readers. I have concepts, ideas, stories…and I can use my books to communicate them to people. But it’s all about telling a good story. And that is what all writers want to do, regardless of genre. I write these stories because I can’t do anything else. It’s true.
4. How does your writing process work?
I’ve discovered that everyone does it differently. The ideas come first, of course. I scribble them down. I carry my notepad everywhere! I need to know where I’m going with my story – you wouldn’t travel the world without a map, and that’s true of writing too. HOWEVER! Sometimes a character you didn’t really foresee being the main character takes over. Then you end up writing away from your original ideas and plot. That’s storytelling. With my new book (the title is going to be revealed this week) I had to think hard about what sort of person would want to live in a fantasy world? What makes her life so unfulfilling that she can’t live without the fantastic and glorious realm of Enkadar? I decided that something bad happened to her, and she retreated into a fantasy world to cope with the aftermath. And that unlocked the rest of the book for me. I compile a dossier on each character I create. This includes where they shop for clothes, what bands they love, their iTunes playlists, their family lives, their hobbies…and even if a lot of it doesn’t end up in the book, there are enough hints for the reader to weave their own stories. My characters become their characters. And that’s a brilliant thing.
I write draft after draft after draft until it feels right. “Right” doesn’t always mean “flawless” – but I like to make sure the standard is high enough not to give my editor a brain attack. I couldn’t live without an editor. They’re heroes of publishing. I’m collaborative; I like to hear their opinions. I believe all successful YA books need to appeal to adults and teenagers. So I make sure there’s plenty of different ‘layers’ to my books. There has to be more going on that meets the eye, and my books must be able to be read more than once. So I have to keep that in mind while I construct the story.
Okay, so I’m going to tag Julie McDowell as my author of choice. She’s a fab journalist, reader, reviewer and an author in her own right. Her debut book is called Casting The Net. It’s a screamingly funny account of Julie’s misadventures in the world of online dating. It’s available courtesy of Blasted Heath, one of the most exciting prospects in Scottish writing. Julie also contributes to Puffin Review. This is a good thing.