I live just outside Bath with my husband and our two children. I teach English two days a week at King Edward’s School, Bath. I also write articles for newspapers and magazines. Oh, and I write novels too!
How did you first start writing?
I first started writing when I was teaching at a school in Africa in my gap year. I was in the middle of nowhere with no electricity, no TV, no radio, no newspapers, no telephone, no internet and very few books. I started writing stories about the children in the school and all the strange things that went on – witch-doctors, infanticide, leopard hunts, snakes in my cupboard etc. I’ve been writing ever since.
What inspires you?
People, especially children. My own children, their friends and the children I’ve taught constantly inspire and surprise me with the weird and wonderful things they say and do. Most of the characters in my stories are a mixture of many of the amazing kids I have known and taught over the years.
I also write feature articles for magazines and newspapers and I get lots of ideas from the research I do. I’ve written about imaginary friends, censoring fairy tales, mums who are estranged from their children, teenagers with Asperger’s, boys who like to wear pink and much, much more. I get to interview really interesting people and their voices and stories often really touch me and inspire my writing.
Where do you write?
I used to write in my attic, on Granny Bruton’s table, with a beautiful view over the hills, but my children have now taken over the attic and turned it into a playroom/den so I am currently roaming the house, trying to find my new favourite place to write. Our house and life are always a bit mad and chaotic so I’ve got used to writing wherever I can, whenever I can.
How did you get the idea for ‘We Can be Heroes’?
In 2008, I wrote an article for ‘The Times’ about children who had lost a parent in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I included interviews with three American teenagers and a British boy who had lost his father in the 7th July London bombings. The voices of those young people really stayed with me and gave me the idea for the book.
Loads of other things inspired me after that: the Year 7 boys doodling Manga cartoons in my lessons; an article I wrote about kids who never see their mums; the Madeleine McCann abduction; re-reading ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’ (my favourite novel when I was a teenager and still now); a joke somebody made about a terrorist moving in across the road; my little girl’s obsession with wheelie shoes; the film ‘Son of Rambow’; something one of my Year 10s said about drawing pictures of planes flying into towers; a Muslim wedding in our road, and loads, loads more. Sometimes I can’t even remember where I half my ideas from!
How long did it take you to write this book?
It took me about nine months to write the first draft. It came out really easily. But then I changed it quite a lot, made the children older, added bits and changed bits, and that probably took about the same amount of time again. I’m lucky to have an amazing editor who helped me make the book far better than I could ever have managed on my own.
Tell us about the manga on your homepage.
Oh yes! The fab manga is by David Shephard and is taken from the manga comic which appears at the back of We Can be Heroes. Ben, who narrates the book, sees the world in terms of cartoons. He doodles all the time and makes a manga comic featuring himself and his friends as superheroes. It’s a crazy, madcap version of what happens in the novel – only with a bit of a twist. You can check out the full strip at the back of the novel.
What is the follow up Pop! about?
‘Pop!’ is about three kids pursuing the talent show dream in the recession hit North West. Elfie, Jimmy and Agnes decide to enter‘Pop to the Top’ (my fictionalised – and barely disguised! – version of ‘The X Factor’) because it’s the only solution they can think of to the rubbish stuff that’s going on in their lives. A strike is dividing the community; Jimmy’s dad is obsessed with turning him into an Olympic swimmer; Agnes is being targeted because her dad crossed the picket line; Elfie’s mum has run out on the family (again); her dad is on the verge of bankruptcy – which would mean losing custody of Elfie and her baby brother too.
Winning the prize money is Elfie’s last chance to save her family. Jimmy goes along with the crazy plan because he pretty much does whatever Elfie tells him to do –even if it does mean posing as the teen father of her lovechild and pretending to be in love triangle with Agnes and Elfie – which he sort of is anyway (not that he is EVER going to admit that to anyone – especially not Elfie!). And Agnes – well, if she plays her cards right, Elfie might just make her into a star!
Only of course nothing is as simple as it seems and Elfie is going to have to tell some really, really WHOPPING lies and exploit every single Rule of Talent TV if they are going to make it to the final – without causing World War 3!
What is your latest novel I Predict a Riot about? about?
I Predict a Riot is the hard-hitting, hilarious and heart-breaking tale of three kids from very different backgrounds who set out to make a movie and end up involved in a riot, in a summer that will change their lives forever.
Inspired by the 2011 UK riots, the book is based on the stories of many amazing kids I’ve had the privilege to work with over the years: teenage gang members from South London; street kids in South Africa; as well as the children of politicians and pop stars. Their stories, their voices and their characters inspired what I wrote, but also served to remind me of the responsibility I had in writing about this topic.
I Predict a Riot was also inspired by a lesson on Lord of the Flies. I was teaching my Year 10s Golding’s novel, shortly after the UK riots. We ended up having a discussion about how kids ended up rioting and that shaped the novel I went on to write.
I set to challenge some of the commonly held assumptions about the kids who got caught up in the riots. I wanted to write an explosive book that would make readers cry … break their hearts … make them angry … make them think!
My literary influences are – um – a bit mixed! I Predict a Riot is Meg Rosoff meets ‘Made in Chelsea’, ‘The Knife that Killed Me’ meets ‘The Only way is Essex,’ or ‘Oliver Twist’ meets ‘ meets ‘The Outsiders’ meets ‘Top Boy’ meets ‘Youngers’ – with the odd dash of ‘Pigeon English, Dickens and ‘Son of Rambow’ along the way. Oh, and the Smurfs – they feature too!
I Predict a Riot was inspired by the London riots. It’s about a group of kids who end up getting involved in the rioting, each for a very different reason, and the fall out afterwards. It started in my head when I was living in Peckham, South London, where I helped out on youth projects for kids from some of the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods. It was also inspired by a discussion about ‘Lord of the Flies’ in a lesson with my Year 10s following the riots.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently working on a novel about Syrian refugees. It’s inspired by ‘The Silver Sword’, ‘Africa United’ and ‘When Hitler sold the Pink Rabbit’. It’s at a pretty early stage and hasn’t even got a name yet but I’m weirdly excited about it!