Cover proofs and blurb for ‘I Predict a Riot’

Very excited to get cover proofs through for my new book this week! ‘I Predict a Riot’ is scheduled for publication in Spring 2013, and it might just be the book I am most proud of. Here’s the blurb!!!

It’s a year since everything happened but I still have bad dreams. Dreams of me and Tokes and Little Pea, running through burning streets on the night the city was in flames…

Welcome to Coronation Road, a kaleidoscope of clashing cultures and parallel lives. There’s Maggie and her politician mum in their big house. There’s Tokes and his mum in a tiny bedsit, running from trouble. And there’s the ruthless Starfish gang, breeding fear throughout the neighbourhood.

Amateur film maker Maggie prefers to watch life through the lens of her camera. In Tokes she finds a great subject for her new film. And when violence erupts, led by the Starfish gang, Maggie finds the perfect backdrop. But as the world explodes around her, Maggie can’t hide behind the lens anymore.

Explosive drama, perfect for Fans of Meg Rosoff and Annabel Pitcher.

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More new cover images for ‘I Predict a Riot’

Oh, I do so love the cover for my forthcoming book ‘I Predict a Riot’. I think it may just be my favourite cover yet – and I love them all! Anyway, here’s the double page spread for you to enjoy. No tag line yet and it’s quite low res so the writing looks a bit funny but I still think it’s a thing of beauty!

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The Next Big thing

I’ve been tagged in this ‘Next Big Thing’ blog chain thingie. The whole thing bamboozled me at first but I think I’ve got the hang of it now! Basically, each week a different author blogs about the book they’re working on next. Last week it was the turn of the fabulous Joanna Nadin ( talking about the long-awaited final instalment of her Rachel Riley Series (can’t wait, Jo!). And now it’s over to me.

Now, if I’d been asked to do this a month ago, I’d have dissolved into a jibbering wreck. I was in despair over my next book and ready to throw the whole thing down the toilet (I think it was Iris Murdoch who said that, ‘Every book is the ruin of a perfect idea’ – so true!). But I’ve just finished a second draft and I’m feeling all buzzy and excited and just a little bit in love with it now. So, I’ve mastered hyperlinks and memes and I’m all raring to go. So here it is – this is my ‘Next Big Thing’.

What’s the title of your next book?

It hasn’t got one yet! I have to submit the manuscript to my publishers in January so it’s just got a working title at the moment. Well, it’s sort of got two working titles and I can’t decide which one I prefer. Ooh – perhaps you can help. What do you think: ‘Looking out for Little Pea’ or ‘Little Pea, the New Kid and Me’ – answers on a postcard please. Oh, or ‘Pea-shooters’ – sometimes I quite like that one? Clearly I’m rubbish at the whole book title bit!

Where did the idea come from?

It was inspired by the 2012 London riots. I wanted to write about three kids from very different background all of whom become involved in the riots for different reasons – and about the fall-out when they do.

What genre does your book fall under?

I suppose it’s a mixture between comedy and gritty social realism – which sounds odd but there you have it. Think Frank Cottrell Boyce meets Pigeon English, I suppose!

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie?

Definitely Malcolm Kamulete who starred in ‘Top Boy’ for Tokes because I always had him in mind when I was writing the character. And maybe a young Dakota Blue Richards for Zenna – if we can find a time machine and make her 12/13 again!

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

A hilarious and heartbreaking tale of three kids who set out to make a movie and end up involved in a riot, in a summer that will change their lives forever.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It will be published by Egmont and is currently scheduled for release in January 2014

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

About 7 months

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
‘Framed’ or ‘The Unforgotten Coat’ by Frank Cottrell Boyce; a younger version of ‘Pigeon English’ by Stephen Kelman; or ‘The Outsiders’ by S E Hinton. Oh, there’s a bit of ‘Cat and Mouse’ by Cathy Cassidy too!

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I was inspired by the London riots, an amazing TV series called ‘Top Boy’, the kids I worked with on inner city project in London, and on a programme for street children in South Africa– oh, and ‘Made in Chelsea’!

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I commit literary murder for the first time! Yes, somebody dies – it’s the first time I’ve ever killed a character on page and I found it really, really hard. I cried buckets and buckets when I wrote that chapter and I sob like a baby every time I read it!

Who are you passing the baton to for next week’s Next Big Thing?

To my lovely schoolyard author pals:

Fleur Hitchcock

Maudie Smith

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Why I should have written ‘The Hunger Games’

I should have written ‘The Hunger Games’! No, seriously, it should have been me! Suzanne Collins – Schmollins. I should be topping those best seller lists and tripping down the red carpet to film premieres (although I haven’t a thing to wear!) Cos it was my idea, you know! Well, sort of… I mean, I totally… practically… well almost thought of exactly the similar-ish plot.
OK, here’s how it was: I’d been reading ‘Lord of the Flies’ whilst watching ‘The X Factor’ (yes, at the same time – I know, weird) and I thought, ‘Oooh! I should write a novel about a reality TV show where the contestants have to kill each other.’ I got a little way into plotting it too (I have the notes in an old ideas book which I unearthed recently in order to prove myself that I had basically written a best seller – sort of) but then I remembered that I don’t much like blood. Or gory bits in books. Or killing off my characters really. And I’m rubbish at writing dystopian fiction. And that’s as far as it got.
Only it didn’t – not really. Cos The Reality TV bit stayed with me, nagged at me – in that way certain plot lines tend to do. I think it was Frank Cottrell Boyce who said that some plots hunt you down, relentlessly – like a predator, on your tail night and day until you get them onto paper. And that’s what this one did for me. And as it went along it got muddled up with a load of other stuff: oil refinery strikes and kids with Olympic dreams and ‘Shameless’ and ‘Billy Elliot’ and Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘North and South’ via Richard Armitage (him from ‘Spooks’ – swoon!) and ‘Glee’ and my sister making me pierce her ear with a fish-finger and my friends and I starting a girl band when we were seven (we made dresses out of bin-liners) … and somehow my ‘Hunger Games’ turned into a totally different novel which eventually became ‘Pop!’ It’s still about Reality TV – after all it was the perfect cover for my BGT/ X Factor obsession – and it’s even got a love triangle but more it’s more ‘Millions’ than ‘Mockinjay’. Less murder and more mayhem and madness , basically!
Cos I might be a bit too much of an optimist to write dystopia but I do love a bit of Talent TV. OK I admit it – I’m a Talent TV addict. In fact some of the key moments of my life I associate with Talent TV. Novels got me through childbirth (yes, seriously: ‘Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix’ for child no 1 – it was a long labour – and ‘Wives and Daughters’ for child no. 2 – I still haven’t finished it!) but ‘Pop Idol 2003’ (and ‘Pop Idol Extra’) got me through the new baby sleepless nights phase and ‘BGT’ was there for me the day my dad was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Stavros Flatley – better than valium. God bless those little chubby river-dancers!
And I’m going to go out on a limb here and declare that the editors of shows like ‘The X Factor’ and ‘BGT’ are some of the best story-tellers around today. Yes, storytellers. Think of those perfect narrative arcs they script for the characters (sorry contestants); the heart-rending back stories; the will- they won’t they moments; the rollercoaster rides; the butterfly from the cocoon makeovers; the nail-biting cliffhangers; the tearjerking goodbyes and the edge-of-you-seat grand finales. It’s fictional gold dust!
Yes, there’s an element to which the editors have to relinquish control of their scripts to the voting public, but if you ask me that’s just a bit like one of those ‘fighting fantasy’ adventures – you know the ones you read when you were a kid (if you were a kid in the eighties, like me!) where you get a choice what to do at the end of each chapter. But the thing was that no matter what you chose they’d scripted a possible outcome for you – just like they’ve got every possible ending lined up in the Talent TV the edit suite, ready to roll out when the phone lines close. Honestly, those Talent TV bods know how to write a good story – and that’s what gets me hooked every time!
But I wanted to invent a kid who could see the narrative clichés of Talent TV and set out to exploit them. So my main character, Elfie Baguley, reckons she knows the ‘Rules of Talent TV’ inside out. Her useless –good-for-nothing mum is celeb obsessed – and she watches so much Fame TV Elfie’s sussed out the ‘winning formula’. So when she and her mates decide the only way to sort out their rubbish lives is to enter ‘Pop to the Top!’ (my fictionalised – and barely disguised – version of The X Factor’!) Elfie knows exactly how to ensure they get all the way to final – and if that means making up the odd whopping great lie and landing her best mates in a whole load of trouble along the way then what can you do?
But I guess ‘Pop!’ is a bit like my previous book ‘We Can be Heroes’ in that it’s silly and madcap and bonkers but underneath all that it’s actually dealing with some pretty serious issues. The whole reason my main characters enter ‘Pop to the Top’ is because it’s the only solution they can think of to the rubbish stuff that’s going on in their lives – or maybe a way to help them forget all that. A strike is dividing the community; Elfie’s mum has run out on the family (again); her dad is on the verge of bankruptcy; and if that happens he’ll lose custody of Elfie and her baby brother too. Winning the prize money is Elfie’s last chance to save her family.
But she needs Agnes if she’s going to do it. If Elfie is the brains behind the operation, Agnes is the talent. The only problem is that the girls’ families are on opposite sides of the strikers/scab divide. Agnes’s family are under attack and ostracized by the whole community so going along with Elfie’s crazy plan is the only way any one will actually talk to her (not in public mind you – like Elfie said, this is strictly business and totally top secret!)
Then there’s Jimmy. Sweet, long-suffering Jimmy who’s been in love with Agnes since they were eight years old. Jimmy’s got his own problems: his dad wants him to be an Olympic swimmer. He reckons everyone should have a dream and this is Jimmy’s apparently. Only sometimes it feels like he’s only doing it to keep his dad happy – and now his dad talking about crossing the picket line to pay for Jimmy’s training and Jimmy has to stop him.
Jimmy gets dragged into Elfie’s ‘Pop to the Top!’ plan because – well, basically because he does whatever Elfie tells him to do – it’s just easier that way. 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!)
Of course I had to watch my step writing about Talent TV. My original judging panel line up for ‘Pop to the Top!’ would have got me sued by Mr Cowell and Co! And the minute I changed my lead judge to a North West Pop Legend who’d headed up a Uber-famous boy band in the 90s what goes and happens? Gary Barlow only gets the top spot at the X Factor. So, can I do that disclaimer bit you always see on films: ‘Any similarity to real event and people is purely coincidence etc etc!’ Cos I love Gary, me! Despite how it might seem when you read the book!
It was a character from George Orwell’s novel who spawned ‘Big Brother’ – the first ever Reality TV show. And now Reality TV is feeding right back into fiction and shaping the way contemporary authors are writing. From ‘The Hunger Games’ and the ‘The Running Man’ to novels like ‘My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece’ ,‘The Money, Stan, Big Lauren and Me’, ‘L. A. Candy’ ‘Strictly Shimmer’ – and loads more – see my list below – Reality TV is such an integral part of our culture that it’s hardly surprising that it should be a topic of interest to contemporary novelists.
And I might be a Talent TV addict, but that doesn’t mean I don’ t think it needs to be mocked a little – OK, more than a little! Or maybe the’ ‘Rules of Talent TV’ that head up every chapter of ‘Pop!’ really are a fool-proof recipe for Talent TV success – perhaps someone should follow them all and see! Only it won’t be me cos I really, really, really can’t sing! And I don’t have any talent really – oh, except writing, obviously (I think I’m meant to say that aren’t I or no one will read my books!)
Anyway, I guess I’m OK with not writing ‘The Hunger Games’. I mean, thank goodness Suzanne Collins did cos they totally rock (I read all three in four days and barely ate, slept or spoke to my children whilst doing so). But I’m so indecisive I’d never have decided between Pet and Gale and I’m so squeamish no one would actually have ever died in the arena. And most importantly, what would I have worn to all those film premieres? I just don’t have the shoes! So perhaps I’m glad I wrote ‘Pop!’ instead. Which is not to say I would mind if any lovely film buff came knocking on my door … in fact, I think it’d make a cracking film you know … call me anytime, Mr Spielburg!

Reality TV Novels

‘Pop!’ by Catherine Bruton

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

‘The Money, Stan, Big Lauren and Me’ by Joanna Nadin

The Bex Factor by Simon

Polly Price’s Totally Secret Diary: Reality TV Nightmare by Dee

The Actual Real Reality of Jennifer James by Gillian

The Fame Game by Lauren

Pup Idol by Anna Wilson

The Selection by Kiera Cass

Watch Me by Lauren Barnholdt

Strictly Shimmer by Amanda Roberts

L. A Candy by Lauren Conrad

Fifteen Minute Bob by Cathy Forde

Dead Famous by Ben Elton

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Reality TV and Novels get it on!

I’ve decided that my new novel ‘Pop!’ is in fact the secret love child of George Orwell and Jessie J! Or maybe Suzanne Collins and Simon Cowell…crikey! what a thought!
Because ‘Pop! is perhaps only the latest chapter in the on-off, will-they-won’t-they love saga between reality TV and literature that’s been going on for decades.
After all, it was a character from Orwell’s dystopian ‘1984’ that spawned ‘Big Brother’ – the ‘big brother of all reality TV concepts’ – and now ‘Surveillance-TV’ is inspiring a new generation of novelists (myself included). Meanwhile, the boundaries are getting blurred: with reality TV stars turning novelist (and vice versa) and the editors of Reality TV melding fiction with reality in their heavily scripted ‘docu-soaps’.
For today’s young people the twin cults of celebrity and surveillance are a ubiquitous feature of the world they are growing up in. So perhaps it’s not surprising to find reality TV becoming an increasingly prevalent feature in children’s books. From dystopian fiction to satire, tweenie novels to spin-off chick-lit, the ‘Reality TV Novel’ is perhaps the ultimate 21st century hybrid!
Probably the best example is ‘The Hunger Games’ – which presents a dystopian future vision of a reality TV contest taken to a horrifying new level. And what makes it so brilliant (apart from the love triangle and the gruesome killing and unputdownable story line, that is!) is that the conventions it draws on are all so recognisable. The chat show style host and diary room-esque moments: it’s all just a small distortion away from Saturday night staple TV fare.
But it’s not only dystopian fiction that has been influenced by reality TV. The TV Talent contest has been a feature of some of the most interesting contemporary fiction to emerge over the last few years. Annabel Pitcher’s ‘My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece’ melds terrorism with televised talent contests; Joanna Nadin’s ‘The Money, Stan, Big Lauren and Me’ is like ‘The Treasure Seekers’ for the ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’ generation; and my own latest novel ‘Pop!’ is a mash-up of ‘Billy Elliot’, ‘Shameless’ and ‘The X Factor’.
What’s interesting about all these novels is that they confront complex contemporary issues – recession, strikes, terrorism – and in each the child protagonists see reality TV as a viable solution to their problems. And no wonder. Growing up under the shadow of recession, no wonder today’s young people are drawn to the rag-to-riches tales scripted by the editors of Saturday night TV. In bleak times, Talent TV seems offers the fairy-tale endings we crave – with Simon Cowell as the ultimate Fairy God-mother (or perhaps David Walliams will fight him for that particular tiara)!

My own forthcoming novel ‘Pop!’ sees a group of kids pursuing the Talent TV dream in the recession hit North West. In a community divided by strikes, winning ‘Pop to the Top!’ seems to offer these kids a chance to escape from broken homes, bankruptcy and bailiffs.

And Talent TV loves nothing more than a tragic ‘back story’, as my main character Elfie observes: ‘It might be a battle with cancer or drugs, or a dead dad/dog/goldfish who told you to ‘follow that dream’ or a crippling stutter or stage fright or just chronic ugliness … it doesn’t matter: if you want to win you need a healthy dose of misery in your back catalogue.’

And the folks in Talent TV-land are the ultimate story-tellers: from the heart-rending back stories; to the will- they won’t they moments; the rollercoaster rides; the butterfly-from-the-cocoon makeovers; the nail-biting cliff-hangers; the tear-jerking goodbyes and the edge-of-your-seat grand finales. The bods in the editing suites at ‘The X Factor’ and ‘BGT’ are some of the best story-tellers around today!
No wonder that they are starting to jump ship, going from from production houses to publishing deals! ‘Strictly Shimmer’ (described as ‘A 100% official Strictly Come Dancing novel, featuring the dancers, stars and judges you love!’) is written by Amanda Roberts, a production runner on the set of Strictly! And the ‘L.A. Candy’ series – a story of some girls being plucked from obscurity for a reality TV version of ‘Sex and the City’ – was actually written by Lauren Conrad, one of the stars of the hit US reality TV show ‘The Hills’.

And when it starts working the other way – with children’s writer David Walliams appearing on the judging panel of a Talent TV show (no doubt he’ll be writing a novel about it next!) – it all just gets too much to get your brain around!

Meanwhile, the new generation of Reality TV shows are also starting to play with their own fictionality. ‘Docu-soaps’ like ‘Desperate Scousewives’ ‘The Only Way is Essex’ and – my own particular fave – ‘Made in Chelsea’ warn us that, whilst, ‘these people are real, some scenes may have been staged for your viewing entertainment’. And when the producer turns ‘actor’ in his own show (a la Hugo from ‘MIC’) half the fascination of watching comes from trying to work out who’s playing who? Are the producers like puppet masters pulling the strings or are the ‘actors’ (characters? contestants?) now writing their own scripts, manipulating the conventions of the genre to their own ends?

Which is exactly what my main characters do in ‘Pop!’! Elfie reckons she’s figured out ‘Rules of Talent TV’ a foolproof recipe for attaining stratospheric stardom based on years of Talent TV watching. But then she sets out to manipulate them: staging her own ‘rollercoaster’ moments; scripting ‘car-crash’ TV and even trying to manipulate the judging panel – all with hilarious and heartbreaking consequences.
So, the shelves are stacked with ‘Reality TV Fiction’ but, if you ask me, the best of the genre sets out to explore what our national obsession with reality TV tells us about contemporary society. But what next: a TV Talent show for novelists? A televised version of a Talent TV novel? Who knows, but reality TV and fiction have got serious romantic history so I look forward to reading the next chapter in their tempestuous love affair!

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Recession Lit for Kids

The global financial crisis may not be good news for publishers, but it might just be great news for literature, particularly children’s fiction. Poverty, they say, is the mother of invention (or something like that!) and there’s long-standing tradition of economic downturns producing great writing. Think Steinbeck on the Great Depression and Dickens’ crusade against Victorian poverty, not to mention the angry young men of post-war Britain and the numerous literary depictions of life on the breadline under Thatcher.
On the adult bookshelves, the current economic downturn has produced its own new genre dubbed ‘recession-lit’. But with studies showing that young people are amongst those hardest hit by the failure of the economy, how are children’s novelists like myself responding to the very real and very scary economic headlines? And why is it so important that we do?
Because if you think grown-ups are the only ones worrying about the global economic crisis, think again. New studies show the gloomy financial climate is shaping our children’s emotional development – and that includes kids from all different backgrounds. Stressed and depressed parents means a generation of over-anxious kids who are bearing the brunt of their parents’ financial worries. Not to mention the fact that money pressure is also a key factor in family break up and creates an emotional disconnect between parents and children.
Perhaps it’s not surprising therefore that so much great children’s literature has been inspired by a sudden down turn in a family’s financial affairs – think ‘Framed,’ ‘The Little Princess’, ‘Ballet Shoes’ and ‘The Treasure Seekers’, as well as contemporary offering like Rachel Vail’s ‘Lucky’ trilogy (‘Gossip Girl’ meets the Eurozone Crisis!), or ‘Fifteen Days without a Head’ by Dave Cousins, as well as ‘The Money, Stan, Big Lauren and Me’ by Joanna Nadin and my own new novel ‘Pop!’ both of which feature kids using modern means to solve their parents’ financial difficulties (Billy Grimshaw in Nadin’s novel enters a version of ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ whilst the main characters in ‘Pop!’ decide that the North West equivalent of ‘The X Factor’ is the route to financial solvency)
Because studies show that financial worries make parents emotionally disconnected from their children. “When parents are having money worries, it affects their ability to parent effectively,” says Gustavo Carlo from the University of Missouri who has been studying the effects of recession on young people. Parents who are focused on money worries may not be physically absent but they are often emotionally unavailable. And of course this creates the perfect scenario for children’s fiction. After all, kids being left to their own devices is key catalyst of much successful children’s fiction!
‘The Money, Stan, Big Lauren and Me’ is the latest in Joanna Nadin’s Billy Grimshaw saga; the first ‘Spies, Dad, Big Lauren and Me’ made the Richard and Judy bookclub list last year. It sees Billy’s mum lose her job which leaves Billy looking for ways to save the family finances, turning Dickensian chimney sweep, applying for ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ and winning ‘Money Madness’ (a thinly disguised version of ‘Who wants to be Millionaire’). The results are both funny and devastating. ‘As a child of the 70s, I was utterly convinced we were on the poverty line,’ Nadin explains. ‘I did everything I could to dissuade my spendthrift brother from squandering his pocket money and I made a rota for my clothes so none would wear out. It turns out I was labouring under false pretences. But the dark cloud of poverty is hanging over children again, and it is very scary and very real.’
My latest novel ‘Pop!’ depicts a group of teens pursuing the talent show dream in the shadow of strikes and unemployment on Merseyside. Inspired by everything from ‘Billy Elliot’ to ‘Shameless’, Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘North and South’ to ‘The X Factor’, and Frank Cottrell Boyce to ‘The Railway Children’ – as well as my own childhood in the industrial North West, with a bit of ‘Glee’ thrown in for good measure – ‘Pop! is about three kids who decide the only way to rescue their families from poverty and bring an end to the strike dividing their community is to enter a (very thinly disguised!) version of ‘The X Factor’ – with hilarious and heartbreaking consequences.
Recent research suggests that whilst parents attempt to shield their kids from their fiscal anxieties, children often end up feeling guilty and/or responsible and this is a key theme explored in contemporary children’s ‘Recession Fiction’. Whilst my main character Elfie hides red ‘final demand’ bills from her dad, skives school to look after her baby brother and comes up with more and more elaborate plans to bring in some cash, her best friend Jimmy Wigmore is convinced it’s all his fault his dad is threatening to cross the picket line.
Jimmy is a talented swimmer with Olympic dreams but he needs to ace the National Trials in order to get sponsorship otherwise his dad is going to turn strike-breaker to pay for his training – and Jimmy can’t let that happen. ‘It’s sort of like superglue,’ he says. ‘My swimming is kind of what’s keeping him together. It’s down to me to find a way to make this work.’
Parent-child role reversal is a key theme in kids’ ‘Recession Lit’. In ‘Fifteen Days Without a Head’ Dave Cousin’s main character, Laurence, thinks it’s down to him to provide for him and his little brother when his alcoholic mum loses her job and does a runner. He dresses up as a woman, enters a radio phone-in competition and (nearly) turns shop-lifter in order to put food on the table. What is most moving in this funny but tear-jerking novel is Laurence’s sense that he needs to hide his troubles from teachers, neighbours and social workers – that he has to sort things out on his own in order to protect his mum.
Financial strains clearly put enormous pressures on families. ‘Framed’ by Carnegie Medal Winner Frank Cottrell Boyce may have been written before the economy went pear-shaped but it reflects contemporary economic concerns as seen through a child’s eyes in a way that is beautiful, moving and hilarious all at the same time. Dylan is the only boy left in the tiny Welsh village of Manod; all the other young families have moved away to find work. Then his dad’s garage goes bust, his father commits insurance fraud and disappears, and his mum locks herself in her bedroom, leaving Dylan and his sisters to try and keep the family afloat – by turning to crime (in this case high-end art theft and forgery!)
Frank Cottrell Boyce is my literary hero (in fact, ‘Pop!’ is actually set in exactly the same location as ‘Millions’, a couple of miles from where I grew up!) and ‘Framed’ was a big source of inspiration for ‘Pop!’ which also explores family break up and absent parents. Elfie’s mam has always been unreliable: ‘How many times has she walked out on you now?’ Jimmy asked. ‘Thirteen’, I said. ‘Fourteen if you count the time she went to Blackpool for the day and left me in the ballpark in Ikea.’ So when the money runs out, so does Elfie’s mam, only this time she’s fighting Elfie’s dad for custody of the children. There’s no way Elfie is going to let that happen, even if it does mean posing as a teen mum, selling a load of whoppers to the tabloids and landing her friends up to their necks in trouble!
Finally, and perhaps most alarmingly, recent research suggests that high unemployment has lead to a resurgence in zenophobia and racism amongst young people. ‘Pop!’ was inspired by the Lindsay Oil Refinery strikes where the picket lines were hijacked by nationalists, parading under the ‘British jobs for British workers’ slogan. ‘It’s your fault no one round here’s got any money,’ Elfie tells her band-mate Agnes, daughter of a Portuguese immigrant worker. ‘Half the men in town were out of work – cos you foreign ‘immos’ come in and got all the contract jobs.’
Tensions between the strikers and the scabs take on an ugly racist element and Agnes’s family are viciously targeted by the community. And once again it’s down to the kids to sort things out. Elfie’s dad will go mental when he finds out she’s singing with an ‘immo’ but maybe – just maybe – if they can make it all the way to the grand final and scoop the prize money, they can help heal the rifts in their community.
Just as in my last novel ‘We Can be Heroes’, I chose to write about racism and immigration issues, because as strikes and soaring unemployment continue to stir up tension between different ethnic groups in the UK, these issues are increasingly relevant for young readers.
Oh, and then there are the riots! Look out next summer for Alan Gibbons ‘Raining Fire’ which will look at how poverty turned kids as young as eleven into looters and arsonists. Which is also the theme of the book I’m working on right now …. so watch this space!
Double dip recession, Eurozone crisis, stock market crashes, public sector strikes and soaring unemployment: the economic outlook is about as bleak as it could be and some of our finest children’s authors have not shied away from exploring the impact that has had on young people. But typically they have responded to difficult themes with a mixture of humour and hope. The fiction that has emerged from these gloomy economic times is characterised by honesty, comedy and a sense that things will – probably – turn out OK in the end. Can children’s authors sort out the national debt? Probably not. But maybe they can help young readers deal with the impact it’s having on their lives.

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My guilty pleasures – thinks that inspired me (even if I’m a teensy bit ashamed to admit it!)

OK, I’m going to start by saying that I have read ‘War and Peace’ – all the way through, might I add! Oh, and ‘Crime and Punishment’ (my dad was a professor on Dostoevsky; I had no choice) And when they do those newspaper lists of ‘Classic books you must read before you die’ I can usually tick a fair few (even if I can’t remember what happened in many of them – old age, you see). So, you see, I can do high culture, me!
I recently read an article in ‘The Guardian’ which claimed that the influence of classic literature on writers is declining. Apparently most modern authors are stylistically influenced by their contemporaries rather than writers from the 18th and 19th centuries. ‘Aha!’ I crid triumphantly! ‘Not me!’ After all, my latest novel ‘Pop!’ owes a huge debt to Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘North and South’ and my last ‘We Can be Heroes’ was modelled on ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ (OK, it’s 20th Century but it’s definitely a classic).
Unfortunately, that doesn’t exactly tell the whole story about my – ahem! – influences! Harold Bloom, the literary critic, came up with the term ‘anxiety of influence’ which is when authors worry about getting caught nicking ideas from the classics (I remember this because my tutor at Oxford was Bloom’s spurned mistress and used to make jokes about ‘anxiety of impotence’ in tutorials which made my eighteen year old self blush!) Anyway, I’m not particularly worried about borrowing from the greats of the literary canon; my ‘anxiety of influence’ has a different source altogether.
Because when it comes to embarrassing sources of inspiration, my list goes on and on and on. And somehow my guiltiest pleasures seem always to worm their way into my novels. So when I’m trying to be taken seriously and going on about stuff like ‘recession in kids literature’ or ‘terrorism and the teen novel’ I keep expecting somebody to say. ‘But you love ‘Hannah Montana’ – how are we supposed to take you seriously?’
So I reckon it’s time to come clean and ‘fess up to my guilty pleasures – the things that inspire me (even if I am a teensy weensy bit embarrassed to admit it!). Please don’t judge me…. here goes!

Guilty Pleasure No. 1: US teen drama
‘Dawson’s Creek’, ‘The OC’, ‘Gossip Girl’, ‘Veronica Mars’, ‘Heathers’, ‘Ten things I hate about you’, ‘Nick and Nora’s infinite playlist’…. my love of US teen drama comes second only to my love of my children, and chocolate (possibly above chocolate!) – oh, and my husband (better get that in quick!) Basically, a box set of a teen high school mini-series is like crack cocaine for me; I watched four seasons of ‘Gossip Girl’ in just over a week; I barely slept or spoke to anyone and floated round thinking I was Blair Waldorf for about a month afterwards (it was an expensive month!).
I can’t explain the obsession but I can’t pretend it doesn’t influence what I write either. I’m just going to close my eyes very tightly here and admit that the love triangle in ‘Pop!’ is inspired by Dawson- Joey-Pacey from ‘Dawson’s Creek’. Which means, of course, that I can’t tell you who gets the boy in the end (oh, how I wept in the last ever episode!). Oh, and the teen spies in ‘We Can be Heroes’ come from watching too much ‘Veronica Mars’ and sweet, gangly, shy Jimmy from ‘Pop!’ is based on the lovely character played by Michael Cera in ‘Juno’. I could go on but I fear I’ve said enough…
…. only can you ever get enough of Michael Cera, I ask myself?

Guilty Pleasure No. 2: Glee
‘Glee’ could go in the previous list but I think it deserves a category all of its own! Because I can’t be certain but I suspect that my new book‘Pop!’ is in fact the secret love child of Mr Schu and Sue Sylvester. It’s not just the fact that the kids in ‘Pop!’ enter a TV talent contest (named ‘Pop to the Top’ in honour of another of my guilty pleasures ‘High School Musical’ – I blame this one on my seven year old daughter!) or that the scene at the Live Final is almost entirely stolen from the ‘Glee’ Season 1 finale (only inside out – watch, then read, you’ll see what I mean).
It’s more the tone of ‘Glee’ that I love so much: a little bit camp, a little bit glitzy but also irreverent and taking the mickey out of itself – and out of the whole teen movie genre. And that’s sort of what I set out to do to in ‘Pop!’. My main character Elfie tries to play the Talent TV bods at their own game. She reckons she’s sussed out ‘The Rules of Talent TV’ – the magic formula to manipulate the judges and the voting public, all the way to the grand final!
Basically, I’m really, really hoping that Simon Cowell never reads ‘Pop!’ – or Jessie J, or Cheryl Cole, or Sharon Osborne or Jedward or Dermot O’Leary or Gary Barlow, for that matter! Because I LOVE talent TV (see Guilty Pleasure No. 3!) but I do set out to gently satirise its conventions and clichés – and that is definitely thanks to Rachel, Finn, Puck, Kurt and co!

Guilty Pleasure No. 3: Talent TV
Perhaps I should have put this one first because Talent TV is perhaps my ultimate guilty pleasure. It has got me through some of the darkest days of my life (seriously, Pop Idol 2007 is the only reason I survived a new baby with colic, and the day my dad was diagnosed with a brain tumour I took refuge in ‘BGT’; Stavros Flatley are better than valium – lord love those chubby little Riverdancers!) Basically, I’m a total sucker for a fairytale ending and I blub like a baby when really unlikely contestants emerge like butterflies from the cocoon and shine like stars under the spotlight!
But I always feel like I’m being played! The producers of shows like ‘BGT’ and ‘The X Factor’ are consummate story-tellers with the heart-rending back stories; the will- they won’t they moments; the rollercoaster rides; the ugly duckling makeovers; the nail-biting cliffhangers; and the edge-of-your-seat grand finales – it all feels like a scripted attempt to manipulate the audience and it drives me nuts. Oh, and I hate the mockery of the weaker contestants (which is why I love ‘The Voice’ and Jessie ‘we don’t boo on this show’ J!!!); not to mention all the clichés (‘emotional rollercoasters’, ‘110%’ ‘it’s been a journey’ – grrrr!) they drive me mad!
So ‘Pop!’ is, I suppose, a satire, intended to mock the genre I love and loathe in equal measure! Based on years of gruelling TV watching research !), the story of Elfie, Jimmy and Agnes and their bid to reach the final is inspired by countless contestants past and present, And the judging panel, presenter and rival contestants have all been altered just slightly from their real life prototypes to prevent me being assassinated by Simon Cowell and co. But I think you might have fun playing ‘spot the celeb’ anyway!

Guilty Pleasure No. 4: Desperate Scousewives/ TOWIE/ Made in Chelsea
Oh dear! It’s just getting worse, isn’t it! I can feel your respect for me as a serious writer ebbing away by the second. ‘Desperate Scousewives’ I could just about justify because ‘Pop!’ is set on Merseyside, near to Warrington/Widnes where I grew up, so watching the Desperadoes could be put down to research – making sure my cultural reference points were bang up to date, right?
‘Made in Chelsea’ (oh, I love MIC!) could be explained away by saying one of my former pupils is in it – and lots more of my old students float on the un-filmed outskirts of that group and give me lots of MIC gossip on Twitter.
But ‘The Only Way is Essex’ nothing can excuse or exonerate – although I’m going to give it a damn good try! I think it’s probably the meta-fictionality of the ‘docu-soap’ that fascinates me (there – that sounds clever, doesn’t it!) What I mean is that I like the sense of wondering who’s controlling the narrative – is it the editors or the… what do we call them? actors? characters? There’s something rather fascinating about wondering who’s playing who. And in that sense, it’s a bit like writing a novel – you think you’re in control of the plotline and then your characters go off and do their own thing!
And that tension definitely informs my writing. My main character Elfie is a reality TV contestant trying to play the TV producers at their own game. She manipulates the tabloids, plays to the cameras, stages car crash moments and even attempts to script things for the judges themselves. ‘Oh Lord!’ says the head judge. ‘A child of the TV generation telling us how to run the show!’ She is the ultimate mistress of meta-fiction – either that or she’s been watching too much TOWIE!

Guilty Pleasure No. 5: Celebrity Gossip Mags
For the sake of my marriage, I need to open by saying that I NEVER buy celebrity gossip mags like ‘Heat’ and ‘More’ and ‘Closer’ etc. Which is not to say that I don’t read them; I just borrow them from my lovely sister in law (hubbie will be mad if he thinks I’ve been frittering away the kids’ inheritance on tales of Kerry Katona’s boob jobs and Peter Andre’s latest diet fad!) So I remember the joy I felt when my editor suggested my main character’s mum could have a gossip mag obsession! ‘But of course!’ I squealed. ‘I shall go off and research this hitherto unknown genre at once!’
Elfie’s mum is obsessed with celeb gossip and so is Elfie which means that much of the web of lies she weaves to save her family from bankruptcy is based on her intimate knowledge of the lives of the rich and famous. Of course names had to be changed to protect the innocent celebs but let’s just say I did draw heavily on my research in this area!
The cult of celebrity and pursuit of fame is such a ubiquitous feature of the society our children are growing up in. Growing up under the shadow of double dip recession, public sector strikes and the ongoing terror threat, no wonder they are drawn to the pages of the gossip mags and see the pursuit of fame as the ultimate escape route from poverty.
Elfie bases her strategy for success on Lady Gaga, Kerry Katona, the Beckhams and many more – but now the novel’s finished, how will I justify my ‘Heat’ fetish now!

I could go on with my guilty pleasures… but I feel the need to go off and watch a few arthouse films with sub-titles, or read a bit of Sophocles in the original Greek (no, wait, I can’t read Greek!) or take a trip to the Tate Gallery to prove I am writer of substance after al!
Only, wait. F Scott Fitzgerald famously incorporated elements of modern media into his writing – advertising slogans, popular music lyrics, cinematic techniques (all very new cultural phenomenon) – alongside references to Keats and the Classics, as well as to other contemporary writers like T S Eliot. And I’m not claiming to be Fitzgerald here, but might I make a plea for the ‘pick and mix’ approach to literary influence. Borrowing elements from contemporary culture (however silly and fluffy the source) need not be such a bad thing, need it? Could it even be a way of writers commenting on ubiquitous elements of contemporary society?
Or am I just trying too hard to justify my TOWIE/Glee/Heat addiction here? Perhaps you’d better read the book and give me your verdict! Only please, please don’t make me give up ‘Gossip Girl’ or ‘Strictly’ because I just don’t think I could go on without them!

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Help! My teacher is a teen novelist!

I reckon it must be a total nightmare having me as a teacher! I mean, I have my uses: I bring jellybeans to lessons, bake cakes with pupil’s names on and frequently fall off chairs whilst trying to write on the board (why do they make the white boards so high? And why am I so short?) Ooh, and there are my lucky pebbles which have ensured nobody I have ever taught has got less than a B at GCSE or A/ AS Level ( I like to think this is the outstanding teaching as well as the magic stones, myself!)
But there are many downsides to having me as your English teacher. There’s the fact that my aim with the jelly beans isn’t that great and I have been known to take eyes out with flying sweeties; there’s the homework thing (six essays on ‘The Great Gatsby’ – seriously, Mrs Bruton!); and then there’s the annoying writer business.
Having an English teacher who is also a novelist has to be the worst thing ever – even if she is, ‘one of the finest teen writers in recent years’ according to ‘The Guardian’ (*curtsies shyly*!) Firstly there’s the fact that you run a serious risk of appearing in one of my books. Now, for my Year 7s and even for my old Year 11s, this seems to be OK – in fact they are always asking me to put them in a novel. But my current Year 10s clearly find this the most embarrassing thing EVER! Which of course makes me want to immortalise them in literature all the more!
If you’re lucky, I might just nick your name; Jimmy Wigmore, Elfie Baguley, Agnes Rodriguez: the names of my three main characters in ’Pop!’ are all a mish-mash of former pupils and family nicknames.
Or I might just steal the odd mannerism: Jimmy does this blinking thing and hides behind his very long hair – oh, and he goes red right to the tips of his ears when he’s embarrassed; whilst Agnes twists her fingers round her wrist and bites her lip when she has stage fright. Elfie, on the other hand, scrunches up her nose and does a sort of sideways tippy head thing when she’s telling you a lie – just as a certain rather pickly, pesky student of mine (naming no names!) always does when she’s explaining how Twitter ate her homework – or ET stole her essay – or how the answers to the test magically appeared on the back of her pencil case!
And, just like said pickly student, Elfie is a total ace at making up stories. Which is a good thing cos when she decides that the solution to all her problems is to enter the North West equivalent of ‘The X Factor’, she’s going to need a whole heap of colossal whoppers to make sure they win. ‘Cos everyone who enters a TV talent show has to have a story. At least the ones who get through to the final rounds always do. It might be a battle with cancer or drugs, or a dead dad/dog/goldfish who told you to ‘follow that dream’, or a crippling stutter or stage fright or one-legged-ness or just chronic ugliness… it doesn’t matter: if you want to win you need a healthy dose of misery in your back catalogue. ‘
Fortunately, over the years I’ve heard it all when it comes to creative reconstructions of the truth so I had a lot of material to draw on. ‘My dad put my homework in the shredder, Miss….My dog ate the laptop, Miss … The goldfish threw up on my essay, Miss… somebody even once came up with an excuse involving Daleks! So Elfie’s tales of tears and tragedy, broken homes, feuding families, star-crossed lovers (with Lady Gaga knitting competitions, Queen Mum cocktails and celeb catfights thrown in for good measure) were all too easy to think up! Or, in some cases – remember!
Yes, that’s the other thing about teacher/novelists– they nick things you say and put them in their books. Of course there was the time my Year 11s tried to persuade me to put the word ‘douche-bag’ in a novel and then wet themselves laughing when I found out what it actually meant (who knew!!!) but loads of the stuff my characters say is based on overheard conversations (NEVER talk loudly about your code name for your boyfriend/ your mum’s obsession with ‘One Direction’/your secret ‘Twilight’ habit when I’m around!) Cos kids come up with stuff way better than we writers could ever think of by ourselves. Take some of my fave lines from ‘Pop!’: ‘How do you even know my kid brother isn’t actually my secret lovechild?’ ‘Because I was there when your mam’s waters broke on the floor in Lidl’ – well, substitute Lidl for Waitrose (it’s dead posh where I teach!) and I nicked that line right out of the mouths of babes! Seriously I should be paying my pupils commission!
The teen pop band, the pushy parents with Olympic dreams, falling asleep in the back of Geography lessons, not to mention all the extraordinary outfits (seriously, I take note on Mufti days!) – it’s all totally taken from my lovely pupils. Sorry, folks!
Oh, but the worst thing has to be the idea of your teacher match making! And here I’d like to hold up my hands and say, ‘But I didn’t– honest!’ Only try telling that to my Year 10s! The fact is that when I’m not reading serious literature (‘Pop!’ is inspired by Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘North and South’ dontcha know! – even if it is via Richard Armitage from ‘Spooks’ – swoon!) I also watch a lot of rom-coms – oh, and ‘Glee’ (my big scene at the Grand Final of the talent show is totally nicked from the ‘Glee’ Season 1 finale!) So, whilst I like to think there are serious contemporary issues in the book (the impact of recession on kids in the UK, oil refinery strikes, the cultural impact of reality TV etc), there’s also a wee rom-com love story going on! And this is what my Year 10s are, ‘SOOOOOO embarrassed!’ about!
Allow me to explain: Jimmy (lovely, tall, gangly, shy Jimmy – who is, it’s true, partly modelled on many a tall, shy, gangly Year 10 I have taught past and present) has been in love with Elfie since he was eight years old and he saw her doing handstands up against the wheelie bins, flashing her knickers for all the world to see. And he’s basically been doing whatever she asks ever since – ‘one time she persuaded me to pierce her ear with a fish finger and a safety pin. Another time she tattooed my arm with a permanent marker and it wouldn’t come off for weeks.’ Jimmy reckons it’s just easier doing what Elfie tells him, to be honest – even if it does mean pretending to be the teen father of her love child or caught in a crazy love triangle with Agnes. Which he sort of is …
Agnes is the shy girl who sits in the back of the classroom and nobody talks to her because her dad’s a strike breaker. But when she opens her mouth to sing, she turns into a star. She’s the sort of girl who looks like a supermodel but doesn’t know it and has no idea how talented she is (there’s at least one in every class!) When Elfie decides that Agnes is her ticket to stardom, Jimmy and Agnes get thrown together and maybe – just maybe they can get over their chronic shyness and perhaps …. maybe …. Oh, I’m not telling. You’ll just have to wait and see.
But, the problem is that since ‘Pop!’ came out all the Agnes and Jimmys that I teach won’t even look each other in the eye, so let’s get one things straight: ‘Pop!’ is not some crazy ‘my teacher is a matchmaker’ scheme. In fact, you should all be off doing your homework and reading Dickens, not snogging and dating. None of that nonsense till your GCSEs are over, I say! Cos I might have nicked a lot from the classroom but Jimmy and Agnes’s romance isn’t based on my students; it’s me and my hubbie (seven years of ‘will they- won’t they?’ friendship it took us to get together – seven years!!! Seriously, there’s shy and then there’s ridiculous!)
Nonetheless, I reckon I owe my poor long-suffering pupils an apology! So, I’m really sorry! Sorry about all the times I’ve gone on and on about, ‘Well, in my next book ….’; sorry for the terrible hypocrisy (‘Always plan carefully before you start writing,’ she says. ‘Never leave assignments till the last minute… semi-colons matter … avoid using slang…’ Oh Mrs Bruton, you need to follow your own advice, madam!); sorry for eavesdropping and metaphorically borrowing from your wardrobes; and sorry for seeming to meddle in your love lives (even when I’m totally not!)
I’m seriously hoping that putting the deputy head in ‘Pop!’ and giving you a thank you in the back will make you forgive me. Or perhaps when you’re about ninety (and I’m totally dead!) you might decide having a novelist for your teacher is a cool thing to tell your grandchildren. Or perhaps if I just stopped setting so many essays, you’d feel more inclined to overlook my crimes…
In the meantime, I think I’d better get baking! Pop-cakes, Year 10?

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Why I love school visits (dedicated to Year 7 at St Laurence School!)

So here’s why I love going into schools to talk about writing and work with students. Only before I tell you I need to say that this blog is dedicated to the fab Year 7s at St Laurence School in Bradford on Avon who’ve put up with me for the last two days. I mean, it’s the end of term and this midget author woman comes in and makes them act and audition for a talent show and all sort of other totally embarrassing things (sorry, kids!) – and you were totally and utterly brilliant! Oh and this blog is particularly for the lovely boys on the back row who told me I hadn’t been blogging enough recently! This is for you, boys!

Anyway, so I love school visits for various reasons. Firstly, it always makes me giggle to be described as a ‘celebrity author’ – I get to feel like Jessie J or Beyonce for a few brief seconds before I remember that I am not a) tall enough b) young enough or c) actually able to sing AT ALL! Still, a girl can dream!

Secondly, I love the honesty of the kids you meet. One girl told me this morning, ‘I started Pop! and I thought it was dead boring at first but now I think it’s brilliant and I’m actually going to finish it!’ She then added, ‘I don’t often finish books so you’re dead lucky!’ What more can I ask for?

I also love the kid who tweeted me from a Physics lesson (seriously – how do you even do that? I am in techno-kid awe!) to say he was reading ‘We Can be Heroes’ under the desk because the lesson was dead boring and he needed to know what happened next or he was going to spontaneously combust.

I think my all time favourite is a boy who said, ‘I’m half way through Pop! and I love it and I know how you should do the ending! I know what should happen!’ He almost had me convinced that I hadn’t actually written the ending – or that I needed to rewrite it so it turned out how he thought! actually woke up in the night in a cold sweat several days later because I’d dreamt I’d forgotten to write the last chapter!

But I think most of all I love seeing how students at different schools interpret my stories. I always turn bits of the book into script and get students acting them out, and I often then get them to write their own scenes using my characters. And I totally LOVE that! In every school there are kids who are amazing actors and it is the most exciting thing in the world as an author to see your characters come to life on stage (seriously, Spielburg, I hope you’re listening – Pop! and We Can be Heroes would make awesome films, man!) And they’re never the same – so I love seeing what different spins students bring to the scenes and the characters – gobby, funny, brash, funny, silly, serious and sad – never the same twice. Which just goes to remind me as an author that everyone interprets stories in different ways. That the way I think things are is no more right than anyone else’s!

There was no chance to do any writing this morning but it’s always amazing on school visits to get students doing a bit of ‘flash fiction’ – I generally come away inspired and depressed at the same time. Inspired by the genius, hilarious brilliance of the ideas kids come up with and depressed cos they’re so darned good! What hope is there for a little writer like me with such great young writers up and coming out there?

Lastly I love the students who get in touch with me afterwards – researching projects (on me! I know – how hilarious!), asking questions they’d been too shy to ask the workshop, wanting advice on writing- and sometimes even sending me their own writing to look at! I love the idea that they may have been inspired to write (and read!) and I always encourage them to enter some fo the amazing writing competitions there are out there!

Oh, I should add that I love the signing bit when I get to hear lots of awesome names to steal and put in books. I met a Willow this morning – that is a name that totally is going into my next book, I can tell you! Oh, and a Zenna in the last school I went to – she’s already in a book!

So, thank you to all the lovely schools who have invited me to come along and speak. You are all awesome and totally inspirational. Here’s hoping I’ve inspired you even a teensy weensy bit as much as you have inspired me!

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Publication Day!!!!!!!!!!!

Squeeeee! It’s publication day! The day ‘Pop!’ hits the bookshop shelves and Kindle … ? whatever the ebook equivalent of shelves is (is there are word for this? Someone should think one!) Anyway, the country is all decked out in bunting and they’ve even declared a bank holiday so I can celebrate the release of my latest masterpiece! Bless the dear old Queen for going to all this fuss on account of little old me and my booky-wook!

Once again, I am on my hols on this momentous day. And most appropriately I’m up in the grim North West, land of my birth and childhood and also where ‘Pop!’ is set too! So I have a plan to make sure publication day goes with a bang – tell me what you think; I may have gone a little over the top …

In the spirit of ‘Pop!’ – which is about three kids who decide that celebrity is the solution to all their problems, and who have a creative approach to telling the truth – I’m thinking of staging a full on ‘celeb’ moment!!!! I have it all planned but I’m beginning to have second thoughts about certain aspects…

So, here’s what I’m thinking. Once again, I have primed the family. My mum, hubbie, brother, children and I are going to go to Warrington Waterstones where we are going to admire the star-spangled loveliness of ‘Pop!’ nestling on the shelves. My little brother (six foot five, Non-league footie fan and inspiration for the character of Jimmy, although he will never know it because the likelihood of him actually reading my book is just about zilch!) will wear dark sunglasses and bodyguard attire. He will look round shiftily and mutter into an imaginary earpiece, ‘Standing by. Here comes one of the finest writers of teen fiction of recent years (according to The Guardian)!’ and such like stuff!

Meanwhile my mother (looks a bit like the Queen, favours floral attire and has never been drunk in her whole life) will be carrying a corgi and a copy of ‘Murder at Balmoral’ and wearing one of those little blue tea-cosy hats and a badge saying ‘Sixty years today!’ She will sweep into the shop, closely followed by my two children (both waving Union Jack flags and draped in bunting!) declaring in a Queenie sort of voice, ‘I told Philip that all I want for my Jubilee is a copy of ‘Pop!’. Did you know it was Editor’s pick in ‘The Bookseller’ and they described it as ‘Billy Elliot’ meets ‘The X Factor’ via ‘Shameless’?’

She will then do a Windsor like chortle causing the corgi to hiccup. ‘And I just LOVE ‘Shameless’ – Camilla got me into it!’ she will prattle on in her christmas speech voice. ‘Oh, and I have a huge crush on that yummy Gary Barlow – who I’m told might just feature (thinly disguised) in Bruton’s latest masterpiece. She is a real ‘rising star’ according to the critics, dontcha know! Anyway, I told Philip a thousand times but would he listen? And Charles was no better! No, if one wants something one just has to go out and get it oneself!’

The children will then break into an all-singing, all dancing rendition of ‘Bop to the Top’ from ‘High School Musical’, only changing the lyrics to ‘Pop to the Top’ (the name of the fictionalised and barely disguised version of ‘The X Factor’ which appears in ‘Pop!’ I know, I know – my literary influences are woeful! )

My eight year old son is currently less keen on this element of the plan than my seven year old daughter (who knows all the dance moves and has gone all Lady Gaga on me – yup, she is definitely a big source of inspiration for my crazy main character, Elfie!) but I figure that if they just keep singing ‘Pop, pop, pop – Pop to the top!’ it’s bound to get stuck in the heads of all passing customers who then will feel irresistibly compelled to by copies of my gorgeous new paperback baby! I was thinking of trying to train the corgi to dance too – you know a sort of nod to Ashleigh and Pudsey, of ‘BGT’ fame – but I thought that might be taking it too far. What do you think?

My hubbie was originally told to say nothing because he is a posh Southerner and no one ever understand s a word he’s saying once we get north of Birmingham but on second thoughts I’m thinking of slinging a camera around his neck and casting him as a paparazzi – stalking me and snapping madly as I flounce into the shop with my hair in curlers (a la ‘Desperate Scousewives’ – definite source of inspiration for the style elements of ‘Pop!’) and dressed like Kerry Katona (also featured in novel!) with massive dark glasses on and probably a small poodle in a handbag (I’ve always wanted one of those!)

At this point my small children will pause their singing and dancing extravaganza and rush over screaming! ‘It’s her! The famous author. The one who’s debut ‘We Can be Heroes’ featured as one of ‘The Sunday Times’ top books of 2011. Wow! She looks so much taller in real life!’ (OK – scrub that last bit – but a girl can dream!) ‘I heard that nice Anthony McGowan who reviews for ‘The Guardian’ said that he loved her first book but if anything he likes ‘Pop!’ even more. And ‘The Bookseller’ said it was, ‘wonderful funny contemporary storytelling with characters who really get under your skin.’!’

They will then flock over and mug me with demands for autographs and signed photos which I will graciously dispense, leading other store customers to assume I am a huge ‘sleb – like J K Rowling or Will – I – am (Lord! I love that little man – if ‘The Voice’ had been out when I was writing ‘Pop!’ he would sooo have been in it!) As a result of all the above shenanigans, the store will have a rush on buying copies of my books and I will be mugged with fans.

What do you think of the plan so far? I think I may have been a teensy weensy bit influenced by my main character Elfie – thinker-upper of crazy mad-cap plans and all round giant whopping fibber with a celeb obsession and dodgy Eighties via ‘Heat’ magazine dress sense? And I think I may have forgotten one vital element of the plan ….!

I did mention that Warrington is my hometown, right? Greenhall Whitley land is where I was born and grew up. It’s a place where I once sported a dodgy corkscrew Kylie perm, where I snogged Tim 2 behind the chipshop, where I went through my dodgy Indie phase and my even dodgier ‘Stock Aitken and Waterman’ phase. There are people there who know me! People I went to school with. Like Sarah Murawski and Angela Heesom ( the coolest girls in the school and possibly – just possibly, mind – the inspiration for the characters of Pinkie and Kirby!) And like Luke Dwyre whom I loved unconditionally from the ages of 12 – 15 (excluding my Tim 1 phase, but not my Mikey Babb phase – sorry, Mike!)

And the thing about going back to your hometown is you immediately revert back to the kid you were when you were thirteen (in my case a kid with absurdly fluffy hair, the wrong school skirt and a pair of Bauer Turbo rollerskates with neon pink and blue laces and matching wheels). So I’m not sure I can pull off the ‘sleb act in the town where I had a Saturday job in ‘Beaverbrooks the Jewellers’ and fell over flat on my face in the snow outside Mr Smith’s nightclub then threw up over my white stilettos (No, mum I had not been drinking too much and I was wearing a coat – honest!) Because what if I see somebody I went to school with??!!!!

OK, I’m beginning to feel it may not work. Perhaps the character of Elfie – gobby, funny and shameless – is not really a good role model for me! I’d like to think maybe I’m Agnes: beautiful, shy and totally unaware of her supermodel good looks and superstar singing voice. Hmm – maybe not! So, perhaps I’m Jimmy: tall, lanky (OK, not that bit maybe) amazing at swimming (nor that bit) uncool but kind of sweet and loyal (that fits!). It could be worse, I suppose. And he does sort of get all the love story interest in the book!

Oh, bother! I think I’m going to have to come up with a new plan – and fast. Wait, doesn’t that sound a bit like a line from my book? Hang on, maybe if I tried to recreate the teenage Kylie perm and rollerskates look …? What do you think?

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