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
Packham http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Bex-Factor-Simon-Packham/dp/1848121636/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1335522363&sr=1-1>

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 http://www.amazon.co.uk/Strictly-Shimmer-Come-Dancing-Novels/dp/0007425015/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1335534518&sr=1-1

L. A Candy by Lauren Conrad

Fifteen Minute Bob by Cathy Forde

Dead Famous by Ben Elton

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I’m off on a blog tour again!

Ah, writers, they grow up so fast! I’m feeling all grown up and big and ‘my haven’t you grown!’ about my wee writerly self today. And sadly it’s not that I’ve acquired any more inches (I wish!); it’s just that a year ago I didn’t know what a blog tour was. I’m not sure I really knew what a blog was and I’d certainly never written one. And now look at me, about to set off on my second blog tour – all grown up and blog veteran-ish (sort of!) Bless my little cotton socks!

My exciting new blog tour is tied in with the publication of my new book ‘Pop!’ (‘Billy Elliot’ meets ‘The X Factor’ via ‘Shameless’ … wonderful contemporary storytelling with character that really get under your skin’ – The Bookseller) I’ve written about the on-off love affair between reality TV and fiction; about my guilty pleasures (things that inspire me, even if I’m a teensy, weensy bit embarrassed to admit it!); about Recession Literature for kids; and why it’s a nightmare having a teen novelist (me) for your teacher; about things I stole from real life to put in my new novel and lots of other stuff too.

Find out why my mum is going to kill me when she reads Pop!, about the fish-finger ear piercing granny zombie incidents, and how I outed my friend who’s a secret popstar. Find out why recession inspires great literature, hear my guilty confession about the Season 1 finale of ‘Glee’, and work out what my ‘anxiety of influence’ is and why Pop! is the secret love child of Simon Cowell and Suzanne Collins

It’s going to be messy, a little bit mad, definitely embarrassing, possibly thought-provoking with occasional flashes of profundity (maybe – I did try!) So come along – join the blog train. Check out the dates below if you want to follow:

June 11th http://nayusreadingcorner.blogspot.com/
Help! My teacher is a teen novelist

June 12th www.bookbabblers.co.uk
My guilty pleasures: thing that inspire me (even if I am teensy weensy bit embarrassed to admit it

June 13th I want to read that
Reality TV and the novel

June 14th www.BookAngelBooktopia.com
Things I stole from real life – and other places – to put in my novels

June 15th Chicklish
Recession literature – why economic downturns inspire great literature

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Thirteen sleeps till publication day!

In twelve sleeps’ time it will be my birthday (don’t ask how old I am!); in fourteen sleeps’ it will be the Jubilee, but – most excitingly – in thirteen sleeps ‘Pop!’ hits the bookstores and I’m getting all giddy about it!

It’s ever so nice of the dear old Queen to be throwing a Bank Holiday in honour of ‘Pop!’ coming out, and I like the idea of the nation stringing bunting out of their windows to celebrate my little old booky-wook!

And Pop! is ever so topical this summer: Oil Refinery strikes, kids with Olympic dreams and Talent TV – it’s a hilarious and heartbreatking look at the impact of recession on UK children.

And it’s already getting rave reviews. ‘The Bookseller’ said, ‘Bruton proves herself a real rising star with this poignant, funny and very readable tale of three teenagers pursuing the talent show dream in the recession-hit North West. Wonderful contemporary storytelling with characters who really get under your skin ‘Pop!’ is ‘Billy Elliot’ meets ‘The X Factor’ via ‘Shameless’.’

And Guardian reviewer Anthony McGowan, who recently described me as, ‘One of the finest teen writers of recent years,’ kindly said, ‘ ‘We can be Heroes’ was a superb first novel but if anything I like ‘Pop!’ even more… beautiful, beautiful writing’

Eek – squeak! Only thirteen sleeps to go! I can’t wait!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Jubilympic Reading List

Calling all librarians, teachers and parents – is there a child in Britain not doing Jubilee/Olympics as their ‘topic’ in school this term? Both mine certainly are. There are some great non-fiction titles related to both these topics, but what if you are looking for fabulous ‘Jubilympic’ fiction for your little readers to get their teeth into?

Never fear – I’m here to help! I’ve compiled a list of fab ‘Jubilympic’ fiction titles for kiddiwinkles of all ages. And I have included my new novel ‘Pop!’ but only cos it’s about a boy with Olympic swimming dreams so it totally fits. Well, the Queen’s not in it. Perhaps she should be but I fear it’s too late to shoe-horn her in now! So, anyway, here we are – my ‘Jubilympic Reading List’ – for the nation’s children to enjoy! Happy Reading!

Oh, and thank you so much to everyone who helped me find all these brilliant book; I can’t claim to have read them all! Do feel free to drop me a line through the website if you think of any more and I’ll add them! Ta very much! Enjoy!


Jubilee Books

Picture books

The Queen’s Knickers- Nicholas Allen

A humorous story about a little girl who wonders what knickers the Queen will be wearing when she visits the school. As enjoyed by the Queen herself at a Norfolk nursery, this is an affectionate, charming classic that every child should share. And it’s available with a sparkly new cover for 2012!

Peppa Pig meets the Queen

Join your favourite slightly bossy little pig, as Peppa meets the Queen. A perfect storybook to share with your little piggies at home in celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee!

Katie in London James Mayhew

When Katie and her cousin Jack visit London with Grandma, they don’t think there’s much to see and do. At Trafalgar Square they meet a talking stone lion, and he takes them on a wonderful tour of the city taking in such sights as The Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and the London Eye!


5 – 9 years

The Queen’s Birthday Hat – Margaret Ryan

The Queen doesn’t want any fancy slippers or fancy necklaces for her birthday. What she’d really like is a new garden hat. The royal hatters make four special hats, but the Queen doesn’t like any of them. Then she spies the perfect garden hat on the donkey’s head.

The Queen’s Day off Sheila – May Bird

The Queen looks in her diary – and discovers she has nothing at all to do. She decides to take a day off from her busy duties and have lots of fun instead!

Horrid Henry Meets the Queen – Francesca Simon

A royal riot of a read starring tiny terror Horrid Henry. You might think that when the Queen pays a posh visit to Henry’s school, he would – just for once – manage to behave. How very wrong you would be…


Elizabeth the Jubilee Fairy – Daisy Meadows

Elizabeth the Jubilee Fairy makes sure that all jubilee celebrations are fun and magical! But when mean Jack Frost steals Elizabeth’s Diamond Sceptre, King Oberon and Queen Titania’s 1100th jubilee is sure to be a disaster. Can Kirsty and Rachel help Elizabeth find the sceptre so the royal couple can celebrate in style…?


The Queens’ Nose – Dick King Smith

Harmony’s uncle sends her on a treasure trail – which ends in finding a 50p piece. But the coin is a magic one, and when you rub the queen’s nose, your wishes will come true.

The BFG – Roald Dahl

I had to mention this one cos when the children of Britain are threatened by huge kiddy-munching giants, it’s down to a small girl called Sophie, the Big Friendly Giant, and Her Majesty the Queen to save them.


Ages 10 +

Two weeks with the Queen – Morris Gleitzman

When Luke gets cancer it seems to Colin that it is just another way of his little brother trying to get attention. But when Colin is sent to England he hatches a plot that will really make his mum and dad sit up and take notice. If he can just get to the Queen to ask if he can borrow the best doctor in the country then all will be we


Titus Rules – Dick King-Smith

Tells the humorous (and fictional) story of one of Queen Elizabeth II’s corgis, Titus, and his adventures while living in the palace.



Adult titles but which might be suitable for older readers


The Queen and I Sue Townsend

When a Republican party wins the General Election, their first act in power is to strip the royal family of their assets and titles and send them to live on a housing estate in the Midlands.

Exchanging Buckingham Palace for a two-bedroomed semi in Hell Close (as the locals dub it), caviar for boiled eggs, servants for a social worker named Trish, the Queen and her family learn what it means to be poor among the great unwashed. But is their breeding sufficient to allow them to rise above their changed circumstance or deep down are they really just like everyone else?

The Uncommon Reader – Allan Bennett

A humorous novella. When the Queen in pursuit of her wandering corgis stumbles upon a mobile library, she feels duty bound to borrow a book and discovers the pleasures of the written word.

The Autobiography of the Queen – Emma Tennant.

Faced with the loss of her beloved home, Balmoral, Queen Elizabeth II escapes alone to the Caribbean.

Death at Buckingham Palace : Her Majesty Investigates -C. C. Benison.

A novel in which — yes — Queen Elizabeth II plays detective! (Don’t you wonder if the queen reads these books?) Also Death at Sandringham Palace and Death at Balmoral!





Picture books

G is for Gold Medal – an Olympic Alphabet – Brad Herzog

Learn the meaning behind the five interlocking rings featured on the Olympic flag. Cheer on American Jim Thorpe as he won the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden, only to lose his medals later. Read how the man dubbed as the “world’s laziest high jumper” won the gold in 1968 and later had a jump named after him. All these moments and more are brought to life in G is for Gold Medal.

The Fairyland Olympics Meg Clibbon

Visually appealing to children with its delightful illustrations, this book is full of witty descriptions of Olympic events as performed by fairies. The centerfold depicts a complete fairy stadium with lots of detail to study, and kids are encouraged to use ideas from the book to stage their own backyard track-and-field events. A recipe for a healthy energy drink is provided for such an occasion, along with pull-out medals and trophies for award ceremonies at the end of the games.


Barbar’s Celestville Games Laurent de Brunhoff

Babar and his family are thrilled that Celesteville is hosting the Games! This is their chance to see the best athletes from all over the world compete and to meet new people from other countries. Everyone is wide-eyed as gymnasts fly through the air, divers make a splash, and cyclists race to the finish line! A grand tale about sportsmanship, love, and diversity.

P K and TK and the Special Olympics –Richard Hurley

While searching for a family of their own, P.K. and T.K. come across a broken-down school bus filled with children. The children are trying to make it to the Special Olympics on time so they can compete in the games! But with the bus breaking down, they need a small miracle in order to get achieve their dreams of being Olympic athletes. Determined to help, P.K. and T.K. devise a way to use their magical powers to help the children get to the Special Olympics. Will P.K. and T.K. get the children to the Olympics on time? A warm, heart-touching story about children helping other children achieve their dreams.


The Smurf Olympics – Peyo

Hefty Smurf loves to play sports, but he can’t get the other Smurfs to play with him. His solution – create the “Smurf Olympics”! The Smurfs divide themselves into two teams, all competing for the grand prize: a kiss from the Smurfette. But when one Smurf is turned down by both teams, he decides to compete on his own, throwing the entire games into chaos. Can one Smurf take on the entire Smurf Village? And can the two Smurf teams stop cheating long enough for the games to take place?



5 – 8 years


Olympic Adventure –Roderick Hunt

Another Biff Chip and Kipper Magic Key adventure from the Oxford Reading Tree series. The children find themselves transported to ancient Greece to the original Olympics.

Asterix goes to the Olympics – Rene Goskinny

Asterix, Obelix, and their friends have entered the famous Olympic games in Athens. They’re determined to taste victory, but the Gauls face formidable competition from both Greeks and Romans. Will it be a Gold Medal for Asterix? Or will he suffer the agony of defeat?

Ray’s Olympics – Libby Gleeson

Ray lied to the school bullies, and now he has to find a way into the Olympics before the Leary boys make mincemeat out of him.

Cows in Action – The Moo-lympic Games- Steve Cole

BEEFING UP THE OLYMPICS! Join Professor McMoo and his team on their exciting visit to ancient Greece. Genius cow Professor McMoo and his trusty sidekicks, Pat and Bo, are star agents of the C.I.A. – short for COWS IN ACTION! They travel through time, fighting evil bulls from the future and keeping history on the right track . . .

When Pat and Bo are cow-napped and taken to ancient Greece, McMoo discovers two ultra strong ter-moo-nators planning the biggest time crime ever. Battling evil ox athletes, strange cow-gods and deadly dung beetles, the C.I.A. must take part in the craziest Olympics in history – and if they can’t win, evil cattle will take over the world!

Dinosaur Olympics – Jeanne Willis

Darwin, the young stegosaurus, and his family are throwing a great party, when it is gate-crashed by T Rex Flint Beastwood and his scary gang. Will war break out between the dinosaurs or can Boris, the Mayor, bring peace with the brilliant idea of … the Olympic Games? Find out in Dinosaur Olympics, the first in a brilliantly funny new series from Jeanne Willis and Arthur Robins. With a cast of fantastically funny dinosaur characters, madcap adventures galore and a dino-mayor who will look very familiar to grown ups, Dinosaur Olympics is set to be a smash hit!

Steve Voakes – Hooey Higgins goes for Gold

Like cheese? Like champions? Like to see the Cheese of Champions? Read this book and you … might!


Olympia the games fairy – Daisy Meadows

Kirsty and Rachel are on an exciting day out to watch a triathlon – a three-part race where the athletes have to swim, cycle and run. But when the competitors start swimming round in circles, it’s clear that all is not well. Olympia the Games Fairy appears and explains that Jack Frost has stolen the three magical items which she needs to make sure the Fairyland Games, which are also on at the moment, run smoothly. Without them, both the human and fairyland games are doomed to chaos!


Sam and Ruby’s Olympic adventure – Tony Bradman

Ruby and Sam are given an ultimatum by their teacher: either they present a project on the Olympic Games or will not be allowed to go on their school trip. Creating a time machine, using Sam’s spare wheelchair, they travel from the beginning of the Olympics in Athens to the Beijing Olympics of 2008. Exciting story which presents the history of the Olympic Games in a fun format.


Danny Baker’s Silly Olympics: The Wibbly Wobbly Jelly Belly Flop and Four Other Brilliantly Bonkers Stories! Steve Hartley

A bumper bind-up of the first two hilarious DANNY BAKER stories (THE WORLD’S BIGGEST BOGEY and THE WORLD’S AWESOMEST AIR-BARF) plus a sensational new story THE SILLY OLYMPICS! (100% Unofficial!). Cheer Danny and his friends on as they bravely attempt to break the World Record for Jelly Belly Flopping, Custard Pie Flinging and Picking Up Baked Beans While Wearing Boxing Gloves! The competition is tough, but Danny is determined to hop, skip and boing his way to a gold medal (and a new World Record!).



Age 9 +

Running in her Shadow – Robert Rigby

A gifted track and field athlete, Megan Morgan has all the makings of an [Olympic] superstar. Whether sprinting, jumping or hurdling, her body moves like quicksilver and her sporting dreams look set to become reality. Backing Megan all the way is her determined mother. A promising athlete in her youth, she will not rest until her daughter competes for Team GB. But where is the line between love and obsession? And how much pressure can Megan withstand?

Pop! Catherine Bruton

Jimmy Wigmore’s dream is to swim for Great Britain at the Olympics. Or is that his dad’s dream? His best mate Elfie reckons Jimmy’s got chlorine on the brain and she comes up with a way better plan to rescue them from their tragically messed up lives – they’ll enter a TV Talent contest! It doesn’t matter that Jimmy can’t sing and that they have to lie about their ages – and loads of other stuff too – or that Jimmy’s dad is totally going to kill him if he messes up his chance to get into the Olympic target squad, when Elfie comes up with a plan there’s no stopping her. And maybe there is more to life than swimming after all. Maybe…Funny and heart-warming. Perfect for fans of Frank Cottrell Boyce.


Rush for Gold – Mystery at the Olympics. John Feinstein

Bestselling sportswriter and Edgar Award winner John Feinstein is back with another sports mystery featuring Stevie Thomas and Susan Carol Anderson—this one set at the summer Olympics in London. In this book, Susan Carol isn’t a reporter—she’s an Olympian, competing as a swimmer at her first Olympic games. Stevie is both proud and envious of her athletic prowess. And he’s worried by the agents and sponsors and media all wanting to get up close and personal with Susan Carol. But the more disturbing question becomes—how far might they go to ensure that America’s newest Olympic darling wins gold?


Parallel Lines Robert Rigby

Blessed with twin talents, Sam Warder appears to have it all. A lightning-fast scrum-half on the rugby pitch, he also performs feats of strength and agility on the parallel bars. But the London 2012 Games are approaching and Sam is at a crossroads. Flying in the face of peer pressure, he chooses Gymnastics as his sport. And then the threatening text messages begin…Can Sam hold fast to his Olympic odyssey in a school where rugby is a religion?

Olympic Mind Games- Robert Ronnson

In 2012 – Britain is gripped by Olympic Games fever, the world has a climate crisis, and his twin sister is an Olympic swimming sensation, but 13-year-old Jack Donovan has something much more worrying on his mind. A sinister face from Jack’s nightmare has appeared as a game icon on his computer and he is convinced a superior intelligence is responsible. The supposedly simple computer game becomes hypnotic and draws him in, totally. Someone or something is playing mind games…Hiding out in the safest place in the UK – London’s Olympic Village – Jack is fighting a force committed to global destruction.


Deep Waters Robert Rigby

Lucy Chambers lives to swim. Tipped as a future Paralympian, she has watched the Aquatics Centre rise up near her London home and hopes to make a real splash there in 2012. But the ripples of Lucy’s success have reached her mother, Sarah, who rejected her soon after she was born. Both mother and daughter share a passion for swimming – but is now the right time to start sharing in each other’s lives? For Lucy, the waters have never been deeper…


The Champion Maker – Kevin Joseph

In an unprecedented quest for Olympic gold in both the 100 and 1500 meters, a troubled track coach and his young protege uncover a shocking conspiracy. With its blend of cutting-edge science, legal intrigue and conspiracy elements, this timely thriller will delight fans of suspense and sports fiction alike.


Wheels on Fire Robert Rigby

Rory Temu is unstoppable on his battered BMX. Weaving and dodging though the Edinburgh streets, there’s no obstacle he won’t tackle. Such brilliance on a bike could take Rory far – maybe even to Olympic heights, so his teacher believes. But a gang on the streets has been watching too – and the members have their own plans for Rory’s talents. Rory has a gift and he knows it, but can he keep his balance over such rough terrain?


Olympic Poems


Olympic Poems – 100% unofficial- Roger Stevens

A brilliant, funny, inspiring collection of poems about sport and sporting events of every kind from PE lessons to sports day to the final of the men’s 100m race.

. There are poems about winning, and about taking part; poems about having all the right kit, but no talent; poems that show that it if you are at school being the best egg and spoon racer really is as important to your mum and dad as being an Olympic athlete; poems about being a team player and poems about being an individual hero. In fact, this book is packed with sporting gems of all kinds.


When Granny won Olympic Gold Graham Denton

Following the same successful formula as The Secret Life of Pants, Let’s Recycle Grandad, and My Cat is in Love with the Goldfish, When Granny Won Olympic Gold is a lively collection of poetry for 8-12 year olds. It includes plenty of humorous rhymes along with some moving and thought-provoking poems, and features all kinds of writing styles – from haiku to limericks. The collection is publishing at a perfect time to build on the increased interest in all things Olympic in the lead-up to 2012 London Olympics. A collection of medal-winning sports poems that children will love.








Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment