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Describe yourself in three words.
Prone. To. Cheating. :P
Oh, all right then:
Dorky. Obsessive. Verbose.
What’s Big Woo/Serafina67 all about then?
Serafina67 is a 15-year-old with a kind of messy life. Her parents have split up, her far-far-away dad’s marrying a Monster, and her mum has arranged for her to see Crazy Pete: Brain Prodder to check if she’s actually gone mental instead of just a bit emo. She’s not quite sure who her friends are, she’s sort of in love (when you meet patchworkboy, you’ll get why), and then there are exams and gigs and hair dye and weirdo internet friends and being nearly 16 and omg, just, stuff. So she sets herself this ‘Happiness Deadline’, where she has to achieve all the things on her list by a certain date in order to be happy.
The whole book is written like a blog, so we only know what serafina chooses to tell us, and we only get to know her friends from the conversations they have online.
It’s ‘Laugh-out-loud funny, stunningly authentic and totally original.’ (I didn’t write that bit: my head’s not that big.) Allegedly it made some people cry. Hopefully it might make you chuckle, anyway.
Why are there two different covers?
Big Woo is the book’s title in the UK (black ‘laptopgirl’ cover): Serafina67 is the US edition (pink cover, out in hardback August 08). The US version is pretty much the same as the UK one, but there’s a little glossary at the back to explain the difference between pants and trousers and that sort of thing.
Is serafina based on anyone you know?
Serafina isn’t based on any one person: she’s got elements of one of my nieces, and other teenagers I know, plus some bits of me when I was that age, and the rest is just what comes along when you create a character. The same goes for the rest of them. Although my sister is convinced that patchworkboy is based on her son…
Why write a blog novel?
They say ‘write what you know’ - and I’m a big internet geek. There’s always a lot in the press about the dangers of the internet, the nasty stories about kids being groomed in chatrooms and so on, and I wanted to explore blogging and social networking in a more balanced way: to show the positives too, the reasons why so many of us live half our lives online. It throws up loads of questions about trying to find your real identity, which is such a huge thing when you’re a teenager. Plus I liked the idea of the writing challenge: whether you could actually tell a story, or create distinct characters, without all the descriptions and so on you usually get in a novel.
How did you get into blogging/social networking?
Virginia Woolf. No, seriously! I was doing research for a doctoral thesis on popular representations of Woolf: it was the early days of social networking, all on forums and messageboards, but I was really intrigued by the close relationships these online friends seemed to form. The technology’s moved on, but the same issues come up, about privacy, intimacy, creating a virtual persona. (Alas, the thesis is still in my airing cupboard, not quite finished. Curse you, internets! *shakes fist*)
When did you decide to become a writer?
I remember being 7 years old, and sternly making myself promise that Future Me would write children’s books, rather than any other kind - as if being a writer was a given, somehow. I don’t think I ever seriously considered anything else when I was growing up, to be honest.
What else have you written?
Awful poetry, multiple unfinished novels, excruciating short stories, terrible tv scripts: the concept of VTNs didn’t come from nowhere! All of these are of course safely stowed under my bed, or got sent to the Recycle Bin years ago.
I have published before: my first book, Whump!…in which Bill falls 632 miles down a manhole, won the BBC Talent Children’s Fiction Prize and came out in 2004. It’s very different from serafina’s story, though: a fantasy adventure for 8-12s, in which the aforementioned manhole hurls hapless hero Bill into the company of a princess, an elph, a Quxynggrotly, and a rather brainy antelope, all hotly pursued by evil supervillain The Great Spondozo. It’s out of print now, so good luck finding a copy!
What are you writing now?
My next book isn’t a blog-novel, but the internet and how we use it is still a huge part of the plot - and there’s another smart-yet-daft heroine at the centre, of course. It’s about cups of tea, secrets, and imaginary boyfriends. I can’t give away the real title, but if you see me talking about ‘Biscuits and Lies’ on my blog, that’s the one.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Read. Think. Write. Repeat.
I officially hate this question: different day, different answer. My favourite YA novel is probably The Changeover by Margaret Mahy: sort of a supernatural romance, but a million times cleverer than that sounds.
My three older sisters gave me an eclectic musical education: one liked everything from Bowie to Barry Manilow: one was a huge Duran Duran fan: one introduced me to The Smiths. I remain a 90s indiekid, and still regard my Ned’s Atomic Dustbin t-shirt fondly, but I’m a bit more open to ridiculous pop these days. Favourite band would probably have to be The Auteurs.
North by Northwest: I loves me some Hitchcock. Closely followed by The Empire Strikes Back.
What question do you wish you’d been asked instead of all these others?
How do you make the perfect bacon sandwich? (Please provide sample.)
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