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YA Shot Book Tour - interview with Hilary Freeman

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Hello! Welcome to my blog if you've never been before, and hello to any previous readers too of course. I'm thrilled to be part of the YA Shot Book Tour today, because I'm really excited about the event in a couple of weeks. I had a really great time last year, and I bet this year will be even bigger and better!

I was pleased to be paired with Hilary Freeman for this because I really liked When I Was Me when I read it last year. I've got a couple of more of her books which I'll have to get around to soon! I asked Hilary if she would mind answering some questions for my blog, and she said that would be fine. I thought about the types of questions I'd like the answer to as both a reader of YA and as a writer of it too. I hope that you like the things I asked!

Firstly, can you tell me a little bit about your writing career? How did you get started? What have you had published?
My publishing story is a very unusual one. I’ve been a journalist and agony aunt for many years and, in 1995, I was agony aunt for CosmoGirl! magazine – Cosmopolitan’s younger sister mag for teenagers, which sadly doesn’t exist anymore. The features editor asked whether I’d be interested in writing a novel because Piccadilly Press (who were bringing out a series of love stories imprinted with the Cosmogirl! logo) had asked for writer recommendations. I jumped at the chance, as I’ve always written creatively and wanted to write a novel, but I’d never had the confidence to complete one or submit it. So I wrote a few plot ideas and submitted them to Brenda Gardner, the then publisher at Piccadilly. She liked one of them and asked me to develop it, and then commissioned the novel based on a few chapters and a synopsis/chapter breakdown. That book, Loving Danny, about a tortuous relationship between a girl on her gap year and a troubled musician, came out in 2006. In the meantime I got an agent. So I did things in reverse!

Since then, I’ve had six more books published: Don’t Ask, Lifted, the three-book Camden Town Tales series, and my most recent book, When I was Me, which was published by Hot Key in 2015. I’ve never had to write anything entirely on spec, and I’ve never had a book rejected, which I know makes me incredibly lucky. I feel grateful for that every day. Being a journalist is very good training for writing novels because you instinctively know what’s important in the story and cut out all the flab. Plus, it makes you very good at meeting deadlines and turning things around fast, and not being precious about your copy because you’re used to being edited.

Do you write anything other than prose? What is your favourite form?
I used to write poetry when I was a teenager but it was pretty bad, and I haven’t written any for years. I have written the odd short story (one of which was published in an anthology put together by Arsenal Football Club). Of course, I also write lots of articles for newspapers and magazines and websites. And texts. And emails. And, occasionally, tweets.

Do you write for adults as well as young people? Why/why not?
I am currently working on an adult idea, which will hopefully turn into a full-length novel sometime in the near future. I don’t see a great deal of difference between writing for adults and writing for young people, and there’s no reason why you can’t do both. It’s just about understanding your readership and focusing on the things that matter to them. A good story is a good story, and good writing is good writing. Really, the only difference is what readers are interested in e.g. a teenage girl would usually rather read a book about a girl her own age than about a 90-year-old man.

What’s great about writing for young people? What’s bad about it?
The great thing about writing for young people is that you have the opportunity to make a real difference in their lives. I’ve had incredible emails from readers who’ve told me how my books have helped or inspired them. And young people tend to be very vocal about what they do and don’t like – they either love something, or hate it, but it’s rare that they don’t care. So you get a lot of feedback.
What’s bad about it? Only a few books get a lot of publicity (most of them American) and there’s not enough YA shelf space in bookshops, so it’s hard for people to find out about your books.

What are some of your favourite YA books? Are they like yours?
I still remember books from when I was a teenager, especially Judy Blume’s. These days, I enjoy all kinds of YA books, some of them contemporary (like mine) - such as Starring Kitty by Keris Stainton, Crush by Eve Ainsworth, Keren David’s This is Not a Love Story and Still Falling by Sheena Wilkinson, or with a historical twist like Rhian Ivory’s The Boy who Drew the Future - and some more dystopian, like Bryony Pierce’s Phoenix Rising series, Emma Pass’s The Fearless and Kerry Drewery’s Cell 7. There is so much good UKYA literature out there.

What’s your favourite novel – if you HAD to choose?
That’s a bit of an impossible one to answer, but a book called Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman would come close. Each chapter imagines a dream that scientist Albert Einstein had while he was working on his theory of relativity. It’s about time, the universe and everything. I read it many years ago and, subconsciously, it probably inspired When I was Me.

I really loved When I Was Me and thought it was a really interesting premise for a novel. Can you tell me a bit about the inspiration behind it?
Thank you. I’m not sure exactly when the idea came to me, or what the inspiration was (there wasn’t one ‘Eureka!’ moment) but I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of parallel universes, and I studied philosophy at university. It was the 100th anniversary of Kafka’s Metamorphosis last year, and hearing about that coming up might have sparked my imagination. Instead of waking up as a giant insect, why not waking up as a girl, but not the girl you recognise, or were before?

I think the big preoccupation for most teenagers is identity - Who am I? Do I fit in? Where am I going? What’s wrong with me? Why does no-one understand me? – and the idea of a girl waking up and finding herself in another life seemed like a really interesting way of exploring that.

Ella was a very real teenaged character – can you tell me a little about her?
Thank you. Which Ella do you mean? The one in the original universe or the new one she finds herself in? Which is the real Ella? Is either of them the real Ella? Or are they both? And, of course, being in the new universe starts to change the Ella we first meet. That will be very confusing for anyone who hasn’t read the book yet!

Like all my characters, she’s based a little bit on me (I am still a teenager in my head, even if I don’t look it on the outside), and how I felt when I was 17. She is very mixed up and torn between fitting in and being cool and having fun, and being quite studious and wanting to do things/be with people that make her happy. She’s very bright but easily led and she doesn’t have much confidence. Her parents’ divorce has affected her quite badly.

What are you working on now? What does your weekly writing life look like?
I had a baby last year and so my weekly writing life is now very limited. It mostly consists of writing a sentence, then jumping up and shouting ‘No Sidonie, no!’ or ‘Take that out your mouth’ or ‘Don’t go in there!’ I am itching to get on with writing a new book. I have several ideas on the go, so watch this space….

Thank you so much to Hilary and I'll look forward to meeting you at YA Shot!

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