The central character in your new book, Hope has a lot to deal with in her life, how did you avoid the book becoming an ‘issues’ book?
When I was writing it I didn’t think of it as an issue book at all. It’s only when readers point out how many different topics/issues are covered in Hope that I realise how many areas the story covers. It took me a while to realise what Hope’s health problems were so I didn’t set out to write a book about grief or PMDD, I set out to write a book about a girl who is in limbo, without a plan B and completely lost.
There are a number of different themes in the book, did you have to do a lot of research?
I did. Once I saw Singing Medicine on Children in Need I knew I wanted to write about them, but I didn’t intend for Birmingham Children’s Hospital and the SM team to become such a huge part of Hope’s story. I spent time with the team, shadowing them in the hospital, interviewing them about their role and researching them on line. I met a lot of patients, parents and hospital staff and Readathon/ Readwell UK and how they work in the hospital with the children. I read a lot of organ donor stories on line and again the hospital were very helpful and accommodating in this area, sharing with me how the organ donor process works.
As a theatre studies teacher I knew quite a bit about the drama school auditioning process and auditioned myself when I was Hope’s age.
Was there any one thing that gave you a way in to the character of Hope?
Yes, her voice and music. I knew she had a very deep contralto voice and it was easy to imagine who she would listen to. I wrote to Nina Simone, Tracy Chapman, Ella Fitzgerald, Adele, Amy Winehouse, Lana del Ray, Billie Holiday. Once I got her singing voice in my head it was easy to find her speaking voice.
Do you have a favourite scene in the book? Tell us about it.
Nonno climbing down the cliff face to sing on the beach in front of Merlin’s cave with a group of Italian singers. I loved writing Nonno and exploring his relationship with Hope and their connection through singing and performance. I also liked writing Callie and Hope’s scene with the Hope chest and the song Hope writes for Callie. I sat and sang the song over and over trying to get Hope’s voice right and create lyrics which summed up Hope and Callie’s relationship.
Your last book The Boy Who Drew the Future was a supernatural thriller, while Hope is very much set in the real world. Do you have a preference for either genre, and what are the particular challenges in each for writers?
I love reading supernatural and historical, anything by Sarah Perry, Hilary Mantel, Barbara Erskine and Hannah Kent but Hope popped into my head one day when I was editing The Boy Who Drew the Future and wouldn’t leave. Hers was a contemporary story and in many ways more straight forward than writing The Boy Who Drew the Future because I had one voice, one timeline and one story to tell. I don’t think I have a preference for writing, I’ve got another contemporary which comes out next Autumn although there are echoes of historical there in the content, after that another contemporary and after that (I like to plan ahead!) another historical.
You teach creative writing. What’s the best piece of advice you can give would-be authors?
Easy! Listen to your writing, so either record yourself on a Dictaphone and play it back or better still use the text-to-speech function on a Kindle and hear your work-in-progress like an audiobook. I listen once, then listen again and make notes, then rewrite, then listen again. It’s best to select a reading voice which is nothing like yours, I usually switch accents and genders to hear the story through as many different voices as possible.
Hope is published by Firefly, £7.99 pbk.