It’s the story that chooses me, and not all my books are for young adults. I tell each one as it needs to be told. But I enjoy writing books that engage with the real world and its complexities – and young adults are a wonderful audience for that kind of story-telling.
2) Is there an author, living or dead, who inspired you particularly?
Oh, there are hundreds! But Peter Dickinson’s books, in particular, have always spurred me on to take risks and try new things. I especially admire his books Tulku, The Kin and Eva. Writing about different things, in different ways, is not necessarily a wise move for writers who want to be well-known – much more prudent to have an easily recognisable trademark – but it makes life exciting and challenging. I only wish I did it as well as Peter Dickinson!
3) Please, tell us about your last book and, if you can, about your future
My most recently published book is Where I Belong, which tells the story of three teenagers, two Somali and one English, who are brought together first by high fashion (the English girl’s mother is a major fashion designer) and then by a frightening, violent kidnap. The story is set partly in England and partly in Somalia. I did a lot of research for it and writing the book made me realise how closely we’re all linked together these days, no matter where we live.
My next book will be about two boys who are refugees – from England. Like lots of other people, I look at news items about refugee camps and think: Suppose it happened here? Suppose it was me? This book, which will be called After Tomorrow, is a story about that and I’ve tried to make it as realistic as possible.
4) How was your writing journey? Was it difficult to find an agent and get
It took me about five years to get my first novels published. I’d written five books by that time. I didn’t approach any agents, because there were very few then who dealt with books for young people. I sent my books directly to publishers and when the breakthrough came I had two books accepted, by different publishers, in the same week. That was very exciting!
For many years I didn’t have an agent at all. But about ten years ago publishing started to become much more complicated and I’m now delighted to have an agent who understands the business much better than I do.
5) What’s your opinion about this E-book revolution? Would you consider
the indie route?
I’m comfortable reading books electronically. I appreciate the ease of finding and downloading them and I’m sure fiction will evolve in exciting ways as new possibilities are exploited.
But E doesn’t necessarily equal indie. I think we often under-value the work that publishers do in encouraging authors and egging them on to do better. I’d hate to see that go. Publishing is bound to change, but something precious will be lost if publishers disappear. And I don’t think they will. People are already setting up businesses which prepare books for ‘indie’ publication and I’m sure these businesses – the good ones – will develop the kind of editorial scrutiny and encouragement that contributes such a lot to traditional publishing.
6) Nowadays many publishers expect their authors to use social media a lot
to promote their books. Many authors, on the other hand, would prefer to
write only, without being distracted by digital trivialities: what are
I’m impressed by people who can be genuinely interesting/funny/creative on social media. For them, I’m sure it’s valuable. But it’s a different kind of creativity from telling stories. Writing well is hard anyway. If we make writers jump through too many extra hoops, we might miss out on some really great books.
Most people actually find self-promotion difficult. They’re more comfortable enthusing about what they’ve read and enjoyed. Maybe we should all be tweeting about each other’s books!
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