My five favourite books are all relatively different from one another, and have all touched and influenced me in their own way.
1. Malory Towers (series), by Enid Blyton As a child I was an Enid Blyton fanatic. She was the key person who made me want to become an author, and I still have a large collection of her books out on my shelf today, ready to pass onto my daughter when she is old enough. My favourite of all her books has to be the Malory Towers series, which I could not put down between the ages of around 8 and 12, and still occasionally indulge in now. It portrayed school as something fun and exciting and was teeming with lessons for life, although I never felt lectured at. I have always been more interested in realistic fiction rather than fantasy, even from an early age, so this was right up my street.
2. Harry Potter (series), by J.K.Rowling True, as mentioned above I am much more into realistic fiction than fantasy, but remove the wand twirling and dragons from the Harry Potter series and you do have a pretty genuine look at the everyday troubles and triumphs of teenage life. I love how accurately Rowling portrays the feelings and actions of her characters - jealousy, love, grief, feeling overshadowed by others. No-one is one-sided in the books. She ensures that the villains are given enough history to show why they behave the way they do, and many show glimpses of remorse throughout the books. In the same vein, none of her heroes are all shiny and nice either; she cleverly depicts the multiple sided nature of humanity. And on top of all that, I adore the intricate plot lines that weave throughout the series, where something you thought was irrelevant in book 2 suddenly becomes of extreme importance in book 6.
3. A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini Moving to a much more adult style of book, one of my all time favourite books has to be A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini. I adore to learn about other ways of life in my reading, and found this to give a wonderful insight into life in Afghanistan across a wide period of recent history. The book is honest, sometimes to the point of brutality, and is extremely well-written, bearing in mind the author is a male telling the inside story of two women.
4. Q and A, by Vikas Swarup Better known as 'Slumdog Millionaire' after the hit film by Danny Boyle, this book is yet another that gives an open look at life in another culture, and is again honest and at times difficult to read, but allows the reader into a lifestyle they may otherwise be unaware of. Despite having the same background idea, the book and the film are almost incomparable in their plot and structure, even as far as the main character's name. Both have a place in my heart, but the book really opens you out to a wide range of experiences, and glimpses at a much larger portfolio of Indian life than the film.
5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins I won't lie and pretend to be a fan of the whole trilogy. In all honesty I struggled to get through the third book of the series, forcing myself to do so in respect for the first (and to some extent, second) book. What I loved most about this book, and what has stuck with me when considering my own work, is how excellent the opening paragraph is. It is only five short sentences, but provides the reader with the whole set up for the story, and introduces intrigue and a will to read on. One of the best openers I have read. The rest of the book is quickly paced and as excellently written as the introducing paragraph would suggest.
What inspired you to write your latest novel?
I have always had a passion for autism, and for those with the condition to be treated with respect and understanding. I wanted to show in my novel 'Those Who Will Not See' that, although the condition can be debilitating in some ways, it does not rule out a happy and fulfilling life, and that even the seemingly impossible can be achieved with the right attitudes and support.
What are you working on at the moment?
The book I am currently working on takes a look at friendship, love and sacrifice, and is aimed at a Young Adult audience. It is in the very early stages of development so I won't say any more here! I am in the habit of changing my stories quite significantly as I work my way through them.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I am a very busy lady at the moment, with a full-time job, a two year old, and another baby on the way. However, I try to keep on top of my work as a writer, and devote as much time as I can to developing myself in this area. Fortunately, the actual process of writing is a lot of fun and so rewarding that it can almost be classed as relaxation time - in the early stages of novel development at least!
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
There have been many, many, many stories over the years! One of the first would have to be 'Balloon Man and Sally', which told the rather inspiring story of a young man with a balloon for a head who had to save the life of his girlfriend Sally on numerous occasions. I think I was about ten when I wrote (and illustrated!!) this. Surprisingly, it never achieved acclaim in the literary world, I struggle to understand why.
My first full length 'novel', if you can call it that, was a teenage love story titled, 'Take a Chance on Me', for which I saved up months of newspaper tokens to enable me to get it printed and bound into an actual, real-life (sort of) book. I was seventeen at the time and wrote it on a spiral bound notepad in the college library...and then spent the entire summer holidays typing it up.
What is your writing process?
I am not a detailed planner, but also struggle with the 'flying by the seat of your pants' method. This was the way 'Those Who Will Not See' was initially written, and it only took a month to get everything down on paper, but then a further two years of editing to get it to a point where there was some level of structure and sense to it.
I now go for an approach somewhere between the two extremes. I try to produce a neat outline with a general idea of how the chapters will flow and what will happen when, but allow the intricate details to fall onto the page as I type. For me, writing a story is a little like reading one, and if I knew exactly what would happen in every paragraph I would never find the will to carry on and get the job done.
What do you like to read for pleasure?
In general, I like to read current, realistic novels that provide an insight into another way of life and/or culture. However, I sometimes surprise myself with how much I enjoy something that is a little (or very) outside of my usual reading range. I also have to admit chick lit is often a guilty pleasure of mine - particularly playing in the car on the long commute to work. Especially if it is genuinely funny. I like books that make me laugh.
Describe your desk
My writing space is often how and where I feel most comfortable and inspired at the time. Although I do have a desk, this tends to be reserved for the more administrative side of things. I wrote most of my first novel on a tiny circular coffee table in our living room while watching my sleeping baby in her rocking chair.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
For me, it is being able to explore worlds and situations that are not always open to you, and to have the power to take a scene into any direction you desire. I enjoy researching and learning about various things to put into my work, and considering how all the pieces can fit together
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