How did you get started writing?
I was always writing as a child. I think if you read a lot that can often lead to writing, because you’re used to seeing ideas play out in print versus some other medium. I started reading at a very early age and I started writing early, too. (This is a nice way of saying that I was that daydreamy kid with her head permanently in the clouds, yep.)
How did you get published?
Short version: I sent my work to a publisher.
Long version: I sent a sample and a synopsis to a publisher which I knew had published work similar to what I’d written (i.e. books for young teenagers) very recently. This was after I had edited and revised the book. (Yes, I was twelve at the time. Yes, I realise this is slightly weird. Oh, well.) This was in the late 1990s (yikes), so here’s some advice for people looking to get published now:
- Whether you’re submitting to publishers yourself (some Irish and UK publishers will still deal directly with authors), or looking for an agent to handle things (they take c.15-20% of your royalties but tend to be well worth it), do your homework. Make sure they’re interested in the genre you write in, or the age group you write for. Only send them on what they’ve asked for – usually a synopsis or summary of some kind, plus a sample. A small percentage of places want the full manuscript up front (for email submissions), but for almost everywhere the rule is not to send on the full thing unless someone replies to you and asks for it.
- The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook comes out every year, listing publishers, agents and all that sort of stuff. Invest in this year’s copy – there’s also a separate edition for children’s writers (including YA). Also find out which agents represent your favourite authors in the genre/field you write in. Websites like QueryTracker or Literary Rambles are also useful, though they can be a little US-centric. This is a useful list of UK agents for children’s books. Double-check any information against the agency’s own website (as policies and people can change) before you submit.
- For poetry and short stories, it’s usually a good idea to submit to magazines, anthologies and competitions before seeking publication in book format. Debut collections are notoriously difficult to sell anyway, but when they do, the author almost always has published work in literary journals and magazines beforehand.
- Before you send off work, finish it (yes, really) and revise it (not just fixing the typos). Getting feedback from someone else, ideally someone who reads a lot and can articulate their thoughts on a book, can be immensely useful at this stage. Resist the urge to send work out the second you’ve typed the last line.
Do you get to design the covers? Why do some of the books have two covers?
I’m a writer, not an artist. Publishing a book involves a whole lot of people, including the people who design the covers.
Some of the books get a new cover after a couple of years because trends change and they need an ‘updated’ look, or so that old titles can have a similar look to new ones.
How long does it take to write a book?
It takes as long as it takes. (Alternatively: it takes as long as the distance between Point A – the moment you start writing – and Point B – the deadline.) I am in awe of those people who can write books super-quickly and those people who can devote years to one project. I’m somewhere in the middle. In the past first drafts have taken me anywhere between three weeks and eighteen months. I’ve found that about six months works best for me, though – time to write, time to revise, time for real life to get in the way. But it really depends on the book.
Do you use an outline?
Sort of. I don’t outline every scene or any chapter, nothing like that, but I do have an idea of where I’m going. I keep a lot of notes about scenes and sentences that I want to include in something when I’m writing it.
Do you base your characters on yourself, or people you know?
Nope. Well. Not really. Obviously there are some similarities, and your own life, and the people you know, influence and colour your writing, but “writing what you know” doesn’t mean writing an autobiography. It means using your experience to write about things that are emotionally true, things that you can imagine happening, and writing about people that are realistic characters because they’ve been informed by – but not directly based upon – the people you encounter in your life.
Plus, if I admit to basing characters on specific people, I’ll be in serious trouble! But what normally happens with fiction is that even when you start off with a character who sort-of resembles someone in your life, you end up taking them in a completely different direction. It’s fiction, not a memoir.
What advice do you have for people who want to write?
Check out the writing tips section. The big one, though, is: read. Read. Read.
If you are a teen who writes, you might also be interested in my Dos and Don’ts for Teens Who Write post.
What advice do you have for people who want to write for teens?
Check out this piece I wrote for writing.ie about writing teen fiction, and my ‘Getting In Touch With Your Inner Teen’ blog posts (part one and part two).
What kind of books do you read?
I have a list of the things I like in books here, and some of my favourite books of all time include these. And that’s not a complete list. How on earth people can pick one favourite book I’ll never know. Babblings concerning books I’ve recently can be found here on the blog, and I also review for Inis magazine sometimes.
Can you come to my school/library for a visit/talk/workshop?
Yes! Depends on the time of year and other commitments, but I do love author visits. Click here. Students: your English teacher, school librarian, or Year Head is usually the person to talk to if you’re interested in having me come to your school. Even if you’re organising it yourselves, make sure to liaise with one of them.
When’s your next book out? And what’s it called? And what’s it about?
Every Summer is out now!
I’m working on my next book at the moment – stay tuned for further details.
Are you going to keep writing for a teenage audience or do you want to write for grown-ups?
I love writing for teenagers. And I’m still in my
early mid late 20s… okay, adolescence is less familiar territory than it once was. But I think teenagers are a great audience to write for, and I also have a tremendous love for YA fiction – there’s so, so much good stuff out there.
That being said, there are a couple more things I’d like to try my hand at. We’ll see.
Do you ever think you’ll write [insert genre here]?
Never say never. There are some things I would love to try, especially historical fiction (four years of academic history will do that to you) and science fiction, but we’ll see.
Which of your books is your favourite?
This is always a tough question. As a writer you need to be the most excited about the book you’re working on at that particular point in time, or the one you’re about to start – so it’s usually that one, untitled or provisionally-titled and months or years away from the bookshelves. I will say that I am especially fond of Stereotype and Good Girls Don’t because of the kind of reader response they’ve received. And my favourite romance plot is the one in That Girl.