The Truth about Celia Frost is a total page turner and kept me on the edge of my seat the whole way through! Where did you get the inspiration to write this exciting story?
Thanks Leanna, it’s great to hear that it kept you on the edge of your seat! My inspiration really came from holding onto the idea of what kind of story I wanted to write. This is my first novel and I knew that I wanted to try to write something for Young Adults that would be gripping, entertaining and, hopefully thought provoking.
Then, even before any plot emerged, the characters of Celia and Janice Frost came to me so vividly that straight away I knew what made them like this. I realized that there was something about Celia that her mother wasn’t telling her and from that point the plot started to emerge and evolve.
In addition to containing a mystery that kept me guessing throughout the book, you deal with a lot of hard hitting and topical issues in The Truth about Celia Frost such as medical ethics and gang violence. What kind of research did you undertake for the book and can you discuss the importance of highlighting such issues in YA literature?
I felt it was important to write an entertaining book that also had something to say. Believe me, I thought long and hard before deciding to tackle the ethical issue that emerges in the book. I spent a lot of time researching and considering the kind of scenario I present. Ethical issues, by their very nature, are often highly charged, complex and uncomfortable but I see this as a reason for me and young adults to engage with them and not to shy away from them. We live in an era when science is able to do many things but the ethical and philosophical question is, just because we are capable of doing these things, is it right to? These issues may well touch our lives so it’s never too soon to start thinking about them.
As far as gang violence is concerned I created the Bluebell Estate in the novel as the kind of environment where people feel like they’ve been forgotten and have little to aspire to. The kind of place where gang’s thrive and young people are easily led into trouble. However, Sol (Celia’s friend) is a lad who is doing his best to stay away from trouble (even if it does mean bunking off school) and has rejected the gang culture. At one point in the story a gang leader taunts him for not being man enough to join a gang but what we see in Sol is that quite the opposite is true- joining a gang is the easy option, Sol has chosen the much harder way by refusing to be part of it.
I’m always interested in hearing about authors paths to publication. Everyone has a different story to tell, and I’ve heard some interesting tales! Tell me a little about your path to publication. How does it feel to be a soon to be published author?
My path to publication has seemed like a bit of a fairy tale and I’m still pinching myself! I wrote the first draft of The Truth about Celia Frost and then was pathetically slow about sending it out to agents. Then one day, I was looking on the internet and found the website for The Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators British Isles (SCBWI). I noticed that they were running a competition called Undiscovered Voices 2010. You had to have written a book for children but not be published or agented yet. Well, I definitely fitted the bill, so I submitted the first two chapters of my thriller to Undiscovered Voices. A few months later, to my utter amazement and delight, I received a phone call telling me I was a winner!
The prize was to have your novel extract included in an anthology of winners and sent out to every publisher and agent in the U.K. The judging panel for ‘UV’ comprised of publishers and agents. Jo Unwin of Conville and Walsh was one of these agents. She’d loved my extract and asked to read the full manuscript. Once she’d read it she asked if I’d like to be represented by her (Surely the easiest question I’ve ever been asked!). From that point I worked hard to get the book in the best condition I could and when Jo and I thought it was ready, we sent it out to publishers.
Even before we’d finished the meeting with Usborne I knew that they were the people for Celia Frost: Their love and commitment to the book was fantastic and I’ve been so lucky working with them.To hold the finished copy of my novel in my hands was overwhelming. I couldn’t help stroking and smelling it (which is probably just weird). To know that soon I’ll be able to walk into bookshops and see Celia Frost on the shelves is mind blowing. It really is a dream come true and I couldn’t have done it without Undiscovered Voices, Jo Unwin and Usborne.
What is it you love about Young Adult fiction, and what do you like most about writing for teens?
I love the variety in Young Adult fiction. I believe that what most teenagers want out of a book (no matter what genre) is ‘a great story, well told.’ This is what I want as a reader and it was something that I could try to aspire to when writing. I see teenage readers as the harshest critics as they don’t feel obliged to keep reading a book if it doesn’t engage them. Therefore, I really wanted to try writing a story that would, hopefully, keep them turning the page until the very end.
I recently heard about this new blog called The Edge where you’ve been blogging along with a number of other YA authors. What is Authors at the Edge all about?
I’ve very proud to be a member of The Edge. We’re a group of eight, published writers who all write novels with an edge! We hope that our novels get young adults reading and talking. All our books are very different but what they have in common are gripping tales with teenagers at their heart. Within engrossing stories we find ourselves exploring often difficult issues - asylum seekers, knife crime, abandonment, witness protection, amongst many others. We’ve come together to offer workshops, readings, panel events to people and organizations interested in YA fiction and getting teenagers enthusiastic about books. You can get more information from our website where we write weekly blogs about all things to do with YA fiction.
Can you name three other books that you think fans of The Truth about Celia Frost might also enjoy?
Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman. It’s actually been marketed as an adult book but I think it’s an important novel for older teens to read. It’s narrated by an eleven year old African boy who has recently arrived in England. It’s one of the funniest and most heart breaking books I have ever read!
When I was Joe by Keren David – a great contemporary story about the consequences of knife crime and witness protection.
Any YA book by Malorie Blackman- She’s a fantastic writer who explores important issues within entertaining stories.Can you tell me what you are working on next?
I was lucky enough to get a two book deal with Usborne so I’ve been very busy writing another (stand alone) thriller. I’m enjoying working on it as it’s full of really interesting characters, tension and enough secrets to keep the reader on their toes.
Thanks to Paula for such a great and insightful interview! Can't wait to read the next book! :)