So, Girl Aloud, who’s it for and what’s it about?
Well I wrote the book for my inner teenager, so my hope is that teenage girls will enjoy it, as well as anyone post-teen who enjoys funny teen chick-lit with a serious edge – I know there are lots of us out there.
On the surface the book is about a fifteen-year-old girl whose dad is one of those nightmarish pushy parents. His latest plan is for Kass to enter The X-Factor. This is the last thing in the world she’d choose for herself – she’s tone-deaf and has no designs on fame. Kass is no pushover but her dad has her in an emotional half-Nelson because he’s clearly (clearly to everyone but him) suffering from a mood disorder similar to bi-polar. The book covers a short period of time in the run-up to the X-Factor audition as Dad’s moods profoundly impact the family. It’s also about female friendship, sibling rivalry and romance gone wrong. And Simon Cowell. He’s in there, too.
Kass, the main character in the book, has a manic-depressive father, how did you find writing about mental illness?
It’s something I find myself writing about again and again, to different degrees. Mental illness has touched my family in various ways, but never in an open, “let’s deal with this” way and this is part of what I wanted to explore in Kass’s story. I struggled with mild depression after the births of both of my children but fell into that common trap of denial – I never sought treatment because I didn’t want anyone to think I couldn’t cope, or that I didn’t love my children. I did recover by myself but only once I admitted I had a problem and made a few small but significant changes. That said, I have not experienced what Kass and her family are going through, so I did lots of reading about what children experience when they live with a parent who suffers from a mental illness. I’m not an expert, just a writer, so I was very relieved when someone who has lived with a bi-polar sufferer said that what I’d written made sense.
Did making the book funny help?
I’ve tried to handle it in a way that takes the issue seriously but also makes a good story, with funny elements – the main one being that Kass uses humour to cope with difficult situations, as many of us do. It’s not going to make you roll about on the floor in hysterics but nor will it depress the hell out of you – sometimes it’s dark, sometimes it’s light. I loved writing the funny bits – you’ve got to be able to make yourself laugh, right? One of my abiding memories is laughing at my partner laughing at me for laughing at my own jokes while I was editing the sixth draft. But then I am easily pleased.
Have you always wanted to write for young adults?
No, the desire crept up on me. I’ve always wanted to write and I spent a few years working in children’s publishing, but I didn’t even think about teen fiction until I read a book by the Australian author Jaclyn Moriarty, called Feeling Sorry For Celia and, some years later, spent some time chatting to YA authors Luisa Plaja and Keris Stainton. So it’s their fault really. Moriarty’s book transported me straight back to being a teenager and I was seriously sad when the book finished. I sat there for a while thinking about it, and wondered if I could ever achieve that as a writer. But it wasn’t for another four years that I gave it a go. And now I love using a teenage protagonist. I don’t think I was a very impressive teenager so in some mildly disturbing way I’m making up for that by creating characters and stories that are a whole lot more entertaining.
If you could hear one person say they loved Girl Aloud, who would it be?
To my utter delight, I’ve already heard it – Jaclyn Moriarty read my book a few months ago and it was just about the best moment in my career when she wrote to say she’d enjoyed it. There are lots more people – writers, friends – that I hope enjoy it but I wouldn’t want to put any pressure on them by naming them! The ultimate prize is a teen fan, however. If I get some of those, the Happy Writer dance moves will go wild.
The X-Factor is featured in Girl Aloud. So… if you were to audition, what would you sing? (Audio or Video evidence is welcome.)
I have to admit, I do sing into broom handles quite regularly. One of my favourite broom-handle songs at the moment is Dream Catch Me by Newton Fawkner. I’d enjoy that, though I’d have to apologise to Newton in advance for butchering it. Undoubtedly I’d get the thumbs down from all the X-Factor judges and be sent home with my broom. Except Simon. I’m sure Simon would like me. I did give him a cameo in my book after all.
Now, we first ‘met’ on an online writers’ forum (a few years ago, ahem) – what part did being a member of an online writing community play in your being published? (You certainly helped with my writing – thank you!)
That’s very kind of you to say so, Nik. Being in the children’s group, where you were host, was absolutely fundamental to my career, I believe. Until then I was all mouth and no word count. Being on that forum showed me how hard you have to work, and how determined you have to be – how gut-wrenching the knock-backs are and how sweet the success. I’d been an editor for years but it was on that forum that I became a writer. It was the first place I wanted to go when I got an agent and similarly the only place I found comfort when the chips were down. I love the solitariness of writing a novel but for my sanity I need to let off steam with other writers from time to time. Now I tend to find that chat in a smaller group. I knew when my time on the forum was up, regretfully, but I’ll always be grateful for the experience, and especially for the friends I’ve made.
What tips would you give someone who wanted to be published?
Gosh, isn’t the world already full of tips? I don’t think I have any new ones. The bit of advice that I always try to remember came from someone who is not a writer, but an exceptionally hard worker, who said something along the lines of “Oh just get on with it!” So my tip would be: get the balance right and do more writing than talking about writing, perhaps.
What’s the best bit about being an author?
I’m never happier than when I’m in full flow on a first draft, and I’m so deep into the scene I can’t even remember my own name. Being published is a far more complicated feeling, and I’ll probably articulate it better a little further down the line.
And the worst?
The waiting. It paralyses me, and that means I don’t get my first-draft highs, and then it’s not pretty for anyone who lives with me.
Tell us a secret.
Ooh, I don’t know if I should…okay I will – I was a thumb-sucker until my twenties.
All good stories should…
…contain a Simon Cowell doppelganger.
All good writers…
What’s next for you?
I’m writing another teen novel, working title Allie’s Reality, about a confident teenage actress who loses herself when she starts dating a soon-to-be reality TV star. I’m a bit obsessed with writing behind-the-scenes novels about reality TV, aren’t I? I’ve also got a couple of picture books coming out next year, under the series heading “Just Josie”, about a six-year-old who wants things to be perfect and never gives up trying even when the odds are stacked against her. But right now, I’m just trying to enjoy the experience of having my novel Out There. I’m waving at it across the oceans – Coo-eee! Girl, Aloud! It’s me, your creator! – and hoping it behaves itself.
Anything you’d like to add?
Only a big thank you to you, Nik. Oh, and buy my book everyone! If you like, I mean.
Emily Gale is a Londoner currently serving time in Australia for crimes against innocent footwear. She worked as an editor of children’s books for several years, and like most editors didn’t discover JK Rowling. Now she writes picture books, novels for teenagers, and shopping lists.
She also has a rather fabulous blog here – Nik.