Since it’s LBF, I thought I’d share something a little different from crime fiction this Writer Wednesday. Here’s a look at THE DECISION: LIZZIE’S STORY my YA Novel, published in 2013 by Rowohlt, Berlin in the German Language and myself in English.
A teenage German reader wrote to me recently because she had been reading the German version, BAUCHENTSCHEIDUNG (“Gut Decision”) for a school project. She asked me such great questions, especially about the book and its themes, I decided to share my answers here as well. Enjoy!
READ AN EXCERPT OF LIZZIE’S STORY, HERE.
Where were you born?
I was born in Scarborough. This is in Yorkshire in the UK, which is in the North of England. I now live at the bottom of the country though, in Devon.
I read something about you having children on the Internet. How many do you have?
I have three children, one boy and two girls. My son is 17 and my daughters are aged 9 and 4.
What’s your family situation?
I am married. My husband is the girls’ father, but not the boy’s. I was a teenage mother, like Lizzie.
I saw that you have more than one job, which one is your favorite?
I am a script editor for movies as well as a novelist. I also write non fiction about screenwriting and I help at London Screenwriters Festival, doing talks and courses.
I don’t have a favourite job; I like them all equally and I am very lucky to able to do what I love!
Do you have a role model?
I always looked up to Maya Angelou, especially when I was a young teen Mum. She was too and overcame much adversity to become a writer. I wanted to be like her.
Which one of your books is your favorite?
I will always have a special place in my heart for Lizzie. It was my first major sale, plus it was about a subject very important to me.
What’s your favorite topic to write about?
I enjoy writing about writing at my website, www.bang2write.com. I could talk about this for hours!
Which was your first book?
I wrote a very bad first book when I was 21 called THE YELLOW HOUSE. It was a very strange, dream-like story about postnatal depression and mental health issues. The plot was very poor, though lots of agents gave me encouraging feedback (especially about the characters) which was nice of them. This encouraged me to keep going until I found the right novel idea to develop.
How old were you when you started writing?
I was about 8 years old. I loved writing and storytelling, so I knew I wanted to be a writer, even then. My youngest daughter seems to be very similar, she tells stories constantly. Her most recent is about a bird who steals bagels!
ABOUT BAUCHENTSCHEIDUNG (LIZZIE’S STORY):
What was the reason for you to write about pregnancy at an early age? Are there any examples your family or friends have experienced? What inspired you to write about that?
I was a teenage mother, just like Lizzie. Life was very difficult for me without any money, plus people were quite cruel, saying my life was over. I thought, why should having a baby be so negative? I met other teen Mums who felt the same. Like me, they were treated badly, yet they still did everything they wanted to do and became good citizens in society. I got tired of the negativity. Having a baby can be a good thing! I wanted to spread this message of support for teenage parents.
In my group, we talked about the structure of the book. What did you want to achieve with the structure of your chapters. We think there is no actual red line to follow but it’s still easy to picture everything. What do you think about that?
I’m not sure what you mean by “red line” though I will guess you mean what we call “throughline” in English. And you are right, there isn’t one. LIZZIE’S STORY is episodic, rather than interlinked by anything in particular – this is why Lizzie has a boy in one story and a girl in another, for example. I did this because I wanted to emphasise the fact every choice we make is at the expense of another one, which may (or may not) take us in a completely different direction.
How long did it take you to write Lizzie’s Story?
From the beginning of writing the pitch to the end draft, about eight months.
Are the characters inspired by a real life person? Are there any connections? Do you put your own feelings and moods into the fictional characters?
Yes, there are connections to real people in the characters in LIZZIE’S STORY. I am from a big family like Lizzie, plus my boyfriend at the time was rather like Mike in that he didn’t want to take responsibility for the child. That said, no one in the book *is* a direct incarnation of a real life person. LIZZIE’S STORY was inspired by real life events from my own life, but overall it is not an autobiography and every character is a mixture of many sources, themes and ideas, not just one. My own feelings at the time of insecurity, uncertainty and melancholy are very much part of the book though.
Do you sometimes have insecurities about the books you wrote?
Absolutely. I always think I can do better. But you have to finish at some point. So any insecurity I feel I will channel into improving my craft for the next book.
I noticed that Lizzy gets more of a connection to herself in the end of the book. She realized that the only right decision was her own which made me happy. Furthermore there’s an open ending. Did you plan that the readers think about their very own ending? What was the reason?
I am delighted you felt Lizzie’s connection to herself at the end of the book and were happy about it! That’s exactly what I intended, plus I did want the open ending too. The reason for this was because the theme of the book is “pro choice” – so it’s important the readers choose which they think is the “correct” ending. I am against young women being TOLD what to do with their own bodies.
Are there any connections between you and the things that happen in the book?
Yes, there are many connections in the book to myself and things that happened to me, though for most of them it’s actually the smaller details that are 100% true. Like Lizzie, I took my pregnancy test in a public toilet near a marketplace; Miss Jenkin (“No S!”) was a real person and teacher of mine who inspired me a great deal; plus an escaped vulture from the local wildlife park landed straight next to me and my son on the beach once!
Now the last question is only for myself. I asked myself what kind of a feeling it is to achieve something that big. There are people who buy your book to read it, those people can feel with your characters, judge about it add be happy about it even in another country. How do you feel about that?
I think it’s incredible and I feel very lucky. It was very important to me that LIZZIE’S STORY‘s message reached young people, so to hear from you that you enjoyed it is amazing. Thank you so much for telling me!
Check out 15 Young Mothers Who Defy The Stereotypes, which was featured in Buzzfeed this week — and oh look, here’s me and my lovely son, Alfie. Click the link to see the other 14 strong young Mums, or click on the pic below for an excerpt of LIZZIE’S STORY, my YA novel on the subject of teen pregnancy. Enjoy!