|"I did a lot of research into blood disorders. I wanted something that would make Paula's life claustrophobic and separate her from her contemporaries."|
Paula Rawsthorne’s new book The Truth About Celia Frost is on the cover of The Bookseller, a rare accolade for a first time novelist. It's also been shortlisted for the 2012 EMBA. But this is no overnight success story. Yes, there was a night on the town with Bill Nighy. But it’s also meant a lot of hard graft. So, what exactly is the truth about Paula Rawsthorne?
Tell us about the book.
It’s about a 14-year-old who spends her whole life feeling like a freak. She suffers from a rare blood disorder that means she could die from the slightest of cuts. But as the book opens she faces a knife attack that has very unexpected consequences. Her mum reacts strangely and suddenly they’re on the run. Celia has no idea why; all she wants is the truth. Strangers are on her trail and danger is closing in. But the truth turns out to be more horrifying than she could ever have imagined.
Where will it go on the Waterstones shelves?
I’d keep it away from paranormal. It’s Young Adult but not a vampire romance. It’s a thriller and should appeal to quite a wide age range.
With an element of romance?
It’s really about Celia discovering things about herself. Due to her circumstances she’s grown up isolated and without any friends. Suddenly she’s out in the big wide world. So it’s more about friendship.
How did you come to write this book?
I’d had adult short stories published but I felt my first novel should be for young adults and had a notion in my head about the kind of story I wanted to write- something gripping, entertaining, and thought-provoking. Then Celia and her Mum came to me fully formed. And once I had them I knew there was some secret about Celia that the mother wasn’t telling.
Did you do any research?
I did a lot of research into blood disorders. I wanted something that would make her life claustrophobic and separate her from her contemporaries. I have a sister who’s an A and E nurse and a doctor friend who were both very helpful.
Do you identify with Celia?
I really love Celia, but I wasn’t isolated as a teenager, I was lucky. But I strongly identified with the feeling we all have as teenagers of being different and that desperation for freedom. You know, when you’re too old to be mollycoddled but your parents aren’t ready to let go. As well as a thriller, the book’s a coming of age, a transition, with a teenager finding her independence and fighting authority. It’s a journey.
So who’s influenced your writing?
I’m not especially loyal to any particular author but one book that was a big influence was John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. I love Dickens too. He’s a great storyteller. I’m less keen on plodding, over-philosophising literary books that win lots of awards. I believe you can write a book that appeals to all kinds of people but still has something to say.
|"It’s about a 14-year-old who suffers from a rare blood disorder that means she could die from the slightest of cuts. But as the book opens she faces a knife attack that has very unexpected consequences."|
Tell us about your journey to be a writer...
It began with a bit of a revelation. I’d given up work to look after my second baby. One day I felt this urge to write down a fictionalised version of something that had happened to me. Something very funny but also rather tragic, with a lot of social commentary. I felt compelled to put it down on paper. That was my light bulb moment. Then I had a real break. I entered a BBC writing competition. A few weeks later a BBC executive phoned me to say I was one of the winners. I nearly had a heart attack.
I ended up in the London studios with Bill Nighy recording my story. He was fantastic. After the session Bill, the producers and I went out for the night! It was one of those best-days-of-your-life moments.
My next big break was entering the Celia Frost book into a competition for children’s writers. I was among the winners and an excerpt was published into an anthology called Undiscovered Voices. This led to the literary agent Jo Unwin inviting me to London and asking to represent me.
Do you think your past life has shaped you as a writer?
Well, inevitably life experiences seep into your writing. I like to write modern stories and that’s probably because of the work I chose to do before I became as writer, as a social worker. A poet recently told me I tend to write about the invisible people in society. I don’t do it consciously but it’s true. There is one character in the book intentionally based on real life. I wanted to capture the spirit of my Ethiopian friends and that’s why I created Sol, the boy who befriends Celia.
It’s a given in the industry that boys read far less than girls. Would you agree?
I don’t want to speak on behalf of all boys but statistically that’s right. Maybe because it’s seen as uncool, a lot of boys stop reading from 11. That’s why Harry Potter was brilliant for breaking that down. It made reading cool. But there are lots and lots of books aimed at boys in the YA market, full of horror and violence and gore. And I think if they want to read graphic novels let them. Whatever, they’re still reading. And they’re getting famous writers onboard now to write computer games. I wouldn’t get up hung up about boys reading as long as their imagination is going and they’re being creative in some way.
Let's say the book’s been optioned for Hollywood. Who would you choose as the ideal director for the movie?
I love Danny Boyle. And Celia Frost has quite a British feel about it, so I think Danny. Do you think he reads LeftLion?
Of course he does. What do your kids think about their Mum being a writer?
They think I’m horrible because I wouldn’t let them read it until it was finished. They’re so proud of me but I’ll tell you what though, the oldest two are begging me not to come to their school to do a reading!
Are you enjoying your first book’s release or is it stressful?
Both. I’m loving it but there are loads to do. There’s a lot of guest blogging I have to do. Usborne keep getting me down to London to meet booksellers and loads of people. Then there are the reviews which are gut wrenching. You know, the book is like my baby and it’s out there being judged. Luckily, up to now, the reviews have been great. So I’m running on adrenalin. It’s a rollercoaster.
What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Competitions. Enter your work into reputable competitions. Not those moneymaking schemes though. Look who’s organising it and who’s on the judging panel. Are they top draw people from the industry? If so, go for it. If nothing else it will give you a structure and a deadline to work towards and your work will get read. And remember writing a book is going to take time, energy and inspiration. You’re going to loose heart at times. There’ll be knockbacks. But take constructive criticism seriously. You’re not doing yourself any favours if you put yourself in a bubble.
I’m a member of this great group of writers called The Edge. We all write for young adults. We’re all published. There are different genres but the thing we all have in common is the edginess in our work. And we hope to get teenagers reading.
Ian Douglas' The Children's History of Nottinghamshire is now available for pre-order at Amazon. It will be in Nottingham bookstores from 16 Aug.