Tell me about you, as an artist. How do you define art? What art do you make?
I’ve always loved writing and books from a very young age (although, I never actually planned to become a writer!). Art for me, is anything that you create in response to the world. It’s the way you process your experiences, and how you express the things you don’t quite understand. I’m an author, but I also write scripts for the screen and the stage.
You’ve just signed a two-book deal with Simon & Schuster and your first YA novel, And The Stars Were Burning Brightly will be released in 2020. What inspired you to tell this particular story? How would you describe your journey from initial spark to fully formed story?
And The Stars Were Burning Brightly explores a lot of issues that I feel strongly about. It’s loosely based on my own experience of being bullied and attempting suicide at fifteen. This sparked the initial idea, and then I tried to imagine what it would be like growing up now, in the age of social media and all the unique pressures that this brings. I wanted to address mental health and the stigma surrounding this, along with suicide amongst young men, and the way that grief can affect a family.
When I first started the novel, I had no idea where it was going. I just knew that the story was about a fifteen-year-boy called Nathan, and his older brother Al, who had taken his own life. I then thought about what Nathan wanted (to find out why his brother had done it) and the story took off from there. Some parts of the novel were incredibly difficult to write, and at times, it was a real struggle. Not just in terms of the subject, but also, the whole process of writing a novel. But I kept going, bit by bit.
When I’d finished, I had a very raw, painful, first draft. My agent and her team then helped me to shape it into a much more polished and balanced manuscript. The emotion is still there, but there’s hope amongst the darkness – which I think is really important.
You recently made an appearance at the launch of our Diversity Young Adult Fiction Prize discussing the landscape of CYA literature. Where do you think CYA literature will be in five years from now? What role do you believe the Prize can play in achieving this?
I’m hoping that in five years time, CYA literature will be full of even more unheard voices and stories. There are lots of wonderful schemes and initiatives that are working to address this, the FAB Prize, Megaphone Write, Change book and Proud book, along with Commonword’s Diversity in Young Adult Fiction Prize.
The Diversity in YA Fiction Prize is so crucial, because it’s committed to finding those under-represented voices. It helps to bring a lot of those writers into a support network, but it also lets them know that they are allowed to take up space, to tell their stories, and that we need them in publishing. The opportunity to be mentored, is also such an invaluable experience.
How do you feel mentoring has assisted you on your journey? What have the benefits been of being able to work with our Artistic Director, Pete?
I’ve been very lucky, to have had lots of wonderful people around me, who have mentored and taught me along the way. Writing can be such a lonely discipline (with many ups and downs) that it always helps to have someone you can talk to about the good and bad.
Pete has been incredible, in terms of encouraging me through the editing process, introducing me to a wider network of writers, and just letting me know that I can do it.
You facilitate and teach creative writing classes. How do you feel teaching informs your practice as a writer? What advice would you give to someone interests in becoming a facilitator?
When I first started out teaching, it was mainly to groups of teenagers in a Further Education college. That definitely helped to inform the age group that I wanted to write for, but I also think it helped in terms of understanding some of the important conversations that teenagers want to have. I still teach and facilitate creative writing workshops now, and it definitely allows me to question my own process and practice – I’m constantly thinking about what I do and why.
If someone wanted to become a facilitator, I’d tell them to just go out and do it. Offer to run workshops in your local library, contact schools, approach someone you know who is already facilitating workshops in your chosen area, and ask them for some experience. Sometimes, you just have to do it yourself.
You were a participant on the Megaphone writers programme – what did you enjoy most about the programme?
Megaphone was such an amazing experience, that it’s quite hard to say what I enjoyed the most. Having the continued to support while you write your first novel is completely invaluable. I also enjoyed working with all the other authors on the programme, and all of the workshops that Leila put together.
What advice would you give to emerging writers and performers when it comes to approaching publishers and venues with their work?
I think it’s important to do your research when approaching agents and venues. Look at the type of authors an agent might have on their client list, or if you’re approaching a venue, the type of events they are already running. With an agent, you should always read ‘what they are looking for,’ and adhere to the submission guidelines. I’ve also realised that you have to take rejection on the chin – it’s all part of the process. Sometimes you get rejected, sometimes people ignore you. Just be polite, thank them for their time, and keep going.
What have been the best and worst moments of your writing journey thus far? What does the future hold for you in your writing career?
I’ve had some very surreal moments in my writing career, that I’m so grateful for. Working as a storyline writer on Coronation Street (and seeing my name on the credits), was one of them. Being commissioned by the BBC to write a short story that was broadcast on radio, getting my agent and being offered a two-book deal from Simon & Schuster are among other stand out moments.
At the same time, there have been some not so great moments. Losing my 62,000 word manuscript (and having to start the entire thing again!), being rejected from opportunities
schemes, you name it! Keeping on with your writing, when you feel like you aren’t getting anywhere.
As you know, my first book will be out in 2020. I’ve just started the research for my second novel, which will is also contemporary YA, and will be published in 2021. Both of my books are crossover, but I hope to write an adult novel in the near-future. I’d also hope to write more for screen and stage.
Where can we find out more about you and your work?
I’m on the usual social media channels:
You can also find out a bit more by going here:
Sum up your journey to date in one word