Thursday, 12 June 2014

Author Takeover: Sophia Bennett - Friends

So here I am, ensconced in Much Loved Books for the day. * looks around admiringly * I was very honoured to be invited. I’ll try not to break anything while I’m here.

I’ve known Michelle as a blogger for ages, but recently I’ve discovered more of her amazing talents. When I was starting to organise a fringe event for YALC in July, Michelle suggested creating a Google spreadsheet, so people could sign up online. I’d never used one before, so she showed me how and when I forgot, she showed me again, with diagrams. Like this:

In the end, it turned out to be the most useful tool IN THE WORLD. Michelle is awesome, but you knew that.

So today, I thought I’d write about friendship.

I set up ForTheFringe (which is sadly booked up now – as I know, thanks to you-know-what) to take the opportunity of so many people coming to London for YALC to catch up with lots of writer friends. Not all of them made it onto the main YALC list, but lots of them have worked tirelessly to promote UKYA. (If you’re not a regular visitor to then why not? Go there now.) I got the idea because that’s the kind of thing they do: organise things, bring people together, make something happen. It will be great to see lots of blogger friends there too.

Writing can be a lonely business. We spend our lives wondering if the pieces of our soul that we’re feeding into the computer will ever resonate with anyone else. It’s bad while you’re writing the book. It’s bad when the book comes out. It’s bad if you get an unkind review, and if you get a good one you want to share it, without showing off – but who wants to know?

I think I’d have gone crazy if I hadn’t been lucky enough to find Chicklish when my first book came out. Here were people (at the time, Keris Stainton and Luisa Plaja) who liked the same kind of funny, girl-centred stories as me. They knew lots of great books I’d never heard of. We’ve been friends ever since. Through them, I became firm online friends with other YA writers, and through Chicklish I discovered the world of book review blogging and, joy of joys, feedback. Book bloggers are awesome, but you knew that too.

(This is me at Hay last year with Luisa and another wonderful writer friend and awesome organiser, Sarah Webb)

This week, I’ll be meeting up with some girls I’ve known since we were 11 – three decades ago. It’ll be a fun evening of reminiscing, but although I had some close friendships at school, a lot of my closest relationships were with books. I always knew I wanted to be a writer - I just didn’t know for years what I wanted to write about.

Threads, my debut novel, was supposed to be about fashion. I needed a narrator, a designer character and someone to wear the clothes, My love of Hilary McKay’s Casson family books suggested there should be a fourth central character, and along came a lovely, nerdy, bloggy girl called Edie (much like me, with a dash of Hermione Granger.) They were just supposed to make the story work, but in the end, the series became about them, and above all, their friendship. (I’ve included the French cover of book 2, because it includes all the girls and that’s why it’s one of my favourite covers from the series.)

By You Don’t Know Me, I knew what I was up to. Four friends. One talent show. One judge (not based on anyone in the real world, obviously, who tells them to drop their best singer, for reasons that are not immediately obvious. A friendship broken in front of millions, and the massive fallout it brings.

I really struggled with writing it, and the book that followed. But by then, I’d joined a walking group to train for the London Moonwalk, raising money to combat breast cancer. We trained in snow. We trained in hail. We trained driving rain. We walked 26 miles together through the night-time London streets, and we’ve stayed walking – and talking – together ever since. We keep each other’s spirits up and keep each other sane.

So now my advice to anyone who is feeling sad or depressed for any reason is: join a group, do something together. If you’re low, it’s the hardest thing in the world, but also the best. The more you give to it, the more it’ll give back to you.

In my next book, The Castle, Peta Jones, the heroine, spends a lot of time on her own, not trusting anyone. Perhaps that’s why I found it so hard to write. But the pleasure came from the hard-earned moments when she does reach out, does make friends, and saves their lives, quite literally, and they save hers.

A friend doesn’t have to save you from gun-wielding baddies to be important, though. Sometimes, she just has to make a suggestion and show you how to do something you can’t do. With diagrams.

Thanks, Michelle.

Find Sophia: Website - BlogTwitter - Facebook

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