One of my favourite novels for tweens and younger teens so far this year is the absolutely outstanding Pea’s Book of Best Friends by Susie Day – a definite modern classic! I was thrilled to interview Susie.
1. When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?
I did an event at Hay Festival recently which was overflowing with kids who obviously just really like books, all sorts of books. You know, the ones who haunt libraries and secretly want to be astronauts or unicorns or be called Mandy and have yellow hair. I reckon they’re my gang.
2. I compared Pea's Book to books from authors like Noel Streatfeild and Edith Nesbit because the portrayal of family life and the relationship between Pea and her sisters was so fabulous. Who were your favourite authors when you were growing up?
I’m still glowing from those comparisons! Pea’s Book owes a lot (intentionally) to Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes, which I reread till the pages went furry - along with lots of her other books: Thursday’s Child, White Boots, the Gemma series. I’m the youngest of four sisters, so those family-centric stories where each sibling had their role to play appealed to me hugely. Arthur Ransome’s Swallows & Amazons books were favourites for the same reason.
I'm a huge fan of Ballet Shoes, Gemma (which is probably one of the series I've reread the most often) and the earlier Swallows & Amazons, in particular. Great choices!
3. If I ever have children of my own, I'm definitely pushing for one to be called Stegasaurus! What's the strangest name you've ever seen in a book?
As I work in an international boarding school, I’m surrounded by ‘unusual’ names: I spend more time with people called Guanyu or Yaroslav or Maria Elena than most. I’ve yet to meet a Stegasaurus though, or a Tinkerbell - but I taught a Tanglewest once. Willy Wonka is probably the strangest fictional name I’ve encountered, just because I’m still faintly amazed Roald Dahl got away with it...
4. Rumour has it there's a Doctor Who reference in every book you've ever written (I loved ex-merminate!) Is this rumour true?
Ha! Rumbled. Entirely true.
5. As well as Pea, you have a young adult novel, The Twice-Lived Summer of Bluebell Jones, coming out shortly. What's the main difference between writing for teens and writing for slightly younger readers?
Not a lot, to be honest. I’ve ended up writing my younger books in third person (so more of a traditional ‘storytelling’ voice) and my YA in first person (so the character’s voice is almost talking to you) - but in each case that’s because it fitted that particular story best. Twice-Lived Summer... is all about that painful transition to ‘teenage’, working out who you are; we need to be in Blue’s head, feel what she feels - and see what she can’t. But I don’t dumb anything down when writing for pre-teens; the second in the Pea’s Book series is about the meaning of art and was inspired by a Virginia Woolf novel. The emotional impact should feel as big whether what’s at stake is life or death, or starting a new school and being a bit nervous.
I think you've made me even more excited about Pea 2 - and I wouldn't have thought that was possible!
6. Along with Jo Cotterill and Keris Stainton you're a co-founder of Girls Heart Books, a wonderful website. What made you set the site up?
I met Jo via some author friends (we also share a publisher, Random House), and when she had the idea to start an author-run daily blog from writers for girls I couldn’t wait to get stuck in. Lots of attention goes to prize-winning ‘literary’ kidlit - which is brilliant, of course; I love those books too. But popular, contemporary fiction for girls often gets ignored, even discouraged by well-meaning adults who think girls should read something ‘better’ - while accessible books that encourage reluctant boys to read are applauded. Our authors represent a variety of genres, for girls aged 8-14, and we want to celebrate enjoyable good books: the kind that create lifelong readers. I’m a big nerd, so I do all the techie stuff behind the scenes of the website. We’ve had fantastic support from all of the UK’s big children’s publishers, and I still feel giddy when I look at our archives: Cathy Cassidy, Hilary McKay, Julia Golding, Karen McCombie...I could be here all day! Most of all, I’m massively proud of how it’s taken off with young readers. Their comments always make me beam.
Yup - there's some really fabulous authors there! McCombie and Cassidy are two of my favourites and there are lots of others who've written for you who I love - notably Rosalie Warren, Joanna Nadin, Hilary Freeman and Anne-Marie Conway. (And of course the three of you!)
7. What are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading GEEKHOOD by Andy Robb, SOME GIRLS ARE by Courtney Summers, THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson, and THE DESCENDANT by MG Harris. Oh, and DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE, because I went to the Edinburgh Writers’ Museum and realised that somehow I never had. Me being partway through all of these is a reflection on me, not on the books; when I’m distracted with lots of different work things I tend to flit about a bit with my reading...
I do that as well! The Sky Is Everywhere is one of my absolute all-time favourites - hope you're enjoying it as much as I did!
8. I just had a look at your Twitter and found out that you wrote the synopsis for Pea Book 3 (two more? Yay!) in the JK Rowling cafe. Will there be magic bits in it?
I did! It seemed wrong not to write something while I was there. It’s still in the very early stages (I have to edit #2 first) but actually, now you mention it, I can see Tinkerbell getting alarmingly keen on magic tricks. If that ends up in the final version you get the credit.
If that happens, I'm going to be completely insufferable! (I can almost HEAR the comments people are making to themselves on reading that...)
9. And on a slightly more serious note, is it just going to be a trilogy or are there going to be even more? I'm crossing my fingers madly and hoping this will be long-running...
There will definitely be three: Pea’s Book of Big Dreams is out in January - I saw it was available for pre-order on the Waterstones website the other day when I haven’t even finished it, eek! - and #3 later in 2013. After that it’s really a question of if I can keep thinking of funny, interesting things for Pea, Clover and Tinkerbell to do.
I'm tempted to pre-order right now! No pressure, or anything...
10. What's next for Susie Day?
Unfortunately, moving house. Twice. Living in a boarding school means sometimes you get moved around, so I’ve got to pack everything up to move about 2 minutes’ walk down the road - and then do it all over again 8 weeks later. Luckily one of the places I’m staying in has a very lovely table that yells ‘nice place to write’, so I’m hoping the experience is inspiring. Pea’s Book of Putting Things In Boxes And Then Taking Them Out Again, anyone?
Hope it's a great experience! Very best wishes - can't wait for Bluebell and the new Pea books!