What, in your opinion, are the three most important qualities needed to be a successful teen/YA author?
1) Be prolific. When I speak to an adult and tell them I write two books a year they say, 'how do you manage that?' When I speak to a child and tell them I write two books a year they say, 'why have I got to wait six months for your next book?'
2) Communicate with your audience. Your fans are your best friends. If they send you an email, answer it – there are safe ways of doing it. A lot of my early fan-base came out of really nice, loyal fans. Value them.
3) Be professional. Everyone involved with books is busy – the librarian and teachers you visit are busy, the people at your publishers are busy. Make sure you deliver your manuscript on time, make sure you arrive at meetings on time. That way everyone is happy to do things for you because you're easy to work with. There are some crotchety children's writers around – and I've met a fair few – who just epically don't get that.
Do you do school visits?
I used to do a lot of them and they're definitely something I'd recommend new authors do. They’re hard work but they’re a really great way to connect with kids. And they’re also a source of income. When I first quit my job, school visits are what paid the rent.
Recent research carried out on behalf of the Author’s Licensing & Collecting Society (ALCS) showed that the average income for a professional writer had fallen from £15,450 in 2005 to £11,000 in 2013. What are your thoughts…
I’d say don’t be discouraged by the £11,000 figure. People who’ve got a publishing deal with a reasonable publisher and are writing one, maybe two books a year and are moderately successful will be earning significantly more than that. For a new writer the best figure to keep in your head is that you should be making 50p for every book you sell, so for every 10,000 books you sell you're probably going to make £5,000.
Your latest Cherub book, Lone Wolf, is about drugs – are there any topics that are out of bounds for YA?
In the context of the Cherub series I try to make it realistic but not extreme. There are a few 'craps' and 'shits' in my books because I don’t think that will warp any teenage minds. But I don't use sexual swear words, and we're not allowed to use the 'N' word. There are rules and guidelines and I stick to them.
Writers’ block… does it exist? Are you affected by it? And, if so, how do you overcome it?
Yes it exists, although I do like the saying, 'only wealthy writers can afford writers’ block, the rest of us just have to deliver the work on time.' I've never had writers’ block for a prolonged period of time but I do have days where the words get mushed up in my head and I can't get them down. It's horrible. What I tend to do is something else work-related instead, whether it's answering fan-mail or updating my website or just doing my accounts. I’d feel quite guilty if I stopped writing and buggered off and went shopping. I've always got other stuff I could be doing.
Describe your typical writing day…
I get up, have a bit of breakfast, try to be at my desk by nine and carry on until five. Sometimes, if I'm in the mood and I want to finish a long chapter, I'll work late. But, on average, it's pretty much a nine to five job.
Where do you write?
My office in my house. I can read and do research anywhere but the only place I actually write is at my desk in my office – it’s like a shrine to writing.
Can you describe the view from your writing space?
It overlooks the music room of the local primary school. When it gets hot, like at this time of year, they open the windows and I can hear them playing music. But I always know when the teacher goes out of the room because suddenly there's loads of banging and clanging. It’s hilarious. It’s quite a nice noise actually.
Might it inspire you to try writing for a younger audience?
I've actually tried that. I've tried it three times and never been happy with the result. I’m currently toying with the idea of writing an adult novel. It's fun to do something different.
What’s the best thing about being a writer?
Not having to commute. I live and work in London and I really appreciate the freedom of not having to travel back and forth.
And what’s the worst?
It can be very isolating, especially for me because I live on my own. You can get into this thing where you're in your house, on your own, and you’re really getting into your book and it can be quite scary. You end up living in your head and not getting out enough. I've actually got some techniques that I use now if I feel myself getting to that stage – I have people I go and see and I make sure I arrange to do stuff.
Book-wise, what have you got coming out next?
I’ve just delivered the second book in my Rock War series (about a group of teens who enter a rock music reality TV show). The first one came out in February and the new one’s due out the middle of next year. There’ll also be another book in the Cherub series, but I haven’t written that yet.
CHERUB: Lone Wolf was published on Friday 1 August 2014 by HODDER CHILDREN’S BOOKS Price £12.99
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