Interview answers

I’ve given a lot of interviews over the last few years on different blogs, so here is a complete collection of all my answers. This page goes all the way back through my books to The Next Together, and there are 35,000 words of answers. If you need to interview an author for a school or uni project, please consider these free to use!

final cover.jpgWhy did you choose the infertility theme for The Quiet at the End of the World?

I was reading a lot of science non-fiction, which I try to do as often as possible because it always inspires new ideas for my writing. The book was about extinction, and it was the first time it occurred to me that it is a one hundred percent probability that the human race will one day go extinct. It might be a hundred years from now, or a hundred billion years, but it’s going to happen.

Which means that there’s probably going to be a last generation of people who will know that they’re the last people to ever live. That seemed to me to be an incredibly pressured situation to find yourself in, especially if there’s no hope of a cure.

If all you can do is live out your life as the last person at the end, that would imbue every action you took with so much meaning and guilt. What do you do with your time, knowing that every second of your life is the culmination of the entire history of your ancestors? What kind of person should you be? How can you be an individual without looking ahead or behind you? Should you even try?

Those questions are especially relevant to YA fiction – every teenager is wondering who they are, and what kind of person they want to grow up to be. There’s some excellent contemporary Young Adult fiction about people having an existential crisis, like We Are Okay by Nina LaCour. I wanted to write about those concerns in a teenager who also happens to be the figurehead for the entire human race.

Do you think this is a future that could actually happen?

Yes. I tried not to write about climate change within this book, because I want to dedicate a whole novel to those issues in the future. But I fully believe that if humanity continues on its current path, we will be extinct within several hundred years. Our current society isn’t sustainable, in a way that’s not going to be solved by using less plastic on an individual level.

What makes this different from a story such as, say, Children Of Men?

I loved the Children of Men when I was younger, and watched the film a lot. But I didn’t fully believe that in a long-term extinction event like global infertility, humanity would descend into chaos and looting. I think humans are more inherently good than that.
Not only that – but we’re adaptive, and capable of incredible leaps in problem solving. It didn’t seem logical to me that if we could see our extinction coming for decades in advance, we would spend that time in a state of dystopia like in Children of Men. I think that on an individual level, we would all want to do something to fix the problem – even a huge, impossible problem like global infertility. That was my starting point for planning how society would react to the crisis in The Quiet at the End of the World, but it grew a lot from there.

What does it have in common with your other work? (Lock & Ness, for example!)

I love writing little easter eggs into all my books, such as references to fictional TV shows that characters watch. Part of this is just to entertain myself, because adding in little details keeps me occupied when I’m on the fifth reread of a manuscript within a week! I also just love reading books by authors like Terry Pratchett or Becky Chambers, where there’s a feeling of a larger universe outside the story. It feels like the characters from all the author’s novels have the possibility of one day interacting.

I love the idea that Romy Silvers might very well be out there in space, not knowing that back on Earth, the human race is going extinct. It’s just an extra layer of narrative that rewards loyal readers.

I do find, too, that my books all have unintentional elements in common with each other. Whenever I start writing a book, I’m convinced it’s totally unique, that no one has ever written anything like it before. But then as I get further into writing, not only do I notice all of the parts which have been inspired by films and books, but I realise how much it has in common with my own writing too. I’ve written several very different books in the past, about historical battles, time travel, and internet relationships in space. But all of my books have some common links – science labs, conspiracies, war, emotional breakdowns, global politics, female scientists, and strangely enough, non-traditional reproduction techniques like IVF treatment.

That was not at all intentional, but I think I wrote four books which contain discussions on reproduction because it’s such a great way of taking the characters and the narrative away from the traditional family structure. It’s a joke in YA fiction that the parents always die, because it gets the main characters away from guardians so they’re free to have adventures. I’m definitely guilty of that myself too, but I keep finding ways of getting away from tradition with science instead!

What inspired the mudlarking subplot?

Lowrie and Shen spend a lot of time search the river banks of a crumbling, collapsing London for human artefacts. They are fascinated with human civilisation, because for them, it’s something ancient and nearly lost. Their entire community numbers a few hundred people, but they’re surrounded by huge tower blocks which once housed thousands. They spend a lot of time just trying to understand the society that used to live there.

Mudlarking is a really intriguing hobby to me, because it’s very popular, but people don’t usually do it in the hope of finding valuable treasure. The most exciting finds are the strange ones, where you find a bit of metal and have no idea what purpose it used to serve. It’s about finding the human stories behind lost and forgotten items. Mudlarking is about discovering lost history and recording it for the future, which is something Lowrie and Shen would definitely respond to.

I also think that after the human race goes extinct, some kind of sentient race – aliens, or evolved Earth species like octopi or crows – will find remnants of our society. They will study us and try to understand what humans were like. That kind of archaeology will probably be very difficult for them. I’m sure they will misinterpret a lot of our objects, like we struggle to understand ancient human civilisations. This is obviously a huge topic to tackle in one book, but I find it totally fascinating, so I wanted to give Lowrie and Shen an opportunity to be fascinated by it too. They’re huge science nerds.

It’s not a dystopia: it’s very civilised and hopeful. Was this important to you?

I love post-apocalyptic novels, but they are always very grim, depressing and tragic. I wanted to subvert that trope and write a kind of soft apocalypse, with an uplifting look at humanity and kindness in the small community that would result from a large population loss.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel is my favourite example of this – it’s post-apocalyptic, but really it’s about just how much there still is to live for when you’ve lost everything. As a reader I feel like there are so many stories that hadn’t been told in that kind of setting – after the angst of the apocalypse, when you’re not necessarily trying to rebuild the world but live a good, happy life in the time you have left. So as a writer, I didn’t want to write a dystopia full of villains and evil governments (there’s enough of that in real life). I just wanted to write about humanity in isolation.

There’s a very new genre called ‘hopepunk’ which I think encapsulates a lot of my feelings about writing in this political era. I want to celebrate the goodness of humanity in a time when that’s so difficult to see that reflected in the world around us.

You post ‘moodboards’ for your books – how helpful are these?

My plotting is always quite visual – not really in terms of needing to know what my characters look like, but more in terms of picturing the general feeling of a book. I have to know very early on whether I want the reader to be awed or disconcerted or comforted (ideally a combination of all three). Collecting images and touchstones from existing media to create a visual moodboard really helps me build out from the initial idea and develop other elements to help turn the story’s vibe in my head into solid tentpoles in the narrative.

You have a gift for great book titles! How hard do you work on coming up with them?

Coming up with a title is, hand on heart, the worst part of writing books. I seem to spend all my time suffering over the thesaurus! I usually start by looking up Goodreads lists of similar books, to see the title trends which are most common. Certain words tend to be reused a lot, which makes a good starting place. I’ll click through related synonyms to try and find words which are both unique (you want your book to be the main result when someone searches for it) but also easy to say and spell. It also needs to just have the right vibe for the book. I think we came up with this title really late on in the process, when Walker told me they needed one so they could start making the cover!

Here are some of the discarded choices for The Quiet at the End of the World: The Ones Who Remain, The Edge of Extinction, The Heritage Cache, The Human Remains, The Gene Vault, The Descent of the Species, The Line of Inheritance, The Search for Succession, The Final Two, Degeneration and The Relict Seekers.

In the end we settled on The Quiet at the End of the World because that’s what the book is about – the time after the apocalypse, when there’s no hope, and nothing to do but wait and try to enjoy life at the end of the world (also, let’s be honest – I just wanted a longer title than The Loneliest Girl in the Universe!).

What inspired The Quiet at the End of the World?

I read Station Eleven a few years ago, and really came away from that novel with a sense of just how much there still is to live for when you’ve lost everything. As a reader I feel like there are so many stories that hadn’t been told in that kind of setting – after the angst of the apocalypse, when you’re not necessarily trying to rebuild the world but live a good, happy life in the time you have left. So as a writer, I didn’t want to write a dystopia full of villains and evil governments (there’s enough of that in real life). I just wanted to write about humanity in isolation.

I wanted to tell a story about how vulnerable life is, when the human race is an endangered species on the brink of extinction. And how easily the smallest thing could push it over the edge.

What do you do? If you know you’re the last of your kind, and nothing you do matters or will be remembered once you’re gone. How can you spend your days in harmony, when you know that every hour represents the thousands of years of human civilisation behind you? With those generations looking over your shoulder, are you ever truly yourself, or are you just the culmination of their decisions? How can you be an individual without looking ahead or behind you? Should you even try? Those are the questions that Lowrie and Shen are asking each other in The Quiet at the End of the World.

What can you tell us about the two main characters?

Lowrie is a suit-wearing, treasure-hunting tomboy, with a workshop full of tools in place of a walk-in wardrobe. She constantly has a chisel and screwdriver on hand. She’s blonde, and wears her hair in a french plait. She’s most often found wearing Shen’s mustard yellow jumpers.

Shen is a Chinese alien enthusiast, with a stack of books which he always reads acknowledgements first. He’s a night owl, a history buff, has a fear of mice (but not rats) and is a fair hand at coding. He can’t sing for toffee.

What would you do if you were in Lowrie and Shen’s place?

Probably move to somewhere sunny and empty where it doesn’t matter so much when all the infrastructure with heating shuts down.

What is it about the genres of Young Adult and Sci-fi that draws you to them?

YA just has more modern values that I want to see in my reading material. Most of the YA I read is female written and intrinsically feminist, even if it’s not about that. I find it very hard to read books written for an adult audience now -not because it’s too complex or mature, but because it doesn’t have that level of feminism and equality embedded in the text. I think that’s why a lot of adult readers still gravitate to YA, even if they are prolific readers who spent most of their own teenage years reading adult books!

Will this book include any multimedia formats like your previous books?

Yes! It has a plotline set eighty-five years earlier, told through social media posts.
All of your books thus far have featured a female scientist, why do you think do you think that representation is so important?

I talk to a lot of teenagers about science, and hear a huge amount of enthusiasm. But it’s hard to see that progressing to the university level in admission numbers. I think there’s a danger of having hugely clever characters like the Doctor be the only representation of female scientists in the media, because it implies you need to be a genius to study science. So the more nuanced, varied representation – showing scientists who fail, who aren’t clever or don’t know their stuff – seems to me like it could encourage more teenagers to study science than a genius figure.

How on this planet did you come up with yet another insanely unique concept and plot?

Haha! I always think my plots are super obvious and unoriginal, so it’s very exciting when people thing they’re unique. I was reading a lot of science non-fiction, which I try to do as often as possible because it always inspires new ideas for my writing. I read a book about extinction, and it was the first time it occurred to me that it is a one hundred percent probability that the human race will one day go extinct. It might be a hundred years from now, or a hundred billion years, but it’s going to happen.

Which means that there’s probably going to be a last generation of people who will know that they’re the last people to ever live. That seemed to me to be an incredibly pressured situation to find yourself in, especially if there’s no hope of a cure.

What was the biggest struggle in writing this story?

Finding Lowrie’s character was quite tough. I really wanted to write about another female scientist, as I do in all my books, but I didn’t want Lowrie to feel exactly like Romy or Clove. So it took me a while to find the right style of intelligence for her – she’s an engineer, so she’s very physical and thinks in terms of the mechanics of things, but struggles with the more fact based side. Once I had worked that out, she clicked into place, but it did take a while to get her voice right.

And the very best part of the process?

Every scene with Mitch made me laugh. And I LOVED writing Maya’s social media posts. I wrote her whole storyline in one or two days because I just had such fun telling twitter jokes and creating a fake online world. Maya and Riz are my OTP.

Where do you think you will go next with this story? Do you see a sequel happening!? Or maybe something like ‘The Next Together’, with a ‘linked’ story…?

I think the end ties things up very neatly, so I don’t have much of a desire to write a sequel in the way I still do with The Last Beginning – I really want to write a story set in Ella’s time because there’s so much we don’t know yet about her world. But Lowrie and Shen’s story is finished now. I do have some short stories and deleted scenes though.

Why did you set this story in London?

I became kind of fascinated by this hobby that Londoners have called mudlarking, where they search the Thames for treasure. Business men go and do it on their lunchbreaks. So I set it in a a crumbling, collapsing London purely so I could get Lowrie and Shen down to the river exploring for human artefacts.

They are fascinated with human civilisation, because for them, it’s something ancient and nearly lost. Their entire community numbers a few hundred people, but they’re surrounded by huge tower blocks which once housed thousands. They spend a lot of time just trying to understand the society that used to live there.

Tell us about The Quiet at the End of the World.

It’s about the future of humanity, and the fragility of life and existence. It’s about the power of humanity to fix any problem through love and determination. And it’s about the last boy and girl born in a world without children.

What does it have in common with your previous books?

It has the multimedia format of The Next Together series, with a plotline set eighty-five years before Lowrie and Shen’s time, told in social media posts. That was my absolute favourite part of the book to write.

Which characters would you want to have with you at the end of the world, from your books or otherwise?

Artemis Fowl. Ada Lovelace. P G Wodehouse. Ella from The Last Beginning. My type: funny and clever.

Your plots often deal with social media and science. What draws you to these subject matters?

Honestly, I write books for myself. I just write what I want to read, and I love science – the enthusiasm and joy you can get from problem solving in science – and I love social media. Specifically, I love the new opportunities for storytelling innovation that social media and the internet gives us. There is the potential to write stories we’ve never told before using the internet as a plot device, and I don’t think I’m ever going to get bored of exploring that.

What fiction or non-fiction books can you recommend for readers who are interested in science?

Absolutely! Here’s some of the books that inspired The Quiet –
Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness – A fascinating look at how evolution makes our brains think
Aliens: Science Asks: Is There Anyone Out There? – what’s going to happen in the future? Will there be aliens there? Mind blowing and easy to read
Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow – Cleverer than any other book you’ll read in 2019.
Ice Age Art: Arrival of the Modern Mind – If you’re at all interested in art, then you need to see where it all started.
A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Stories in Our Genes – One of the ways scientists have worked out some of the bold claims you’ll read about in these other books
The World Without Us – the future of Earth, good and bad, if humans disappeared right now.

Which recent YA books have you been the most excited about?

The Dark Days Club series by Alison Goodman – High octane demon-fighting, Regency social politics, angst-ridden romance and the best heroine of all time – I could read about Lady Helen forever.
A Sky Painted Gold by Laura Wood -This YA novel is set in 1920s Cornwall, where a local girl gets caught up in the lives of the rich lords and ladies visiting for the summer from high society London . She becomes part of their group, partying with them at their indulgent, expensive Gatsby-style events, and bickering with the handsome but enigmatic older brother (who is, tragically, already engaged). This is the most perfectly indulgent guilty pleasure read. I described it as The Camomile Lawn meets Dodie Smith meets The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets (all of which you should also read).
Fence Vol. 1 by C.S. Pacat – The easiest way to describe this YA graphic novel series is: fencing arch-nemeses turned roommates at an upper class boarding school. It’s Yuri on Ice in the fencing world, and it’s so. damn. good.

I loved hearing about the physics question that ultimately served as inspiration for The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, was there anything in particular that inspired you to create The Quiet at the end of the World?

I was reading a lot of science non-fiction, which I try to do as often as possible because it always inspires new ideas for my writing. I was reading Seven Brief Lessons in Physics, which was discussing extinction.

It said, “We are a short-lived genus of species. All our cousins are already extinct. We are perhaps the only species on Earth to be conscious of the inevitability of our own mortality. I fear that soon we shall also become the only species that will knowingly watch the coming of its own collective demise, or at least the demise of its civilisation.”

It was the first time it occurred to me that it is a one hundred percent probability that the human race will one day go extinct. It might be a hundred years from now, or a hundred billion years, but it’s going to happen.

Which means that there’s probably going to be a last generation of people who will know that they’re the last people to ever live. That seemed to me to be an incredibly pressured situation to find yourself in, especially if there’s no hope of a cure.

Lowrie and Shen often wonder just what mark they might leave on the world after they’ve gone and how they might leave a message for others to find in the future, what would you leave and how?

Ooh, good question! I would love to create some kind of message in hedgerows. You know how hedgerows around fields in England have been there since medieval times? I’d write a message across miles of space by planting hedges to create letters. Super long term, large scale communication!

What skill would you most like to learn from the surviving populace in the lead up to the extinction of the human race?

Lowrie and Shen learn loads of stuff, like mudlarking and kickboxing and engineering. I think if it was me, I’d want to learn something really useful like first aid and medicine. Knowing how to set a broken bone seems like it would be totally vital.

Creatively, I think I’d like to learn how to make stained glass from scratch. Just because that’s something I’m planning to take up as a hobby myself anyway!

Time travel has featured heavily in your books before and in Quiet Lowrie asks Shen, “If you got one turn in a time machine, what time period would you visit?” How would you answer this question yourself?

Such great questions! I became slightly obsessed with the Cambrian explosion when I was writing the book, which was 500 million years ago when life on Earth was evolving. I would definitely go and take a look at that in person. This is also Shen’s answer, because we are pretty similar people.

At the start of each chapter we see an entry in Shen and Lowrie’s Discovery Log book, (the beanie baby tag was my favourite) other than the ones that were more plot relevant how did you pick the others?

A few of them are things that I’ve personally found, either at car boot sales or at the tip or genuinely in the ground. Others are ones I’ve seen on mudlarking social media accounts (yes, that’s a real thing – tidelineart is my favourite.) And a few are my wishlist items of things I’d love to find one day!

Did you have a favourite one and were there any you were particularly fond of that didn’t make it into the finished book?

I actually split up scenes to make more chapters so I could use all the ones I wanted! I was quite selfish about it, because I liked them so much. My editor wasn’t sure the logbook entries would work, but I persuaded her to let me write them – and I’m very happy with how they turned out.

We learn about characters Maya and Riz through old posts on social media, what do you think future generations might think of us if they were to see a slice of the activity we experience on social media today?

I think they’d be completely perplexed by how much we were all focussed on politics and debates over land boundaries, when we should have been trying to reverse climate change and save the world. We’re on the brink of destroying the planet and I think in the future it’s going to seem crazy that we knew that and yet did nothing about it.

I couldn’t finish this Q&A without asking about Mitch, a firm favourite in my heart and I couldn’t help but wonder how you decided which coloured lights to use for different answers and reactions? Did you have a list or go with what felt right? As a reader I felt that the colours fit with his emotional responses really well and helped to build his personality for me.

I love Mitch too! The coloured lights were a very late addition – originally he made beeping noises. When I changed it to flashing lights, everything clicked into place. I definitely didn’t make a list or think too much about it – I just chose them instinctively. I like to imagine that the lights are part of a broken LED screen that would have originally displayed actual pictures and text. But only a few of the LED lights still work, so the lights seem to appear at random.

Is Lowrie a princess? Her surname is Mount-Batten Windsor!

She is! I wanted a more literal interpretation of her inheriting the planet after everyone else dies – like the royal family line of heirs. Her mum’s mum was the last Queen, so technically she’s a princess, even though it doesn’t really mean anything anymore. I went on a research trip to Buckingham Palace before I wrote the book because I wanted her parents to live in the palace (though I added a rooftop pool).

Which character came to you first, Lowrie or Shen? 

I knew I wanted to write a romance about childhood friends, and built their character traits from there. Maya and Riz didn’t appear until the second or third draft- really late in the process!

Can you tell us some more about Maya? I really liked her character and what she added to the plot!

I love Maya! I knew I wanted a timeline told in social media posts, so I started by choosing a sense of humour for her. She speaks in a very similar way to writers from the website The Toast.  I really liked writing about a slightly older character too!

My new year’s resolution is to write more, but I struggle with plot. Every time I try to come up with one, even a simple one, I still enjoy writing characters and emotions more. My favourite thing to read is fanfic, where the plot sometimes IS just that two characters meet, where what matters most is FEELINGS. And honestly i kind of lose interest when trad pub books don’t have that. Is that bad? Do you have any advice on how to get better at plots (yours seem so well thought out)?

You don’t need to write about plot! So much of contemporary fiction just flies completely on character voice and emotional journey, with almost no outside plot. (The most famous example being something like Mrs Dalloway, but contemporary YA does this SUPER well too.)

If you like character focused fiction, I REALLY recommend listening to Nina LaCour’s podcast, where she discusses exactly that – a kind of anti-plot fiction: https://www.ninalacour.com/podcast

As for tips to writing better plots, if you really feel you need to (but, honestly, almost nothing happens in The Loneliest Girl – it’s all just Romy’s feelings. That is not a plotty book.)

– choose a simple framework of your plot. a heist. an adventure. a romance. a murder mystery. Those can all be written in a million different ways, but once you’ve grasped the essential arc it becomes a LOT easier – you can look for narrative beats from some of your favourite books/tv shows and just steal them. then put your own characters in that situation.

– remember that plot only becomes exciting if there is impact on the character – what emotional journey do you want your character to take? if you want them to get tougher by going through something terrible, then what plot element might make that happen? you’ll be surprised by how much of your plot choices are decided very early on just by what your protagonist is like.

– but mainly, what do you ENJOY READING? write that. it’s no fun otherwise.

Fav singer?

Vampire Weekend, Janelle Monae, Mumford and Sons, Lorde, Fun.

Are you making more books of the next together? i love the books including the last beginning and was wondering if your making more books because i would love to read them.

no more books, but RIGHT AT THIS MOMENT I’m writing a little last beginning story set in st andrews, because i just went there and it gave me lots of clove/ella and tom/jen feelings.

Hey Lauren, what’s your editing process usually like? How do you tackle changing a whole massive novel into making it something better than a first draft? I’m abit unsure of how to go about starting my edits and I feel like it’s a thing authors don’t really talk about process wise!

It’s a really difficult thing to look at your own work critically, which is why editors are so vital. Often I’ll get an edit letter back and be like ‘of course!! why didn’t I see that?’.

But some tips for things you can do yourself:

– look at your first few chapters, and pinpoint when the action truly starts. cut everything before that point, and weave in the vital information in from the scene where it all kicks off. you don’t need the rest.

– make a flow chart of the main plot threads of your book: character arc, plotline 1, plotline 2, antagonist arc, romance arc etc. Make sure that each chapter does at least one thing to move one of those things forward, if not two. If it doesn’t progress anything, cut it. Keep your favourite lines and try to use them somewhere else if you can’t bare to delete them.

– make sure you know your characters really well – not just in your head, but on the page. weave in details of their backstory, their flaws, their secrets. make us care about them as much as you do. make sure they’re different in some way by the end of the book from how they were at the start. make sure your character DOES things, and doesn’t just have things happen to them.

– look at your action and plot – does it all make sense. are there any ‘circles’, where characters loop back over the same points while trying to make decisions about what to do next? simplify them as much as possible. it’s boring and confusing to read if the characters spend all their time confused and thoughtful.

Good luck!

(Also, I should be my own hype man and mention here that I offer editorial critiques if you need some more personal help.)

I saw on Instagram that you’re editing and writing a new book at the moment. how is that? do you have a different writing routine because of it, and how are you balancing it??

I usually just do one project and then move onto the next, so yeah it’s quite unusal that I’m doing two at once! I’m just doing whatever I’m most motivated to work on that day, although I have been doing one project in the afternoon and the other in the evening. I’m not balancing it very well, but deadlines are making it hard to do it any other way. The edits are short though, so I should be done soon and can go back to drafting. 🙂

Are any of your books been translated to any other languages? ❤

Yes! Here are the ones published so far:

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První konec (“The First End”) – Czech Republic (CooBoo)

Em Nossa Proxima Vida (“In Our Next Life”) – Brasil (HarperCollins)

Bir Sonraki Hayatımız (“Our Next Life”) –  Turkey (Yabanci Yayinlari)

Любовь И Другие Катастрофы (“Love and Other Catastrophes”) – Russia (Ripol)

Forever Again: Für alle Augenblicke wir (“For all our moments”) – Germany (Loewe) | Audiobook

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Poslední začátek  (“The Last Start”) – Czech Republic (CooBoo)

Son Başlangıç (“Last Start”) – Turkey (Yabanci Yayinlari)

Forever Again – Wie oft du auch gehst (“How Often You Go”) – Germany (Loewe)

Hi Lauren! I’ve read both The Watchmaker of Filigree Street and The Bedlam Stack thanks to your recommandation and I’ve enjoyed them a lot ❤ They left me in the mood for more historical fiction books, especially with LGBT+ characters. Do you have more recs?? Thank you in advance 🙂

Oh, I’m so glad you liked them! They are so good. I think about the characters all the time.

YES. All of these have LGBT characters!

you have to have to have to read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
by Taylor Jenkins Reid – old Hollywood royalty, publicity manoeuvring & more scandals than you can wave an Oscar at.

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein – thirties murder mystery with treasure hunting!

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller – like, OBVIOUSLY. achilles/patroculus love story from the greek myths

Time Was by Ian McDonald – This novella follows a historian’s attempts to track down time-crossed lovers Tom and Ben from their appearances in photos and videos across wars through history.

Things a Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls – British suffragettes in love!

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee – grand tour boys in love!

Pembroke Park by Michelle Martin – LGBT Jane Austen

And I Darken by Kiersten White – Vlad the Implayer, genderbent

Hi! Sorry if this is an odd request, but can you recommend any books with black main characters? Specifically ones where being black isn’t necessarily central to the storyline.
Yes!

Romance:

A Princess in Theory and The Wedding Date – two super cute romances with black women (set in America). In the first she’s also a scientist!

Wanted, A Gentleman – historical gay romance!

YA:

Indigo Donut and All about Mia – two great UKYA with black female leads

The Sun Is Also a Star, This Side of Home – two US ones, the second is about gentrification. (obv The Hate U Give too, but I’m sure you’ve already read that)

Literary fiction:

Swing Time – a slow character building coming of age about the friendship between two british mixed race girls

Boy, Snow, Bird – this is a kind of retelling of Snow White set in the thirties (i think?) in the US

Homegoing, Under the Udala Trees – both set in Africa

Sci fi and fantasy:

Anansi Boys – about the son of the African God Anansi

Binti – afrofuturism in space (with maths!)

Sorcerer to the Crown – African regency magician!!

Is there a story you’re holding off on writing for some reason?

I really want to write a book about fandom history, with elements of msscribe, but I don’t think I’d be able to sell it until I’m a more established author as it’s a new genre. But….one day. I’ve planned out so much of it.

Favorite character you’ve written

I love Spart a lot. He’s so snarky and clever.

Character you were most surprised to end up writing

There’s a robot in my next book which turned out to be a way bigger character than I was expecting…

How many words do you typically write (or aim for) in a writing/drafting day?

Urgh, not enough. Usually around 1500-2000?

how do ella and clove communicate via social media if they’re in different times?

Ella’s skim can send messages through time in a hand wavey, plot convenient kind of way 😉

I’d like to have more people to talk to about writing or bounce ideas off, but I’m so shy about both things. It’s like if I talk to someone whom I don’t completely trust before the story is done, the ideas just… break? And I can never ever look at them again. It’s like I’ve had some clay on a potter’s wheel but by revealing it halfway through it’s been knocked out of shape and it’s stuck like that 😦 How did you build your writing friendships?

I think you have to find the right balance between someone who can offer opinions on your work but not criticise it too deeply. It’s such a delicate thing when a WIP is still in your head, and it can definitely affect it badly if someone says the wrong thing. But keep trying, and you’ll find a good crit partner who fits with your writing style – either by just offering pure enthusiasm about an idea, if you feel protective of it, or discussing it in more detail.

what is your favourite plant?

hellebore!

 do you believe in aliens?

110%. My next book is going to be pretty alien heavy.

name three artists ( musical or art ) that have inspired you or impacted you.

Bastille inspired a lot of The Next Together, Taylor Swift was very good for writing The Last Beginning and Meghan Trainor was a big inspiration for The Loneliest Girl

who are your favourite people in the world?

Right now? Draco Malfoy and my dog.

hardest part of writing 

writing without self doubt getting in the way

easiest part of writing

coming up with ideas! everyone always asks where authors get ideas, but that’s by far the easiest part. i have more than i could ever write, it’s the writing that takes effort.

writing advice

read everything! read! every! thing!

things that inspire you

non fiction, tv, fanfiction, weird obsessions, tumblr jokes

things that motivate you

getting paid!!! lol

name three favorite writers

maggie stiefvater, shirley jackson, sarah waters

name three authors that were influential to your work and tell why

douglas adams – funny sci fi, philip pullman – scientific explanations in high concept plots, j k rowling – anyone can write a book!

since how long do you write?

since I was 16 – 9 years!

how did writing change you?

i never thought of having a job in a creative industry until I started writing, so it changed everything I thought I knew about myself and my future life!

is writing your only job? how do you make money otherwise? i haven’t read your books (yet!) but you’re still an inspiration xx

It is indeed! I got my first book deal while I was still at university, so when I graduated I decided I wanted to give writing a chance by dedicating my full attention to it. I thought I’d regret it if I didn’t, even though I didn’t make much money the first year. I just treated it as a kind of ‘gap year’, so I didn’t mind.

Then I got an Arts Council grant, which supports writers and gives them time to write (more info). I made the decision then to keep writing full time for as long as possible. In my first year after university I wrote 2 and a half novels, and selling the next meant I could afford to stay writing.

I’ve been to events where other authors have told the audience that it’s impossible to make a living as a writer, and I want to firmly say that isn’t true. You can absolutely be a career author. I am, and I’m going to earn enough to stay one for the next three years at least.

My debut came out 18 months ago and I’ve already earnt out my first advance and have started making royalties. I’m hoping to buy a house next year. You can absolutely, definitely earn a living from writing. It takes a lot of luck and effort but it’s completely possible.

I think it’s important to be honest, because the audiences of children who’ve been persuaded out of writing by bitter authors telling them that they can’t make any money from it breaks my heart. Passion and ambition and dedication will always be rewarded. The publishing industry has ups and downs, but if you keep writing at a steady pace and release a book a year, you will make it. I promise.

tips for extreme writer’s block? (internal screaming: saaaave meeee)

You can try doing some character development! Play ‘100 declarative sentences’. It’s an exercise where you write a hundred sentences about your character, like:

-Romy is sixteen
-Romy likes tomato soup

At first it’s really easy but as you get closer to 100 it gets SO HARD.

I also wrote a guest blog over at Hive with some other tips here.

is ella gay or bi/pan/etc? she is amazing and i rlly want an ella in my life i love her so much

Ella is bi! And she’s my fave too!!

Hi Lauren! I was recommended the Next Together by a librarian and it’s sooo amazing! I’ve never seen so much science in a Ya book before! Do you think you’ll ever go back to studying science or get a Phd? What would you specialise in?

Thank you so much!! There is even more science in my next two books, so I think you’ll like them!!

I would love to do a job in research at some point, maybe at something in physical chemistry? I wouldn’t want to yet – I want to make sure I give writing my full attention while I can! – but maybe in five years or so? Although I might have forgotten all of my uni knowledge by then!

How do you come up with the names for your characters and have you even changed a character’s name during editing?

I’ve never had to change a name – I’d hate that! It would be so disconcerting.

I note down any cool names I hear – and I keep a book of baby names on my desk, just in case i need one off the cuff. I try to make my surnames have meanings related to the character’s arc, if I can.

If you know your characters age and nationality, try googling ‘baby names [year of birth] [country]’ and see what comes up for the most popular names!

Kate and Matt have A SON?? CLOVE HAS A BROTHER??? WHAT’S HIS NAME?????

I didn’t know until yesterday that they had a son, but YES THEY NOW DO. They didn’t get to raise Clove after all – they’ve never done the parenting thing!

His name is probably Alfie? That’s a nice name.

(Who’s gonna start the petition for a third book about him? I WILL SIGN IT)

Hi Lauren! As a young author yourself, I feel like you’re the good person to ask a writing question! I have this huge idea (developed but incomplete) for so long with me, but never tackled it because it’s so big & important (a series of book) to me that I don’t feel like I’m ready to write it down yet. I’ve tried to focus on other ideas but I always come back to the other. It has stick w/ me for years now and it can’t leave me alone but i’m afraid I’ll mess it up. Should I write it anyway? Thx!

I personally would just GO AHEAD AND WRITE IT. Even if it takes you a few drafts, you need to write to get better at writing!

However, I know that Neil Gaiman had the same problem with The Graveyard Book – he had the idea about 20 years before he wrote it, but put it off because he felt like he wasn’t ready – so if there’s another idea you feel excited about, write that instead!

But personally, passion is so hard to replicate, and you really want to get those words down while you’re still excited about it. Genuine love for a concept like that is hard to find, and it’s worth the work in rewriting later.

You had the brilliant idea, you are totally worthy of writing it! No one else can write it as well as you. Do it!

GOOD LUCK

did you get rejected a lot in the beginning before you sold your first novel rights? I am scared haha.

I was quite lucky, and managed to get an agent after about 6 submissions. I was completely naive about the publishing process though, so I think it was more luck than anything!

Here’s a post I wrote ages ago about writing a query letter. Good luck!

what Hogwarts houses would Clove, Ella, Kate and Matt be in? ❤️❤️❤️

Kate is definitely a Gryffindor, because she’s an idiot. Kate is always running off into danger and Matt expend a significant amount of energy into trying to stop her. Matt is a Hufflepuff. He thinks a lot before he acts (Kate doesn’t think at all, ever.)

Clove is a Hufflepuff too, like her dad, and Ella is a Slytherin through and through.

Tom is a Gryffindor, which is why he and Kate get on so well. Jen is a Ravenclaw. ❤

cover - near finalwhat’s your favourite moments from the loneliest girl in the universe?

3. This bit where Romy removes her own rotten tooth. Because it’s gross and makes me shiver, but also she’s a complete badass.

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2. A part where she explores the storage area of the ship and gets cold for the first time ever, and can’t work out what goosebumps are:

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1. The first time she meets J.

Do you have a daily writing routine? What does your ideal/average writing day look like?

Oh gosh! Being an author involves so many different things that I’m not sure there’s ever a typical day. I usually do personal stuff during the morning and start writing at 3ish. Usually that involves at least an hour of emails/admin/social media. Then I’ll be working on edits, writing outlines for new projects or drafting new books until midnight, with a break for dinner. I always work on the same project until it’s done, whether that takes weeks or months. I don’t really like to jump around between things if I can avoid it, but usually I have to put first drafts to the side while I do things with a deadline.

If I’m drafting, I try to write over 1500 words a day.

So at the minute I’m:

-waiting to copy edit The Loneliest Girl in the Universe
– waiting on my agent’s feedback to do structural edits on the first draft of book 4 (#ghost house)
-outlining and writing a sample extract for book 5 (#lowrie)
-doing background reading/research for book 5 – e.g. reading ownvoices books, non-fiction, and a lot of science papers as I write sci fi. This actually takes up a lot of time, and I’ve not done any reading for pleasure in a long time. Here’s my research shelf: https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4254869-lauren-james?shelf=research&sort=date_read
-writing out rough planning notes on book 6

So there’s lots of different things I’m doing at the minute! I really enjoy being able to decide what I want to work on next, and having so many ideas going at once is really nice as I’m always rushing to write down new ideas for one thing or another.

Every time you talk about drafting I’m just like how?! because you write so consistently but like, how do you get through your drafts without becoming absolutely disillusioned with writing and ending up hating yourself? I get, like, 24 hours maximum of thinking my words are good and then suddenly I can see all the cracks in them, and the longer I write, the more cracks there are to see you know? How do you stay in love with your projects?

I think that’s something you just have to get over, if you want to write. I think it’s impossible to write if you can’t love & adore your writing wholeheartedly. It’s such a long process and no one will ever be as invested in your writing as you are.

I think part of the problem is that you have to

a) accept that first drafts are not perfect

b) accept that you are a better reader than you are a writer, and the standard you hold books to as a reader is far higher than it is possible for you to write as a beginner.

The solution to both of these problems is to keep writing. You edit*, and make a book better. You write more, and become a better writer, until you create something that you can critically say is a good book. Both of these just mean sitting at your computer and writing, I’m afraid.

But, if you seriously, genuinely hate your writing beyond thinking it needs a good old overhaul, then you may be writing the wrong story. Even when I know my writing has flaws, I still love and adore the overall essence of a story, and have a blast trying to write it. Otherwise what’s the point of being a writer?

*A finished draft, if possible! Don’t start editing until you get to the end. I know, it’s hard. But you can’t edit something incomplete. It’s like trying to paint with half a colour palette.

what r the names of all the books u have planned?? (or at least the tumblr tags??)

The Next Together

The Last Beginning

Novella – Another Together

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe

Book 4 – lowrie (title isn’t announced yet but it’s decided and the book is coming out in 2018)

Book 5 (maybe – no deal yet) – ghost house

I have some other ideas tagged but I have no solid plans to write them immediately – a mermaids one, an aliens one and a space one.

There’s also another tag floating around which I’m not announcing just yet 🙂

i know you did physics at uni, and now are a full time author, so i was wondering if i could have some advice. i’m going in to 6th form next year, and with making A-level choices, im torn between my love for classics/literature/writing, and my curiosity in STEM and the knowledge that it will lead to more career opportunities that are likely better paid than more creative careers. how did you fit in both of your passions, and looking back is there anything you would’ve done differently?

I wouldn’t change anything – even though I’m not doing a job in STEM, I still use the skills it taught me every day. It made me a more well-rounded person, and frankly it’s better value for money than a liberal arts degree (I used to have around 28 contact hours a week, compared to 6 in an English Lit degree. Plus the access to labs, equipment etc – all for the same tuition fee!).

I like the security of knowing that I have a whole other area of work I could go into if creative work doesn’t work out in a few years.

I also find that I have a lot more to write about because of my studies – I don’t know what genres you write, but I write sci fi, so I use my knowledge about Chemistry and Physics (and basic Biology) in every book I write. My publishers have told me repeatedly that my ease of use of science is what makes my writing unique and gives me a niche in publishing.

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe was literally inspired by some physics coursework too, so there’s that.

So, yes! Please, please study science! You can do science and write – and it’ll actually be fun, because it’ll be so different from your classes! I found writing a great stress reliever at uni, which wouldn’t have been the case if I’d been studying English.

Does ‘the loneliest girl in the universe’ and ‘the next together’/’the last beginning’ exist in the same universe?

Not in any important way, but you can imagine they are if you wish.
There are easter eggs connecting the books, but for my own entertainment than with any real meaning.

how did you balance uni work with writing your first novel?

The answer to this is that I didn’t. I wrote during university holidays exclusively (although I solved a lot of plot holes during term time!)

Most memorable book character you read about this year?

DEFINITELY Keita Mori from The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley – magical Japanese watchmaker genius with a pet clockwork octopus, stuck in a time-travelly slow burn pining romance with his gentleman lodger? Iconic.

hello lauren! i’m an 18 year old aspiring author working on her first novel. my struggle starts with deciding on a major or if i even want to attend college. writing is my passion and i only see myself writing books for the rest of my life but unfortunately everyone around me seems to think that i should get my degree first. i believe you got a degree in science (?) how was your experience? do you think i’m required to get a degree to be “successful” as people put it?

Hi! I personally am so so glad I went to university and studied something other than writing – it’s the best decision I ever made. But I did find a subject I really loved! So it depends how you feel. You don’t want to be miserable, forcing yourself through something just for the sake of it.

I would say that you should think of your top 3 jobs – are they all about writing? If you don’t become an author, would you want to be an editor? Or work another job in publishing? If you can do a degree that works for all of your top three jobs, then that would work really well. It doesn’t even have to be super connected – studying a language is really useful for publishing as you can work with foreign publishers.

You definitely don’t need a degree to get a book deal. BUT most authors (even the very successful ones) will need a second job as well as writing. So it all depends on what you want to do, really! GOOD LUCK

When writing the Loneliest Girl in the Universe, did you initially know you wanted to include a twist ending?

I had the twist in mind from the very start. The book for me, from the very beginning, was a psychological thriller. I wanted to write about the fear and confinement and constant stress of being alone on a small spaceship, where you’re completely responsibility for running the ship. I remember telling the idea to my agent, and she said she got goosebumps just from the pitch, because the twist was so creepy even then!

As a writer, how did you go about doing so? Was it difficult to create the storyline?

It was hard in that I wanted to make sure I represented Romy’s PTSD and anxiety accurately. I read a lot of therapy and mental health books about post-traumatic stress disorder, stress and young carers. I also read up on the experiments NASA did where they made people live in a pseudo-spaceship for a year on Earth, to see how that affected them mentally.

How did you become inspired to write the Loneliest Girl in the Universe? What was the process like?

It started with a question from some Physics coursework at university! The question was about special relativity, and went something like this:
An astronaut travels in a spaceship to a new planet. After a few years, a newer faster ship is developed and launched, which overtakes the first ship. How old are the two astronauts when they each arrive on the planet?
I started thinking about what it would be like to be that first astronaut, and dedicate years to travelling alone in space, only for your ship to be overtaken by a faster one before you even arrive! What would that feel like? What kind of relationship would you have with the person on the faster ship? From that, the story of Romy Silvers was born.

Your novel explores the overall feeling of loneliness. Was there a particular reason you chose that emotion to explore?
I’ve always loved stories of isolation – it’s a great way to really get to know a character. I knew that if I was writing a whole book where there was only really one person, I would need to create a character who would keep the reader’s attention and loyalty. It was a big challenge, but I fell totally in love with Romy while I was writing about her, and I hope everyone reading The Loneliest Girl in the Universe does too.

What is a piece of advice you have for any young adults who feel alone?

I think with the internet, there isn’t as much need for a physically close social network, as you can connect with people with similar interests so easily. Growing up, online fandom was a hugely important way I learnt about sexuality, romance and relationships. So I would tell young adults to find the community online who share your interests, and make friends that way. For example, for me, I was really into writing, and the NaNoWriMo website is a great network for making local writing friends.

What elements do you think are important to include when writing a story for young adults? Do you think it is especially important to include feelings like love and loneliness?

Personally, I am attracted to YA because it gives me things that simply aren’t available in Adult fiction. I joke that as a teenager I read adult fiction, and as an adult I read teenager fiction. That’s completely true, and I’ve spoken to many people with the same experiences. I want to read diverse, fresh and socially conscious stories which represent the reality of the world I live in. I really wasn’t finding that in the Literary Fiction I was reading. It may be aimed at teenagers, but YA is on the cutting edge of fiction, taking risks to do new things which other areas of publishing have never done.
The YA reading community is so passionate and socially aware, and that demand online for better and more respectful diversity has encouraged more publishers to buy diverse books, meaning that YA books are on the forefront of change – one example being the huge increase in LGBT YA literature in recent years (like my second novel The Last Beginning, which has a lesbian relationship!). Things happen more rapidly and collaboratively here than anywhere else.
More than anything, I’m very aware that my readers are as young as twelve, and I have a responsibility to represent the struggles that young people go through accurately and compassionately.
While I’m delighted that adults read my books too, my main priority is getting the books to their intended readers. I wrote The Loneliest Girl in the Universe for girls who don’t feel brave or strong enough to be the hero in an adventure story. I wrote The Last Beginning for teenagers who have moved beyond the desire to read LGBT Coming Out stories, and are desperate to find a book about a girl who loves a girl, just having an adventure.
YA authors write things which children read, things which can shape their views for life. The authors of YA have a huge responsibility to their young readers, and I think being aware of that responsibility creates very well-crafted books.

What was the inspiration for Romy Silvers? Were there any aspects of her character that you identify with? Or want to identity with?

Romy is powerless, easily influenced, subject to frequent panic attacks, sensitive and lacks self confidence. She’s weak in almost every way you can name: emotionally, mentally and physically. Despite that, she’s the strongest female character I’ve ever written because she’s the most realistic of all of my characters.
She’s probably the most similar to me out of all of my characters, as that’s exactly how I felt during my Masters degree in Physics – I was very good at the science, but I still felt an overwhelming responsibility and imposter syndrome in my research that I struggled to deal with. I really wanted to write a character like her, because it would have helped me a lot to read about someone going through the same things at that point in my life.

What was it like to sell the rights to your first novel at 21? Do you think being a young adult writer in the world of writing as influenced the content you create?

It was very exciting and scary, and I still feel very lucky! When The Next Together was finished I left it for a few months, and when I came back to it, I was surprised to find that it wasn’t as terrible as I remembered. It even made me laugh a few times. I decided to send it off to some literary agents, just to see if they could give me some useful feedback.
I had absolutely no idea how the publishing industry worked, and I think I read one How To article on query letters before writing one and blithely sending it off into the aether. I found an A to Z list of agents and started emailing with the Z’s, because I thought they’d have the least submissions. In the end, I found an agent on W, after I’d emailed only six agencies. It was a very naive way to apply, but I got very lucky – my agent is incredible, and last year she was shortlisted for the Bookseller’s Agent of the Year award.
We then submitted to publishers after a whole year of revisions (I was still at university so could only really work on it during the holidays) and within two weeks, two publishers had offered. Saying it now, that seems so easy and fast, but at the time it was the most stressful, delirious fortnight of my life. I’ve been through the submission process several times since then, and it does not get any easier.

When writing science fiction do you find you stick to facts or do you create your own reality?

I always try to make the science in my books as accurate as possible. I studied Chemistry and Physics at university, so if I hadn’t become a writer, I would probably be a research scientist focusing on physical chemistry. I would love to go back to science one day – I really miss it!
I wanted to feel very real and possible – it’s simplified a lot in the book from how these things might actually work, but the grounding of the science is very plausible. I hope! [crosses fingers no physicists immediately call me on my mistakes] I did a lot of research into space travel and the theory of space travel behind NASA’s equipment when writing The Loneliest Girl in the Universe. I read a lot of non-fiction about space travel – NASA does a series of free eBooks explaining their science for beginners, so I had a great time diving into them. I also got to watch loads of sci fi films like Moon, Gravity and Interstellar – and that really helped with capturing the aesthetics and design of the ship.

When you started writing, was it always your intention to write for a YA audience?

No! I was writing for myself, and I happened to be a teenager when I wrote my first book – so it turned out to be a book for teenagers! I’m so glad I ended up writing YA though, it’s such a loving and considerate community that’s creating really innovative work.

How does your writing process work? Does it change from book to book or do you keep a similar structure?

I write best at night, so I stay up outrageously late (sometimes until 5am, if I’ve nearing the end of a first draft – something I never did for even my degree!). I start the day by swimming, which is when I do my best plotting. I also plan a lot while I’m baking. Repetitive movements that keep my hands busy and away from checking social media are always my most productive times of the day.

I plot out everything in a giant excel spreadsheet before I start. I find the idea of writing without know the ending really scary, and I don’t know how people do it. For me, I need to know the final scenes to know how it starts – everything is built around where the story is leading, from the world to the characters to the scene shapes.

Saying that, I usually find I’ve forgotten to finish off a whole plotline by the time I write that far into the book. I’ll discover that my subconscious has seeded in things foreshadowing an ending I didn’t know existed until then. That always scares me a bit!

I write at a desk, with lots of music playing and a candle burning. But I try not to make a really particular writing ‘set up’, because then I’ll keep finding excuses not to write until it’s the perfect time for it. I can do it anywhere, really. I write a lot on my phone while I’m trying to get to sleep, and then type it up the next day.

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe is a psychological thriller set in space. Was it always your intention for it to be a thriller set in space or where you more focused on having a story set in space?

The book for me, from the very beginning, was a psychological thriller. I wanted to write about the fear and confinement and constant stress of being alone on a small spaceship, where you’re completely responsibility for running the ship.

In The Loneliest Girl in the Universe deals with a lot, such as anxiety, depression, PTSD and dealing with parental lose. How did you go about including this in Romy’s story, did you do a lot of research?

I read up on the experiments NASA did where they made people live in a pseudo-spaceship for a year on Earth, to see how that affected them mentally. I read a lot of therapy and mental health books about post-traumatic stress disorder, stress and young carers.

The timelines in The Loneliest Girl in the Universe are very complex and mismatched, how did you go about keeping track of it all or did you find it confusing at times?

I had to calculate the time it would take for messages to travel to and from Earth to The Infinity and The Eternity on every single day of the book, something which ended up needing an Excel spreadsheet this big:

The dark side of writing a book set in space: the calculations. Ah well. It was all worth it in the end.

Are you perhaps planning a sequel for The Loneliest Girl or is it simply going to stay as a standalone novel?

I can’t say anything about this just yet – though you may be able to guess the answer from that!

Which writers inspire you?

I particularly love Neil Gaiman, Rainbow Rowell, Sarah Waters, P. G. Wodehouse, Audrey Niffeneger.…..I could go on all day, I think! In particular I’m always making notes when I read books by Douglas Adams – he’s the master of humorous sci fi. I’ve adored his work since I was young.

What advice would you give to any inspiring writers?

Find out what makes your writing unique and own it. Be completely shameless about it in your query letter. If you love the zombie cats in your novel, make sure they are front and centre in your query. You need to find an agent who loves your book as much as you do, and spending months crafting the perfectly written query letter isn’t going to do that – but maybe persuading them to read the book with the promise of zombie cats might. 

You’ve got three books out on shelves (The Next Together, The Last Beginning and The Loneliest Girl In The Universe) with another releasing this year and always (so it seems!) a draft or secret project on the go. How do you decide what ideas to devote your time to, and how do you manage to juggle so many – often very different – projects?

I do have a ridiculous number of projects on the go. It’s because everything is always at different stages and I find it hard to wait for feedback or edits from a whole range of different people, so I start up something new in the meantime. It works out quite well, because there’s always something different to work on. I’ll send off an edited book and pick up drafting a new book, then go back to editing, etc. I think I’d find it quite difficult to work on more than one novel at a time though – usually I’ll work on them until they’re done, then move onto the next one. I’d get scenes muddled up otherwise!

 The Next Together was your first novel. What do you still love most about the book? Is there anything you feel you’ve gotten better at in writing since that first step into published YA?

I think I’ve got better at everything since The Next Together. When I think back to writing that book, it was so difficult in every way – I was basically teaching myself to write and edit every step of the way. If I wrote it now it would be a very different book. But I’m really proud of what I managed to do with the concept as a complete writing novice. It launched my career, and it’s likely I’d never have been brave enough to try to write full time if I hadn’t got a book deal at that point in my life, when I was still at university – so I have a lot to be grateful for! I really love the chemistry between Kate and Matt, and their sense of humour and tenderness. It still makes me laugh when I reread parts.

In The Next Together and The Last Beginning, Katherine and Matthew (particularly in the 2019 and 2039 timelines), and Clove and Ella get along really well with each other – they’re quite realistic and healthy relationships (despite everything time travel throws at them!). Is this something you intended to focus on from the start?

I really hate when romance novels have characters who seem to genuinely dislike each other. I love a good enemies-to-lovers trope, but when characters bicker constantly and don’t seem to enjoy each other’s company, with lots of misunderstandings and hurt feelings even when they’ve started dating, it doesn’t feel romantic to me. A partner should be your best friend, first and foremost. Otherwise what’s the point? So for me, in every book I write, I want to create really solid relationships where the characters are equally important to each other, even if the romantic tension was taken away and it was purely platonic.

Your books all have multimedia or epistolary sections: newspaper articles, postcards, powerpoints, blog entries, chat messages, and in The Loneliest Girl, fanfiction. How do you approach writing these pieces (and do you have a favourite individual one)?

I’m not gonna lie, these are so tough.  It really gets hard coming up with new formats I haven’t done before! It takes a lot longer to make them than writing normal prose, but they’re so interesting that I would never get rid of them. They’re some of my favourite parts of the books, and I think they’re quite enticing, especially for younger readers.

I usually make lists of different things while I’m drafting the prose sections – leaflets, architectural proposals, posters, post-it notes etc – and when the book is complete I’ll go back through and see where those things might fit into the story. Usually they don’t cover things already written about in the text but give more background information about the world to make it seem more real. And anything that has potential to be funny gets priority. 😉

My favourite is probably this one from The Next Together. I must have written it about six years ago now, but I still find it hilarious. I remember it was one of the first times when I was still in the early stages of exploring writing that I realised – wait, I might actually be funny.

You primarily write sci-fi, though several have elements of historical fiction and contemporary romance, too. Are there any genres you haven’t tried or explored yet that you’d like to write?

I’d love to write a contemporary YA set at University. And a superhero book. And a regency romance with magic. And a middle grade about animals. And, and, and, and – yeah, I want to write everything. Hopefully I’ll be allowed the chance!

In The Loneliest Girl In The Universe, protagonist Romy has never set foot on Earth. If you had to explain some earth objects or activities she’s never experienced but only have heard of in theory, what do you think she’d find the strangest (having been born on and grown up on a spaceship) and what one would she most enjoy?

I think swimming would be the strangest, after a lifetime of water being a precious thing that needs to be preserved. I think a swimming pool or hot bath would blow her mind – imagine floating for the first time!

I think walking down a crowded street would probably be the strangest, as she wouldn’t know how to deal with all the people. Is she supposed to talk to them? Where are they all going? Are they looking at her? It would be tough.

You’ve spoken before about how you once felt compelled to read a lot of hyped-up or mainstream contemporary YA and struggled a bit to love reading when forcing yourself to do so. If you had to pick three underappreciated books you think YA fans would love (or that might get them out of a reading slump!), what would they be and why?

I used to, yes. I’ve since stopped myself reading anything because of the hype, and just read for enjoyment again, and I’ve not had a reading slump since.

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein – I’m a huge fan of thirties detective novels like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers, and this is my perfect spin on that – there’s murder, rich people living frivolously, dogs, Bronze age marine archaeology, bisexual characters exploring both sides of their sexuality, castles, cross-dressing Cabaret shows, TREASURE-HUNTING, pearls, buried treasure (did I mention the treasure?) and river trawling. I’m so into it in every way, and I think this is a great read for YA fans who want something a bit more unusual.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor – For a YA fan wanting to branch out into some sci fi, this is a short novella that’s the perfect taste of Black Panther style afrofuturism – about an African tribal girl who travels to a different planet to study maths at uni. Her dreadlocks are TENTACLES. Enough said.

Monsters by Emerald Fennell – A dark upheaval of the middle grade novel, with children who may or may not be serial killers…..it’s not one for children, but it’s very Enid Blyton all the same.

As well as being a writer, you’re also a qualified scientist™, an ambitious baker, and the resident human to several very excitable dogs. Is there anything you can’t do?! (And, for the fans, what are you working on at the moment)

Hah! There’s so much I can’t do. I’m terrible at driving, for a start (don’t ask me to go on a motorway). I think it’s important to do other things besides writing, because otherwise all you have to write about is writing, you know? So I try to travel as much as possible, and I’m always going to exhibitions and museums because you never know where inspiration might strike.

Right now I’m finishing edits on my next book, which comes out this Autumn – it’s about the last boy and girl born after humanity stop being able to conceive, so they grow up knowing that they will have to watch the human race go extinct.

Can you tell us about The Loneliest Girl in the Universe for anyone who hasn’t read it yet? 

A girl alone on a spaceship find a connection with another ship, just at the time she needs that the most.

What inspired you to write The Loneliest Girl? 

It started with a question from some Physics coursework at university! The question was about special relativity, and went something like this:

An astronaut travels in a spaceship to a new planet. After a few years, a newer faster ship is developed and launched, which overtakes the first ship. How old are the two astronauts when they each arrive on the planet?

I started thinking about what it would be like to be that first astronaut, and dedicate years to travelling alone in space, only for your ship to be overtaken by a faster one before you even arrive! What would that feel like? What kind of relationship would you have with the person on the faster ship? From that, the story of Romy Silvers was born.

I’ve always loved stories of isolation – it’s a great way to really get to know a character. I knew that if I was writing a whole book where there was only really one person, I would need to create a character who would keep the reader’s attention and loyalty. It was a big challenge, but I fell totally in love with Romy while I was writing about her, and I hope everyone reading The Loneliest Girl in the Universe does too.

What research did you have to do and what was the writing process like?

I always try to make the science in my books as accurate as possible, and I did a lot of research into space travel and the theory of space travel behind NASA’s equipment when writing The Loneliest Girl in the Universe. I read a lot of non-fiction about space travel – NASA does a series of free eBooks explaining their science for beginners, so I had a great time diving into them. I also got to watch loads of sci fi films like Moon, Gravity and Interstellar – and that really helped with capturing the aesthetics and design of the ship.

Which character was your favourite to write and why? 

Out of every character I’ve ever written, Everyone who reads The Last Beginning loves him – he’s had at least 3 declarations of love and/or marriage so far – and I totally agree. He’s an Artificial Intelligence who’s very sassy and wise, and obsessed with trashy tv shows. I could write him into every scene I write in any piece of fiction for the rest of my life, and it would improve it exponentially. I’ll probably miss writing his dialogue the most.

How would you keep yourself entertained and motivated if you were in Romy’s position alone in space? 

Lots of reading, like her! I honestly have a TBR on my kindle long enough to keep me occupied well to Earth II and back – fanfiction and otherwise.

What would you like readers to take away from reading The Loneliest Girl?

To be careful what you share online – in fandom or on social media.

Which writers or books inspire you? 

I love The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. She has an incredible way of really making her characters seem like real people, and I learn so much about writing different perspectives from her work. The set up of that series is just absolutely my favourite thing, and I’m forever jealous I didn’t invent the character Gansey.

People believe that being a published author is glamourous. Is that true?

Definitely not! I have to remind myself every single day that I still know how to write, while eating chocolate in my pyjamas. It’s not cool!

What first inspired you to start writing?

I read all the books in my local library and wanted to read books that didn’t exist yet.

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials blew my mind – I couldn’t believe that the fantasy world with talking bears and daemons was actually based on dark matter and science. That was just a complete change of perspective for me, about what writing could and should be.

Why did you choose to write your particular story? What did you feel you had to share with others?

I wanted to write about what happens after a post-apocalyptic novel.

Did you hide any secrets in your novel that only a few people would find?

Yes! All my books contain easter eggs to other books, including my own.

Can you share something you learned when researching for your book?

There is Roman treasure in the Thames river!

What other authors are you friends with, and how have they influenced your writing?

I’m friends with loads of other YA authors based in the UK – particularly Alice Oseman, Non Pratt, Sara Barnard and Catherine Doyle.

What does your writing day look like?

I write best at night, so I stay up outrageously late (sometimes until 5am, if I’ve nearing the end of a first draft – something I never did for even my degree!). I start the day by swimming, which is when I do my best plotting. I also plan a lot while I’m baking. Repetitive movements that keep my hands busy and away from checking social media are always my most productive times of the day.

How do you write? Are you a plotter or a panster? Do you write in silence or in front of the TV? Do you have special writing pants? 

I plot out everything in a giant excel spreadsheet before I start. I find the idea of writing without know the ending really scary, and I don’t know how people do it. For me, I need to know the final scenes to know how it starts – everything is built around where the story is leading, from the world to the characters to the scene shapes.

Saying that, I usually find I’ve forgotten to finish off a whole plotline by the time I write that far into the book. I’ll discover that my subconscious has seeded in things foreshadowing an ending I didn’t know existed until then. That always scares me a bit!

I write at a desk, with lots of music playing and a candle burning. But I try not to make a really particular writing ‘set up’, because then I’ll keep finding excuses not to write until it’s the perfect time for it. I can do it anywhere, really. I write a lot on my phone while I’m trying to get to sleep, and then type it up the next day.

What’s the funniest book you’ve ever read? 

The funniest book I’ve read isn’t even really a book, it’s a memoir about reading the novelisation of the film Back to the Future, by Ryan North. It’s on kindle here. I’ve read it at least seven times, which is for sure more times than I have ever seen the film it is tangentially based on. It just makes me cry with laughter every time. It’s not only hilarious, and a great lesson in gentle parody, but it’s also a really interesting analysis of writing for (and about) teenagers.

Which book do you wish you’d written?

I read Laura Ruby’s writing with a huge amount of jealousy. Her latest, York, is so so so good.

What one book would you take with you to a desert island? 

Can I cheat and say my kindle?! I have hundreds of unread review copies on there, which I would love uninterrupted time on a desert island to read. That’s the dream.

If you could live inside a book – but still be you – which book would you choose?

Probably Garth Nix’s the Old Kingdom, just because you get the best of both worlds, literally. There’s a magic kingdom full of magic and monsters, and on the other side of a wall, is the normal, safe, non-magical world. I’d like to live on the border and hop back and forth between the two.

When did you start participating in NaNoWriMo?

I started writing The Next Together when I was sixteen, because my friends were doing NaNoWriMo, and I didn’t want to be left out! I never intended to get the story published – I was writing just for myself, for fun.

I really loved the appeal of a website where you can upload a cover and blurb for your book, and see what all your friends are writing too. I failed that first year, because I was trying to write while studying. I ended up finishing the first draft of the book when I was nineteen.

The first draft was very self-indulgent, and included cameos from some of my professors, and lots of in-jokes. There was no pressure to write something good. I was just writing for myself, telling myself a bedtime story after classes. I never saw it as doing something scary or difficult.

Do any of your published novels contain characters or storylines created during NaNoWriMo – have any of your NaNo novels gone on to be published?

Yes, my first book was a NaNo novel in 2010. It was originally called The Red Earth Rolls, and ended up turning into The Next Together. I think I wrote 25,000 words during the actual month of November, which I’m pretty proud of!

Do you think NaNoWriMo has helped you hone any particular writing skills?

It’s a great way to forget your self-consciousness and just get the words on the page – and to think of first drafts as if you’re telling yourself the story, rather than actually writing a book. It’s hard to get delayed perfecting every word of the first chapter of an unfinished novel, otherwise.

What is it about NaNo that appeals to you as a writer?

I think it makes writing seem more achievable, and puts a quantifiable time frame on the writing process, which can seem very mysterious to a layman. Showing that people can write whole novels in a single month can be a great confidence boost to someone who didn’t think they had the time to write.

Did you find a good YA writing community on NaNoWriMo?

I really love seeing friends online, who I never knew were interested in writing, dive into NaNoWriMo. It’s so fun and rewarding seeing how much they can achieve during the month. And the different genres they write in are always so fascinating!

What helps your productivity during NaNo?

Avoiding social media!

What advice would you give to writers thinking about participating in NaNoWriMo 2018?

Do it! Make sure you spend October thinking about your characters and plot as much as possible though, so you can actually write during November.

What was the writing process for The Loneliest Girl in the Universe?

I always think the last book I wrote was the easiest and best to write, and then start another and remember how hard it is. The one I’m always writing always feels like a terrible disaster while I’m in the process of getting it down on paper. When I’ve done all the hard work and can look at a complete, perfect finished book, I like it – but during the writing process it’s torment. That’s true of all my books!

As I write more and more books, I’ve noticed some consistent themes – time travel is definitely one of them. Absent parents and scientific artificial reproduction methods are some others. I try not to look too hard at these, in case it reveals things about my psyche I don’t want to know!

Which character do you most resemble in your novel? 

 Romy is powerless, easily influenced, subject to frequent panic attacks, sensitive and lacks self confidence. She’s weak in almost every way you can name: emotionally, mentally and physically. Despite that, she’s the strongest female character I’ve ever written because she’s the most realistic of all of my characters.

She’s probably the most similar to me out of all of my characters, as that’s exactly how I felt during my Masters degree in Physics – I was very good at the science, but I still felt an overwhelming responsibility and imposter syndrome in my research that I struggled to deal with.

I knew that if I was writing a whole book where there was only really one person in isolation, I would need to create a character who would keep the reader’s attention and loyalty. It was a big challenge, but I fell totally in love with Romy while I was writing about her, and I hope everyone reading The Loneliest Girl in the Universe does too.

I loved the layout of the spaceship and Romy having been born there. How did you envision the layout and the workings of it?

The Infinity is a circular ship, and the living space is around the perimeter. The centre of the ship is used as storage for the supplies needed for the new planet, like building materials and food. Romy explores the dark, cramped storage area, which hasn’t been visited since the ship left Earth’s orbit. At times, it gets quite atmospheric.

How did you calculate the timelines due to the space-time delay in communicating? 

I had to calculate the time it would take for messages to travel to and from Earth to The Infinity and The Eternity on every single day of the book, something which ended up needing an enormous Excel spreadsheet.

How do you think Romy will inspire readers who have undergone similar circumstances in life?

I really wanted to make a flawed character because every woman is worth reading about, as long as they are human: with whatever strengths and weaknesses that includes. They don’t have to be likeable and admirable and special to be deserving of attention.

Being an individual is all women need to do to be strong and respected. That’s it. Wear pink dresses or wear black combat trousers. Long for a relationship or spend your time fighting enemies (or both).

Girls don’t need to prove themselves as strong. They are already enough.

What do you hope readers take away from Romy’s resilience and ability to not let the universe get the best of her? 

You’re brave enough. Even if you don’t feel like you are, you’re capable of more than you realise.

If you could travel to space, where would you visit? 

I’m not sure. I think I’m probably not as brave as Romy. I might go after tourism space travel has been running for a few decades and it has been proven its safe, but definitely not yet! If I could go anywhere safely, I would want to go and visit an alien civilisation!

The way Romy pours her heart out into fandom isn’t so dissimilar to the way that many teenagers seek comfort online when they feel alienated by the real world. Was this something you planned on doing?

Absolutely. Growing up, fandom was a hugely important way I learnt about sexuality, romance and relationships. I thought that a reliance on online resources would be even more amplified for a girl isolated from human contact. Romy uses fanfics to explore her own sexuality in a safe space at her own pace, in a way that I hope will resonate with a lot of teenagers today.

I also think online dating is something that teenagers today experience more and more, whether that’s apps like Tinder or just chatting on Facebook Messenger. The plotline with J came about because I wanted to explore.

Romy’s chosen fandom is a TV series about a crime fighting selkie/banshee duo called Loch & Ness – have you written any episodes that you’ll be sharing with your fans?

I’ve posted all of Romy’s fics about Loch & Ness on Wattpad here, including a lot which aren’t included in the book. I’d love the chance to write about the real Lyra and Jayden, in a Rainbow Rowell style spin-off, like her Fangirl/Carry On duology. The focus was mainly on Romy’s experiences being reflected in her writing, rather than Loch & Ness itself – so there’s a lot more to discuss in that world!

Your first two books were written in the third person, but here you’ve made the switch to first – why was that?

The plot is so character driven that I knew I was going to need to really get inside Romy’s head to make it work. The reader needed to really invest in her character, and I thought that feeling like the reader is there themselves by using first person would be the best way to do that. For the same reason, I tried not to describe Romy’s appearance, so the reader can really imagine themselves in her role.

Romy holds a lot back from the reader, how did you execute this during the drafting process?

Honestly, for a lot of the book, I didn’t know the backstory about Romy’s parents. In my pitch, there was a roughly sketched ‘event’ that happened, but I didn’t know what it was. So it was quite natural for Romy to reveal information to the reader slowly, because that’s how I developed the story myself.

There’s a particular scene in which Romy has to address some dental issues that provoked  A Reaction in me. Were there any scenes you found especially taxing – or in deed enjoyable – to write?

I found the parts in the stores quite scary. The Infinity is a circular ship, and the living space is around the perimeter. The centre of the ship is used as storage for the supplies needed for the new planet, like building materials and food. Romy explores the dark, cramped storage area, which hasn’t been visited since the ship left Earth’s orbit. At times, it gets quite atmospheric.

Your book cover is LUSH is there anything you can share about the design process?

It was actually a really simple design process, as far as I’m aware. The designers, Iree Pugh and Maria Soler, settled on the concept straight away and we didn’t even consider any other ideas.

There isn’t much sci-fi in YA, so have you any books or films you’d recommend to someone who enjoys Loneliest but doesn’t know where to go next?

Gravity, Moon, The Yellow Wallpaper, A Closed and Common Orbit, The Diary of a Young Girl, Kiss Me First and Lirael are all really excellent stories about isolated characters.

Fictional crime fighting selkie Jayden or J?

Jayden!  How can you resist a SEAL? Mermaid dog!

Would you rather control space or time?

Unbelievably for a science fiction writer, I’ve never been asked this question before, and it kind of blew my mind. I think time, because if you go far enough into the future you can find a spaceship that will let you travel anywhere in space. Right? Don’t hold me to that answer.

You can either read only fanfic forever OR only canon? 

FIC. Did not even have to think about it. It’s always, always better than the canon. If you want your mind blown, ask me for a rec in a fandom and I’ll change your life.

Writing or editing?

Editing! Drafting is like trying to paint in the dark. At least with editing, you’ve got the lights on and can see what you’ve already laid out.

Pick a liquorice allsort!

You will not believe the Wikipedia diving I just went into about Liquroice Allsorts. I now know more than I need to about sweet production.  I’m gonna go with the pink dot-covered ones, though.

Which Alien movie?

Prometheus! I’m a massive fan of Naomi Rapace.

Recommend some UKYA books you’ve read this year!

Girlhood – This is described as a queer boarding school book, which is the perfect description. It’s about toxic friendships in a very enclosed, inter-dependant environment, where your peer relationships are quite literally a matter of life or death.

Truth or Dare  – It’s one of the best books about teenagers using social media I’ve read, and has the best character development ever. I still think about the shock of the point of view switch-over. 

How much did the idea of online dating influence the plot?

A lot –  I think online dating is something that teenagers today experience more and more, whether that’s apps like Tinder or just chatting on Facebook Messenger. I wanted to explore that in a way that wasn’t a UK contemporary novel, and setting it in space was a nice twist.

How would you describe Loneliest Girl in the Universe to an alien?

I’d probably start by trying to form a common communication method through sound or light, and then establish a basic mutual understanding of the universe through mathematical and physical principles, before moving on to language-based nouns and verbs.

Is writing an essentially lonely profession?

Being an author involves spending a lot of time alone, staying up late at night to write, summoning the devil in exchange for book ideas..….wait, what?

It’s very lonely, but that’s exactly why I like it. And probably why Twitter was invented.

Why is ‘realistic’ science fiction so popular?

I think there’s a danger of crossing over into Fantasy instead of Science Fiction if you don’t base your technology in solid scientific concepts, and there’s never been as much appeal in writing Fantasy for me. As long as there’s some seed of truth, it’s very easy to make readers believe anything else.

Why is Young Adult fiction doing so well?

Personally, I am attracted to YA because it gives me things that simply aren’t available in Adult fiction. I joke that as a teenager I read adult fiction, and as an adult I read teenager fiction. That’s completely true, and I’ve spoken to many people with the same experiences. I want to read diverse, fresh and socially conscious stories which represent the reality of the world I live in. I really wasn’t finding that in the Literary Fiction I was reading. It may be aimed at teenagers, but YA is on the cutting edge of fiction, taking risks to do new things which other areas of publishing have never done.

The YA reading community is so passionate and socially aware, and that demand online for better and more respectful diversity has encouraged more publishers to buy diverse books, meaning that YA books are on the forefront of change – one example being the huge increase in LGBT YA literature in recent years (like my second novel The Last Beginning, which has a lesbian relationship!). Things happen more rapidly and collaboratively here than anywhere else.

Is it really Young Adults reading YA?

I think there is a lot of crossover these days, but while I’m delighted that adults read my books too, my main priority is getting the books to their intended readers. I wrote The Loneliest Girl in the Universe for girls who don’t feel brave or strong enough to be the hero in an adventure story. I wrote The Last Beginning for teenagers who have moved beyond the desire to read LGBT Coming Out stories, and are desperate to find a book about a girl who loves a girl, just having an adventure.

YA authors write things which children read, things which can shape their views for life. The authors of YA have a huge responsibility to their young readers, and I think being aware of that responsibility creates very well-crafted books.

Is the sci-fi community as diverse as it thinks it is?

I think social media has done a lot for the diverse fiction movement, both good and bad. It’s brought a lot of attention to the issue, and encouraged publishers to take strides to increase diversity on their list and in their offices, but at times it can feel quite forceful and angry.

I can completely understand why some authors have felt the need to include diversity in their fiction for fear of backlash. I’m sure that, on the other side, there are also authors who are afraid to write about minorities because social media is so vocal that they’re worried about the backlash if they got it wrong – or just not-quite-right.

I think, ultimately, you have to ignore all the chatter and just focus on what you, personally, think is right. Every book should be written primarily for the author, first and foremost. You have to look at the world around you and try to write about it as realistically as possible – or what’s the point of being a writer?

Is publishing more accessible these days? Is it easier to get published?

For me, the process was relatively straightforward – I found an agent after querying six, and after we submitted the draft to publishers we had two offers within a fortnight. However, it wasn’t easy – I worked on editing the draft for a year before submission. That isn’t something you can do unless you have the financial support to work speculatively without guarantee of income, which means writing isn’t an accessible industry for lower class demographics.

What authors are you reading? And why?

I love Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho, Radio Silence by Alice Oseman, Lirael by Garth Nix, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susannah Clarke and Far From You by Tess Sharpe.

Did you always dream of becoming a writer?

I started writing The Next Together when I was sixteen, and finished the first draft when I was nineteen. I never intended to get the story published – I was writing just for myself, for fun! The first draft was very self-indulgent, and included cameos from some of my professors, and lots of in-jokes. There was no pressure to write something good. I was just writing for myself, telling myself a bedtime story after classes. I never saw it as doing something scary or difficult.

I always loved the idea of being a writer, but I absolutely didn’t think it was possible. I thought people who became authors must have spent their whole life writing, and I was too interested in doing other things for that.

My second novel The Last Beginning, which I wrote after I’d got a book deal, was about twenty times harder because suddenly there was all of this pressure. I had to push past a lot of fear which had never been there before.

Being an author is quite similar to how I imagined it, though – spending a lot of time alone, staying up late at night to write, summoning the devil in exchange for book ideas..….wait, what?

How did you feel when secured your first publishing deal at 21?

It was very exciting and scary, and I still feel very lucky! When The Next Together was finished I left it for a few months, and when I came back to it, I was surprised to find that it wasn’t as terrible as I remembered. It even made me laugh a few times. I decided to send it off to some literary agents, just to see if they could give me some useful feedback.

I had absolutely no idea how the publishing industry worked, and I think I read one How To article on query letters before writing one and blithely sending it off into the aether. I found an A to Z list of agents and started emailing with the Z’s, because I thought they’d have the least submissions. In the end, I found an agent on W, after I’d emailed only six agencies. It was a very naive way to apply, but I got very lucky – my agent is incredible, and last year she was shortlisted for the Bookseller’s Agent of the Year award.

We then submitted to publishers after a whole year of revisions (I was still at university so could only really work on it during the holidays) and within two weeks, two publishers had offered. Saying it now, that seems so easy and fast, but at the time it was the most stressful, delirious fortnight of my life. I’ve been through the submission process several times since then, and it does not get any easier.

What authors have influenced your writing?

I read a wide range of genres, and because of that I try to make my books a little bit of every genre – The Loneliest Girl in the Universe is a bit fandom, a bit thriller, a bit romance and a bit sci fi.

I think if I didn’t write a variety of different genres, I’d probably get bored. My next books are a mix of different genres again – my latest book, which I’m still writing, is a paranormal supervillain origin story. So something completely different, again!

What issues do you like to explore in your writing?

I always try to include LGBT+ characters in my books. I was so frustrated as a teenager because, as a huge sci fi fan, I could never find diverse characters in the worlds I loved. Recently there’s been some amazing progress in this direction (like The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet) but at the time, it felt a completely barren wasteland. I wanted to write about a character who was gay, but the book wasn’t a coming out story. I wanted them to get to do things, while being gay.

How has your interest in science influenced your writing?

I studied Chemistry and Physics at university, so if I hadn’t become a writer, I would probably be a research scientist focusing on physical chemistry. I would love to go back to science one day – I really miss it!

The time machine in The Last Beginning is also based on real life research into sub-atomic particles at CERN, like the Large Hadron Collider. Based on the predictions physicists have made about the possibilities of time travel, I thought that was a logical starting point to progress from. I wanted to feel very real and possible – it’s simplified a lot in the book from how these things might actually work, but the grounding of the science is very plausible. I hope! [crosses fingers no physicists immediately call me on my mistakes]

What was it like to see your books translated into another language?

It’s huge. Seeing my words in another language is something I’ve always wanted to have – so it’s incredible that it’s actually happened! I can’t quite believe it still.

I’m especially proud of the Brazilian edition, as I studied in America for a year, and spent most of my time hanging out with Brazilian students who were also studying abroad for a year. So there was a LOT of excitement amongst my friends when the translated edition came out in Brazil. They keep sending me pictures of it, and trying to persuade everyone to buy it!

Would you or have you sought out members from other sides of the community for research for characters who, for example, might be gay?

I would research any characters who aren’t within my own experience, such as trans, Muslim, disabled, black – or even anyone who wasn’t from England! I usually research by reading #ownvoices novels, watching youtubers talk about their own experiences, and following people on tumblr. I’ve not yet hired a sensitivity reader, but I have a few projects coming up where I plan to. I’m going to use this Writing in the Margins resource to find a suitable intersectional editor, I think.

Who is your favourite LGBT author?

Sarah Waters, Alice Oseman, Cat Clarke, Alex Gino, Meredith Russo and V E Schwab are all amazing examples of how to combine accurate representation with genuinely thrilling and literary writing that will appeal to a broad audience.

Do you bring your own experiences surrounding the LGBT community and outside of that into your own works?

Absolutely! Everything I do impacts everything I write. I think one of the most important things an #ownvoices writer can bring to fiction isn’t necessarily the big experiences you have as a minority, but the smaller, everyday experiences that straight/white/cis people might not necessarily pick up on. The nuances of being in the LBGT community that aren’t tragic backstory or Pride parades, but everyday domestic life, in all its rainbow colours. That’s the real authenticity that only someone inside the LGBT community can write.

What are your thoughts on the mentality of some writers forcing diverse characters into the works to become more appealing and accepted the world of literature.

I think social media has done a lot for the diverse fiction movement, both good and bad. It’s brought a lot of attention to the issue, and encouraged publishers to take strides to increase diversity on their list and in their offices, but at times it can feel quite forceful and angry.

I can completely understand why some authors have felt the need to include diversity in their fiction for fear of backlash. I’m sure that, on the other side, there are also authors who are afraid to write about minorities because social media is so vocal that they’re worried about the backlash if they got it wrong – or just not-quite-right.

I think, ultimately, you have to ignore all the chatter and just focus on what you, personally, think is right. Every book should be written primarily for the author, first and foremost. You have to look at the world around you and try to write about it as realistically as possible – or what’s the point of being a writer?

Out of all of your works, which was your favourite to work on and why?

Always the last one I finished, I think! When I’ve done all the hard work and can look at a complete, perfect finished book. The one I’m always writing always feels like a terrible disaster while I’m in the process of getting it down on paper.

Do you have an essential LGBT+ literature recommendations?

L: We Are Okay,  The One Hundred Nights of Hero

G: Timekeeper, I’ll Give You the Sun

B: Girlhood, Far From You

T: When the Moon Was OursGeorge

A: Radio Silence, Clariel

What is your writing kyrptonite?

TUMBLR. I always waste forever on tumblr. Although, to be fair it is a writing tool too. I do a lot of brainstorming on tumblr, often based on text posts like this, which is the most perfect thing to come across on your dash when you’re struggling for inspiration. I think the online community is a brilliantly creative place.

In particular, fanfiction is training a huge generation of writers better than any Creative Writing course could – and it’s all based on enthusiasm and enjoyment, which is just incredible!

What do your future plans include?

I want to write for as long as possible. I want to be a writer for my whole life, and earn a living wage from it. Everything you read tells you that for a new author in the 21st century, it’s not possible to support yourself by writing. I’m going to fight to prove that’s not the case. I’m doing okay so far, I think…

If you could spend a day with any character from one of your works, who would it be and what would you do during that time?

Spart! Everyone who reads The Last Beginning loves Spart – he’s had at least 3 declarations of love and/or marriage so far – and I totally agree. He’s an Artificial Intelligence who’s very sassy and wise, and obsessed with trashy tv shows. I could write him into every scene I write in any piece of fiction for the rest of my life, and it would improve it exponentially. I’ll probably miss writing his dialogue the most.

I think I would want to go time travelling with him, like Clove!

US COVER

Your first published novel, ‘The Next Together’, was a romance through time. Where did you get your inspiration from?

I’m not really sure where the idea first came from, actually. I’ve been thinking about a couple who are reincarnated throughout history since I was about sixteen. I always wrote about them during Creative Writing assignments at school! It stuck with me long enough for me to actually start writing the full novel when I was eighteen and at university. It’s been with me for a very long time!

Are the characters Katherine and Matthew based on people around you, or is it entirely fictional?

I think both Kate and Matt are a little bit of me. They are like my babies, who are also both really similar to me (is that weird? I think that’s weird!). Apart from just shamelessly stealing my own characteristics – Matt is based a little on Prince Char from Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. I absolutely adored that book when I was thirteen, and I would have taken a bullet for Char – and Matt!

Kate is inspired by Jim Kirk as played by Chris Pine in the Star Trek reboot, because when I saw that film I was desperate for a silly, lewd, brave character like him – but who was a girl!

I love them for all their ridiculousness and occasional stupidity. Kate is very bossy and confident, and Matt is a little more shy and contemplative. He’s also completely in awe of Kate.

For the characters in the sequel, Clove was based around trying to combine Kate and Matt’s personalities into a way that made sense, as she’s (spoilers!) their daughter. I wanted to show that they both had flaws, but their abilities fitted together so they worked best as a team – and Clove is the best example of that.

Was the sequel, ‘The Last Beginning’, planned originally or did you decide to write it after the success of your first novel?

I actually didn’t know there was going to be a sequel until I finished writing The Next Together. When I got to the end I realised that there was this whole other story to be told, from the other side of things. I then wrote the first draft of The Last Beginning while we were sending The Next Together to publishers. Luckily the timing worked quite well because I was working on the edits for The Next Together while writing The Last Beginning, so I was able to go back in to the first book and seed in lots of scenes and conversations and plot developments that I’d come up with while writing the sequel.

It was lots of fun, writing offhand mentions of certain characters in TNT, knowing that readers would glide over them without paying attention – and then the minute they read TLB, they’d be like “OH MY GOD. I’ve known them since the last book!”

Writing a second novel is infamously harder because you’re writing it with an awareness that people are going to read it, whereas a first novel is just written for yourself. Besides which, a first novel is made up of a lifetime’s worth of experiences, but a second novel has to find something new and unique based on only a year’s worth of new living. The pressure can be crippling at times.

I think that the hardest part was keeping track of what was happening from the perspectives of the different characters in each scene. Because there is a lot of time travel, the characters all come from different points in time, and that changes where they are in the story’s chronology – and what they all know, or don’t know, about each other. Sometimes I’d have a character offering up information they didn’t actually know (yet), which made me feel a bit stupid – and gave my editors a headache!

If you could try writing another genre, what genre would it be and why?

I try to make my books a little bit of every genre – The Next Together is a historical drama, a conspiracy theory thriller, a science fiction adventure, and plenty more besides!

I think if I didn’t write a variety of different genres, I’d probably get bored. My next books are a mix of different genres again – my latest book, which I’m still writing, is a paranormal supervillain origin story. So something completely different, again!

Do you draw any inspiration from other authors, and if so, whom?

I’ve recently discovered Maggie Stiefvater. She has an incredible way of really making her characters seem like real people, and I learn so much about writing different perspectives from her work.

Would you agree that being an author is a worthwhile career choice, and did you experience any problems while writing or publishing your novels?

I started writing The Next Together when I was sixteen, and finished the first draft when I was nineteen. I had absolutely no idea how the publishing industry worked, and I think I read one How To article on query letters before writing one and blithely sending it off into the aether!

I found an A to Z list of agents and started emailing with the Z’s, because I thought they’d have the least submissions. In the end, I found an agent on W, after I’d emailed only six agencies. It was a very naive way to apply, but I got very lucky – my agent is incredible, and last year she was shortlisted for the Bookseller’s Agent of the Year award.

We then submitted to publishers after a whole year of revisions (I was still at university so could only really work on it during the holidays) and within two weeks two publishers had offered. Saying it now, that seems so easy and fast, but at the time it was the most stressful, delirious fortnight of my life. I’ve been through the submission process several times since then, and it does not get any easier.

My second novel, which I wrote after I’d got a book deal, was about twenty times harder because suddenly there was all of this pressure. I had to push past a lot of fear which had never been there before. For The Next Together, there was no pressure to write something good. I was just writing for myself, telling myself a bedtime story after classes. I never saw it as doing something scary or difficult. I always loved the idea of being a writer, but I absolutely didn’t think it was possible. I thought people who became authors must have spent their whole life writing, and I was too interested in doing other things for that.

I’ve already achieved my big dream of being an author – but I’d quite like to be able to carry on being one for as long as possible. So my current goal is to continue to earn enough from writing to make it my career, instead of an occasionally-funded hobby. Everything you read tells you that for a new author in the 21st century, it’s not possible to support yourself by writing. I’m going to fight to prove that’s not the case.

Being an author is quite similar to how I imagined it, though – spending a lot of time alone, staying up late at night to write, summoning the devil in exchange for book ideas..….wait, what?

When the first idea came out, you really intended to write an unique history, full of overturns without turning it into  a tiresome reading?

I’m so glad you liked it! I started writing by making a huge list of all the things I love reading most, and tried to combine them all into one storyline. It was quite challenging, but very satisfying!

Katherine and Matthew are two characters that keep meeting each other over and over again. How was to choose each personality, each history and each year, and also taking care of keeping some references through the time?

Kate and Matt are the same people, but sometimes they are equals and sometimes they aren’t. In one timeline Matthew is Katherine’s servant, in another the opposite is true. This allows a lot of variety in their relationships development, but at the same time I wanted to make sure I kept an element of continuity throughout the book, so that the book felt like it all tied together, rather than being a collection of stories about separate people.

The concept of Nature versus Nurture – seeing how someone with unchanging personality traits can change just because of their upbringing – has always interested me. I was drawn to the idea of reincarnation because I thought it would be a really interesting plot device to use to explore this kind of characterisation, as I could write about the same people in different lives.

Fanfiction AUs were a big inspiration for the multiple timelines of The Next Together – I love reading about my favourite characters in different situations, and seeing how the same core relationships play out in a variety of ways because of their environment. I wanted to explore that in a novel.

I love books that mix fiction with reality and your book is one of them. In the end, you talk about making some historical changes using poetic licence and I imagine how it asks a lot of research. It mades writing harder and took more time to finish the book or it was natural for you?

The Next Together includes two storylines set in the past, one in 1745 and one in 1854. I was a student when I started writing as a hobby, so I didn’t want to spend any money on history textbooks. I actually chose the timelines in the book based on which I could research for free, mainly using my university library and primary sources available to access on Google Books.

It seemed to work out quite well! I was very naïve when I started writing, and definitely didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I was a very frequent visitor of Wikipedia. I spent a lot of time reading old books and diaries and making endless notes. It was definitely worth it though – I hope it adds more realism to the time periods

The Last Beginning follows the reason of everything that happened with Matthew and Katherine. This was part of your idea since you started or in the middle you thought it would be better write a continuation to explore some things in a better way?

I actually didn’t know there was going to be a sequel until I finished writing The Next Together. When I got to the end I realised that there was this whole other story to be told, from the other side of things. I then wrote the first draft of The Last Beginning, and luckily it coincided quite well because I was working on the edits for TNT.

I was able to go back in and seed in lots of scenes and conversations and plot developments that I’d come up with while writing TLB. It was lots of fun, writing offhand mentions of certain characters in TNT, knowing that readers would glide over them without paying attention – and then the minute they read TLB, they’d be like “OH MY GOD. I’ve known them since the last book!”

We will meet LGBT characters in The Last Beginning. There are a lot of talk about diversity recently, but we still don’t have lots of books talking about it – and we need to. It was a motivation for you?

Yes, definitely! I was so frustrated because, as a huge sci fi fan, I could never find diverse characters in the worlds I loved. Recently there’s been some amazing progress in this direction (like THE LONG WAY TO A SMALL ANGRY PLANET) but at the time, it felt a completely barren wasteland. I wanted to write about a character who was gay, but the book wasn’t a coming out story. I wanted them to get to do things, while being gay. (Amazing!)

You’re a bookaholic as well and on your bio you say you’re a ravenclaw. Besides Harry Potter and JK Rowling, what books and authors inspired you? Recommend some for us.

Lirael by Garth Nix

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susannah Clarke

What is the privilege of being a writer?

Getting to see words you’ve written on a page. Having worlds and characters you’ve created become real in other people’s heads. There’s nothing like it.

Now you’re an internationally published author. How is for you to know your words are being read around the world? Did you receive messages from brazilian readers, specially?

It’s huge. Seeing my words in another language is something I’ve always wanted to do – so it’s incredible that it’s actually happened! I can’t quite believe it still.

And as for the Brazilian edition – I studied in America for a year, and spent most of my time hanging out with Brazilian students who were also studying abroad for a year. So there was a LOT of excitement amongst my friends when the translated edition came out in Brazil. They keep sending me pictures of it, and trying to persuade everyone to buy it!

PING-PONG
If you were another author, would you be: Sarah Waters
If you were a book, would you be: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
If you were a character, would you be: Artemis Fowl
If you were a place, would you be: Cornwall, UK
If you were a song, would you be: Come on Eileen by Dexy’s Midnight Runners
If you were a feeling, would you be: Laughter
If you were a word, would you be: Cantankerous
If you were a phrase, would you be: Shoot for the stars – if you fail, you’ll still land on the moon.

The Last Beginning by Lauren James_publishing October 2016

The storylines of The Next Together and The Last Beginning are completely intertwined – did you write both books together or did you write one first and then cross reference?

I actually didn’t know there was going to be a sequel until I finished writing The Next Together. When I got to the end I realised that there was this whole other story to be told, from the other side of things. I then wrote the first draft of The Last Beginning, and luckily it coincided quite well because I was working on the edits for TNT.

I was able to go back in and seed in lots of scenes and conversations and plot developments that I’d come up with while writing TLB. It was lots of fun, writing offhand mentions of certain characters in TNT, knowing that readers would glide over them without paying attention – and then the minute they read TLB, they’d be like “OH MY GOD. I’ve known them since the last book!”

Much of The Last Beginning is set in the future, how was it to write those chapters?

So fun. I loved coming up with the futuristic technology. I always try to hold back on making futures very different from modern life – because comparing our world now with how 1960s sci fi imagined the millennium would be, there aren’t as many advances as expected. I want to tone it down enough to keep it realistic – and avoid embarrassing myself in a few decades with my wild ideas!

The Last Beginning includes way more science than The Next Together – as a science graduate did you enjoy writing these parts and how much of the time travel theory did you have to make up?

I loved it so much. It’s one of my favourite parts of writing.

In your 6 Questions with Lauren James interview you said that you were challenged by the historical research that was involved with The Next Together. Was that an issue when writing The Last Beginning?

Not at all – there’s only one historical setting, and it’s one that I’ve already written about. I did refresh my memory a bit, but I made things a lot easier for myself this time around!

There are lots of very clever twists and revelations in The Last Beginning that were a joy to read – were there any plot lines that you were concerned you might not be able to resolve?

I think that the hardest part was keeping track of what was happening from the perspectives of the different characters in each scene. Because there is a lot of time travel, the characters all come from different points in time, and that changes where they are in the story’s chronology – and what they all know, or don’t know, about each other. Sometimes I’d have a character offering up information they didn’t actually know (yet), which made me feel a bit stupid – and gave my editors a headache!

Knowing how much people enjoyed The Next Together did you feel any additional pressure when writing The Last Beginning?

Yes, definitely. Because I wrote it after I’d got a book deal, it was about twenty times harder because suddenly I knew that people were definitely going to read it. I had to push past a lot of fear which had never been there before. Eventually it all clicked into place though – and I began worrying about my next book!

 You said that the idea of people falling in love over an over has been with you a long time, is it strange to have finished that story?

So weird! It feels like a period of my life has ended. I’ve been writing about Kate and Matt since I was sixteen – eight years!

You’ve written a short story featuring Matthew and Katherine in a time period not explored in The Next Together – are you tempted to write more novellas?

I’d love to write more set in this world. Maybe about Ella and Clove’s relationship in the future. Another Together was from Matthew’s point of view – I’d love to write from Ella’s! I’ve already written some short stories for my website, because I can’t let these characters go.

Matthew and Katherine’s relationship is something that you’ve explored in so much detail, how was it to write about Clove and Ella and Tom and Jen?

I loved it. It brought so much depth to the world, and context to Kate and Matt. I particularly loved exploring Tom more, and seeing where he ended up after his part in Kate and Matt’s story. And I love Jen so much – she’s a strong female scientist! Basically, I love them all.

And finally, have you started working on book 3 and if so, is there anything you can tell us yet?

I have a few other projects coming up, but they haven’t been announced yet, so I can’t say much more than that I’m sticking with science fiction, and focussing on a thriller next. 

How would you describe The Last Beginning in 5 words?

Lesbian romance with MANY JOKES. 

I loved how Clove’s sexuality wasn’t a big deal within the story and I was wondering if you made a conscious decision to write Clove as gay?

 Yes, definitely! Outside of her role in the plot, it was one of the first things I knew about her.

Did you ever get confused with all the cross-overs between characters and plots in the two books? (I thought it was so clever how the two weaved together, I’ve never read anything so complex written in a way that is so logical and easy to understand.)

Thank you so much! I’m glad I pulled it off – I did try to make it as clear as possible, so people didn’t get hopelessly lost. The hardest part was keeping track of what was happening from the perspectives of the different characters in each scene. Because there is a lot of time travel, the characters all come from different points in time, and that changes where they are in the story’s chronology – and what they all know, or don’t know, about each other. Sometimes I’d have a character offering up information they didn’t actually know (yet), which made me feel a bit stupid!

Did you have to do a lot of research regarding the coding and time-machine? I know you studied Natural Sciences at University but I can’t imagine you studying time-machines there, but if you did then I might have to completely change my UCAS applications! 

The time machine is based on real life research into sub-atomic particles at CERN, like the Large Hadron Collider. Based on the predictions physicists have made about the possibilities of time travel, I thought that was a logical starting point to progress from. I wanted to feel very real and possible – it’s simplified a lot in the book from how these things might actually work, but the grounding of the science is very plausible. I hope! [crosses fingers no physicists immediately call me on my mistakes]

Did you miss writing the alternating times structure of The Next Together, as this book is, for the majority, chronological?

It was a bit harder to write – when I got stuck with writing TNT, I’d hop over to another timeline and write that for a bit, until the plot problem unravelled naturally in my mind. With this one, I just had to force myself to work out the problem so I could carry on writing at all!

Finally, just because I am now Clovella trash,  if you could write another time-line for Clove and Ella, like one of the love stories of Katherine and Matthew in the first book, where would you want it to be set in time and space? 

I’m completely obsessed with ‘Clovella’. I’d never thought about their ship name before now and it is DARLING. Thank you for founding a new shipping dynasty.

I think about this so much, because I’m really not ready to let go of Clove and Ella, I love them. I’ve already written some short stories for my website, but next I would like to write from Ella’s point of view, like Another Together was from Matthew’s. Maybe (keeping this as spoiler free as possible) something about Ella’s home when Clove visits?

How did you juggle writing the three different timelines of Katherine and Matthew’s story?

 In hindsight, choosing a storyline with multiple time periods might have been a bad idea for my first ever novel! The various plot threads and time periods were very complicated to keep track of, especially during editing, when I struggled to remember which plotlines I had written, which I had removed from an earlier draft, or had yet to write. As the plot involves time travel elements, this made is especially confusing. I had to make a lot of posters keeping track of plots. Basically: I did juggle it, but there were a lot of dropped balls.

Can you tell us a bit about what you’re reading at the moment?

I’m reading AND I DARKEN. It’s so good – very dark and powerful, and a great example of the ever stretching boundaries of the nebulous genre of YA.

Because I can’t just read one book at a time, I’m also reading CROOKED KINGDOM and NOT YOUR SIDEKICK. Both are excellent. And very diverse.

 Firstly, can you tell us a little bit about The Last Beginning?

The Last Beginning is the follow-up to my first book The Next Together.  It’s a sequel/prequel (time travel is complicated!) It’s a lesbian romance with LOTS OF JOKES.

 Talk to us about your protagonist, Clove! What is she like?

Clove is the [redacted] relation of characters in TNT. She’s very angry and grumpy and defensive at the start of the book. She has hyperactivity issues & she’s studying programming. She’s also got a horrible, debilitating crush on her straight best friend. It’s #tragic. Her sidekick is a AI called Spart. She loves smoky bacon crisps and knitting. I LOVE HER SO MUCH. I’m getting all emotional.

If you could give one piece of advice to Clove at the beginning of this book, what would it be?

To chill a little bit. She’s kind of highly strung. And to stop being mad at her parents for loving her too much, because that’s just stupid.

I am frequently in awe of your ability to play with multiple time-scapes at once. I’ve heard through the grapevine that you are a wizard. If this is, in fact, NOT the case, could you tell us what the hardest/most challenging part of writing The Last Beginning?

I have no comment on my magical abilities. Please refer all other questions to my familiar.

I think that the hardest part was keeping track of what was happening from the perspectives of the different characters in each scene. Because there is a lot of time travel, the characters all come from different points in time, and that changes where they are in the story’s chronology – and what they all know, or don’t know, about each other. Sometimes I’d have a character offering up information they didn’t actually know (yet), which made me feel a bit stupid – and gave my editors a headache!

Can you tell us something special/secret about the romance in The Last Beginning?

Kate and Matt fell in love in the past (lots of times). Clove and her love interest, Ella, fall in love in the future. It makes things very confusing for everyone involved.

If you and Clove could go time-hopping to any period together, where would you go? Who would take care of who?

I would actually quite like Clove to take me around her time. Her parents Tom and Jen are building the world’s first time machine at St Andrews University. I’d love a tour of the fancy equipment. Maybe a few years after the end of The Last Beginning, in 2058? Clove would definitely be the boss. I’m hopeless.

Now that you are coming to the end of your duology, which character will you miss the most? (Yes, this IS a sneaky way of asking who your favourite is!)

Oh nooooooo! Everyone who’s read it so far has loved a new character called Spart – he’s had at least 3 declarations of love and/or marriage. I’ll probably miss writing his dialogue the most. He’s an Artificial Intelligence who’s very sassy and wise, and obsessed with trashy tv shows. I could write him into every scene I write in any piece of fiction for the rest of my life, and it would improve it exponentially.

And finally, how many times CAN you lose the person you love?!

The truth is that with time travel, they’re never really lost at all.

Obviously contemporary debates around Scotland and Europe influenced your writing. The Next Together was published after the Scottish referendum but I’m guessing you’ll have written most of it before. Did you end up changing anything as real events unfolded?

There was a tense time when the Scottish referendum happened, because it was a month or so after the book had officially gone to print. If the result had been different, and Scotland had left the UK in 2015 instead of in the future like in the book, then the politics in TNT would have been out of date before it was ever published!

Interestingly, the same thing happened with The Last Beginning – the book is set in 2056, when the UK is separate from the EU and has been at war with them for years. After the book was all completely finished and ready to be printed, Brexit happened! Apparently I’m great at accidentally predicting a lot of British politics.

When I saw you at the library, you mentioned not really knowing a lot about the periods of history you chose to write about and getting a lot of information from Google Books. Given that, how did you decide which periods you wanted to write about?

The Next Together includes two storylines set in the past, one in 1745 and one in 1854. I was a student when I started writing as a hobby, so I didn’t want to spend any money on history textbooks. I actually chose the timelines in the book based on which I could research for free, mainly using my university library and primary sources available to access on Google Books.

It seemed to work out quite well! I was very naïve when I started writing, and definitely didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I was a very frequent visitor of Wikipedia. I spent a lot of time reading old books and diaries and making endless notes. It was definitely worth it though – I hope it adds more realism to the time periods.

There are a lot of places as well as times in the book. Obviously you were able to draw on experience for the West Mids and Nottingham Uni, but a lot also happens in Carlisle. Is that somewhere you knew or had a connection to beforehand, or did you just choose that to fit the plot?

Carlisle is the location of the last castle in England to actually come under siege, which I thought was really interesting. It’s almost on the very border of history between medieval and modern warfare. It worked as a great contrast to the futuristic settings of Kate and Matt’s other lives.

“West Midlands” is a fairly broad term. When you were writing about CSL, did you have anywhere in mind that you were basing it on, or any part of the West Midlands you imagined it being located?

I went to the University of Nottingham, and live in the West Midlands, so both of those locations were just shamelessly stolen from my life. In my head I was imaging the CSL building as something similar to Warwick University’s science research facilities outside campus, where I did some research whilst I was at school.

Coventry probably doesn’t have the greatest reputation as a creative hub or a place to nurture new talent, but things do seem to be changing lately, like with FarGo Village and the City of Culture bid. What do you think of the city as a place to be a young creative – when you were growing up or now?

I’m not very involved in Coventry’s creative scene – I think with the internet, there isn’t as much need for a physically close social network, as you can connect with people with similar interests so easily. I would jump at the chance to join a local book club though – and I’m really excited to check out Fargo village when I do my event at the Big Comfy Bookshop.

I also love and constantly use Coventry Libraries. I read, without hyperbole, every single book in Coundon Library as a kid. I used to get the maximum number of books out on my library card and my mum and dad and brother’s, and bring all fifty of them back a week later for more. The recent and upcoming closures make me unspeakably sad, especially that there are children today who are losing out on that local resource that basically made me the reader and writer I am now.

Once the book was finished, how did you go about finding an agent? Did you do lots of research and target specific people, or did you just send it out to as many as possible?

I started writing The Next Together when I was sixteen, and finished the first draft when I was nineteen. I had absolutely no idea how the publishing industry worked, and I think I read one How To article on query letters before writing one and blithely sending it off into the aether!

I found an A to Z list of agents and started emailing with the Z’s, because I thought they’d have the least submissions. In the end, I found an agent on W, after I’d emailed only six agencies. It was a very naive way to apply, but I got very lucky – my agent is incredible, and last year she was shortlisted for the Bookseller’s Agent of the Year award!

We then submitted to publishers after a whole year of revisions (I was still at university so could only really work on it during the holidays) and within two weeks two publishers had offered! Saying it now, that seems so easy and fast, but at the time it was the most stressful, delirious fortnight of my life. I’ve been through the submission process several times since then, and it does not get any easier.

You’ve found your niche in the YA fiction genre, which has only really established itself in our lifetime, although nowadays a lot of “classics” (e.g. Jane Eyre) are being rebranded with new editions aimed at teenagers. Did you always consciously set out to write a YA novel or is that just how it turned out?

I was a teenager myself when I started writing The Next Together, and so I just wrote about characters my own age. I was really surprised when my agent told me it was a YA book, as I thought it was adult fiction!

Since then, I’ve totally embraced the YA genre. I can’t say whether I’ll always write for teenagers – I may lose the authentic voice when I get too old! – but for now, I’m here to stay. And I’m only twenty-four, so I think I will be here for a while.

There are some people who have criticised the genre – or more particularly criticised adults reading YA fiction, viewing it as a sort of “dumbing down”, I guess. What would you say in response to them?

Personally, I am attracted to YA because it gives me things that simply aren’t available in Adult fiction. I joke that as a teenager I read adult fiction, and as an adult I read teenager fiction. That’s completely true, and I’ve spoken to many people with the same experiences. I want to read diverse, fresh and socially conscious stories which represent the reality of the world I live in. I really wasn’t finding that in the Literary Fiction I was reading. It may be aimed at teenagers, but YA is on the cutting edge of fiction, taking risks to do new things which other areas of publishing have never done.

The YA reading community is so passionate and socially aware, and that demand online for better and more respectful diversity has encouraged more publishers to buy diverse books, meaning that YA books are on the forefront of change – one example being the huge increase in LGBT YA literature in recent years (like my second novel The Last Beginning, which has a lesbian relationship!).

YA authors write things which children read, things which can shape their views for life. The authors of YA have a huge responsibility to their young readers, and I think being aware of that responsibility creates very well crafted books. Things happen more rapidly and collaboratively here than anywhere else.

On the other hand, is there a risk that these kinds of publishers’/bookshop categorisations might limit the potential audience for a book by focusing on a specific readership?

Absolutely not. Teen fiction needs to be clearly labelled as such, so that it finds its main audience. I’m delighted that adults read my books too, but my priority is getting the books to their intended readers. I wrote The Last Beginning for teenagers who have moved beyond the desire to read LGBT Coming Out stories, and are desperate to find a book about a girl who loves a girl, just having an adventure. If Bookshop categories were removed, those teenagers would find it infinitely harder to find my book.

From when teen fiction first emerged with things like Adrian Mole, probably right up until the Twilight craze (and arguably later HP books), it was kind of divided into different camps – the romantic, realistic and “issues”-focused stuff on the one hand, and the fantasy and sci-fi adventure stories on the other. There was probably a bit of a non-explicit gender divide between them. As a teenager, what kinds of things were you reading? Was it important for you to be a part of the more recent movement to bridge that gap by combining both strands?

All plots have been written hundreds of times before. There are no new ideas. Combining old plots in new genres, however, can give that twist which makes it feel original. The Last Beginning, for example, was born out of an unanswered desire to find realistic females like you usually only find in contemporary fiction in the male dominated genre of SFF.

The Next Together series is ridiculously every genre, almost. It’s a historical drama, a conspiracy theory thriller, a science fiction adventure, and plenty more besides. I did that because as a writer, I would get bored by focussing my whole attention (for over a year per book!) on one genre. As a reader, I feel the same. I want to be challenged and read fresh ideas.

Since the book came out, you’ve been doing a lot of talks and signings, and I know you’re quite active online. How important is that kind of activity for a writer today? Is it essential to play an active role in promoting yourself and your work?

I think it is generally assumed by publishers that authors will promote their work online. It’s definitely an implicit part of the job description. I think that the online community is a huge educational resource that helps me write better books, so I would be here whether it helped my visibility as an author or not.

Have you had any interactions with fans, online or in person, that have surprised you or really stayed with you?

I’m constantly surprised and amazed when people write fic or draw fanart of my characters. It’s still weird that my inventions exist in other people’s heads.

I know you’ve got a sequel coming out at some point. How many books do you think there will be in this series? And are you working on anything completely separate at the moment?

The sequel to my debut novel The Next Together is out on October 6th. The Last Beginning is the story of Clove, whose dream is to be the first person to travel through time in a time machine which her parents are building.

It’s a duology, so this book is the end of the series, but who knows what will happen in the future! I’d love to write more books set in this world.

I have a few other projects coming up, but they haven’t been announced yet, so I can’t say much more than that I’m sticking with science fiction, and focussing on a thriller next.

What were your childhood dreams? What did you like to pretend to do or be when you were younger?

I always wanted to be a scientist. My grandad was a scientist and I used to read through his bound Ph.D. and desperately want a published thesis of my own. I even studied Chemistry and Physics at university…. but then I got a book deal before I graduated and started writing books instead. I suppose I still got a published book with my name on, even if it wasn’t a thesis!

I was intrigued when I found out that you started writing your first novel while you were at uni – especially as you were studying science. What made you start writing it? And how did you find the time to fit it in with your studies?

I think studying something so different from writing made it really easy to do. Writing was something I could do to relax, whereas if I’d studied Creative Writing or English then it would have been work instead of a hobby. As it was, there was no pressure to write something good. I was just writing for myself, telling myself a bedtime story after classes! I never saw it as doing something scary or difficult.

My second novel, which I wrote after I’d got a book deal, was about twenty times harder because suddenly there was all of this pressure. I had to push past a lot of fear which had never been there before.

Do you have any more science-based dreams that you’d still like to achieve?

 I do want to work properly in science one day. If this writing thing doesn’t work out, I have the best back-up plan in the world! In the meantime, I try to make as many characters as possible some kind of scientist or science student. I think it’s hugely important for teenagers to realise that you don’t have to be a genius to study science. Scientists in the media are often represented as geniuses and I think it’s a hugely damaging stereotype which might deter teenagers from studying science.

 Why do you think girls traditionally haven’t been as drawn to scientific studies and vocations as boys? Do you think this is changing now?

Again, I think this is all down to the media representation. Scientists in films and books are nerds – and usually male nerds. It’s never been cool to study science, and it can be especially daunting or isolating for a girl to want to study science. I was one of the only girls in most of my Physics classes since the age of sixteen. It’s sad.

I think schools are doing a great job of encouraging girls to study science more, though – I was a member of a female computer programming after school class when I was fourteen, which was incredibly inspiring for me. Having role models and peers doing the same things that you want to do is a big encouragement.

What advice would you give someone who is thinking of studying a science at uni / working in a scientific field?

You are clever enough! You can do it!! Maths is fun! (Okay, that last one is kind of misleading.) 

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome in the pursuit of a dream?

I was obsessed with getting into Cambridge University. Like, to the point of desperation. I’d been told my whole life that I was destined for Oxbridge. I lived, dreamed and ached for Cambridge. For me, it was the only way to prove how clever and important and valuable I was as a person. Being able to one day say that I went to the Cambridge University was the only reason to study, in my seventeen-year-old opinion.

And then I had my interview, and I didn’t get in. My heart broke. I felt completely worthless.

But life goes on. I went to the University of Nottingham, which doesn’t have the same ‘wow’ factor, but actually has a Chemistry Department ranked better than Cambridge’s. I got a First class degree. I learnt everything I would have learnt at Cambridge, and much more. I did a year abroad in America, which I wouldn’t have been able to do at Cambridge. And I was happy.

Eventually, I realised I was relieved that I hadn’t got into Cambridge. I don’t think I could have handled the pressure of Oxbridge. I couldn’t even handle the pressure of the interview!

Tell us about your next novel.

The sequel to my debut novel The Next Together is out soon. The Last Beginning is the story of Clove, whose dream is to be the first person to travel through time in a time machine which her (scientist!) parents are building. You’ll have to wait until October to read the book and find out if she gets her dream, though…!

What dreams would you like to achieve next?

I’ve already achieved my big dream of being an author – but I’d quite like to be able to carry on being one for as long as possible. So my current goal is to continue to earn enough from writing to make it my career, instead of an occasionally-funded hobby. Everything you read tells you that for a new author in the 21st century, it’s not possible to support yourself by writing. I’m going to fight to prove that’s not the case.

To start off simple, how would you describe The Next Together and what does it mean to you?                    

The Next Together is what I like to call a “reincarnation romance”. It follows the various lives of Katherine and Matthew as they meet and fall in love throughout history. There are timelines in the recent future and distant past, and each time a mysterious being is tracking Kate and Matt’s relationship, and making sure they fall in love and save the world in every life….

One of the things I loved most about The Next Together is how historically rich it is and how accurate it is with all the jumps through time periods and all the different story lines. How were the researching and planning processes for you? They must’ve been a lot of work!

 The various plot threads and time periods were also a little complicated to keep track of, I admit! Especially during editing, when I struggled to remember which plotlines I had written, which I had removed from an earlier draft, or had yet to write. As the plot involves time travel elements, this made is especially confusing, both for myself and my editor. I had to make a lot of posters keeping track of plots.

Now since you’ve achieved to write such complex novel, could you give us some advice on planning and organization when writing a novel for the aspiring authors reading this?

I started out writing the most modern timeline, and when I hit a plothole I moved onto another timeline. When I hit a wall, I went back to the other one. Having so many storylines helped keep me writing even when I wasn’t sure what happened next in a particular plot strand. So maybe that will help people getting stuck!

Please enlighten us! Who would be your “chosen ones” to play Katherine and Matthew in a The Next Together movie?

Here are my fancasts for the characters – Matt is Ben Whishaw and Kate is Rose Leslie!

We know that The Last Beginning (The Next Together’s sequel coming 2016) will feature a lesbian couple as the main characters (which makes me oh so excited!). What made you want to write about a LGBT couple? Is Clove one of the participants in this relationship? Will we get to know what has been of Katherine and Matthew in the future? Alright I’m just fangirling and asking too many questions BUT TELL US SOMETHING!! Haha

The Last Beginning continues the story of Kate and Matt, as well as introducing new characters Clove and Ella (who are lesbians, yes!). I’m not sure what I can share about it yet, except to say that it’s just as timey wimey and romantic as the first book. I like to think of the series as Jane Austen meets Doctor Who, and that is even more appropriate for the sequel than for The Next Together. I wrote a long looong post about why I wanted to write about LGBT characters here, but the short answer is: Dumbledore!

And last but not least, how many books are you planning on writing on The Next Together’s world?

It’s currently a duology, but who knows what will happen in the future! I’d love to write more books set in this world.

Before we start, would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m 23, and during my final year of university I got a book deal! I wasn’t really expecting to be a proper writer, as I only ever wrote as a hobby, so now I’m taking a “gap year” while I work on being a proper author. The Next Together was published in the UK and Australia in September, and is due to be released in 2016 in the USA, Turkey, Brazil and Germany.

I noticed that your background is in the sciences, so why writing?

My grandfather was a scientist, so ever since I was little I wanted to follow in his footsteps. I think that it really helps creativity to study something different, so you get a wide range of experiences to draw from. I’m actually writing a science fiction thriller right now inspired by a special relativity problem I was assigned as coursework for uni (no, seriously. I am!). The Next Together also features university students who meet when they are paired for experiments in a science lab, something I was doing myself when I wrote it.

I always loved reading and writing, but I never really thought being a published author was something people could do until they were in their thirties or forties! Luckily I was brave enough to try and get published anyway, and proved myself wrong.

Within The Next Together, which character was your favourite to write and why?

I adore my two main characters Kate and Matt. They are like my babies, who are also both really similar to me (is that weird? I think that’s weird!). I love them for all their ridiculousness and occasional stupidity. Kate is very bossy and confident, and Matt is a little more shy and contemplative. He’s also completely in awe of Kate. They’re such a pair that I don’t think I could choose between them!

Among the different years and centuries you wrote about in the novel, which one would you want to live in the most? Why?

Probably 1745. I’m a big fan of regency romances and there’s something so romantic about carriages and ballgowns. I doubt I’d be able to survive without hot showers and shampoo though, so I’d visit 1745 and then live in 2039!

 Aside from reading and writing, what do you do in your spare time? Any unusual hobbies?

I swim as often as I can, and I love embroidery. The real, secret answer to this is probably: tumblr.

Last, but not least, what is your favourite word?

At the minute I’m a big fan of cantankerous. I also like scathing.

 What was your main inspiration for this book?

It was inspired by time travel romances like Outlander and The Time Traveler’s Wife. I really wanted to write a book which combine my love for Jane Austen with my equal enjoyment of Doctor Who. I started writing by making a huge list of all the things I love reading most, and tried to combine them all into one storyline. It was quite challenging, but very satisfying!

The concept of Nature versus Nurture – seeing how someone with unchanging personality traits can change just because of their upbringing – has always interested me. I was drawn to the idea of reincarnation because I thought it would be a really interesting plot device to use to explore this kind of characterisation, as I could write about the same people in different lives.

Fanfiction AUs were also a big inspiration for the multiple timelines of The Next Together – I love reading about my favourite characters in different situations, and seeing how the same core relationships play out in a variety of ways because of their environment. I wanted to explore that in a novel.

I love how there were so many settings and times throughout history explored in this book. What sort of research did you do to make this book believable and the different settings pop?

If there was anything I couldn’t find out through research (even when I caved and bought textbooks, after I realised I wanted to make the story into a proper novel!) I used my imagination, and a bit of dramatic licence.

This isn’t just a romance and encapsulates a few different genres which is really interesting. However what do you think makes people fall in love with a good romance story?

I think when the characters feel real, and you can really feel the connection between them, people will be hooked. If there’s an interesting, unique pairing, I’ll follow them through any storyline imaginable just to spend more time with them. A good romance is some that’s hard to pinpoint, but you know if when you read it.

The extra notes, letters, maps and other files interspersed within the writing made for some intriguing additions to the story – how did they end up becoming part of the book?

Kate and Matt are the same people, but sometimes they are equals and sometimes they aren’t. In one timeline Matthew is Katherine’s servant, in another the opposite is true. This allows a lot of variety in their relationships development, so I wanted to make sure I kept an element of continuity throughout the book, so that the book felt like it all tied together, rather than being a collection of stories about separate people. The documents and letters were my way of doing that. I thought to would help to have something to tie these characters together – so that it was clear they were the same people, regardless of the time period, or whether they are texting or writing letters in fountain pen.

I designed crude versions of the maps and notes in Microsoft Word (originally just as a way to procrastinate from writing!). Then the Walker designer Jack Noel took all my notes and made them into professional graphics. He did an excellent job, and I absolutely adore the finished book. There are so many little details, like the timelines across the tops of the pages which match up with the time period in the chapter. It’s so rewarding to read.

What was your biggest challenge in writing ‘The Next Together’?

The historical research! The book includes two storylines set in the past, one in 1745 and one in 1854. I was very naïve when I started writing, and definitely didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I was a very frequent visitor of Wikipedia. I spent a lot of time reading old books and diaries and making endless notes. It was definitely worth it though – I hope it adds more realism to the time periods.

The various plot threads and time periods were also a little complicated to keep track of, I admit! Especially during editing, when I struggled to remember which plotlines I had written, which I had removed from an earlier draft, or had yet to write! As the plot involves time travel elements, this made is especially confusing, both for myself and my editor. I had to make a lot of posters keeping track of plots.

Can you give us any little hints about what to expect in the next book?

The Last Beginning continues the story of Kate and Matt, as well as introducing some new characters, Clove and Ella. I’m not sure what I can share about it yet, except to say that it’s just as timey wimey and romantic as the first book, although this time it has a LGBT romance. I like to think of the series as Jane Austen meets Doctor Who, and that is even more appropriate for the sequel than for The Next Together.

What made you decide to keep Kate and Matthew as constant as they are? (Same faces, accents, places of origin, even interests, it seems.)

The concept of Nature versus Nurture – seeing how someone with unchanging personality traits can change just because of their upbringing – has always interested me. I was drawn to the idea of reincarnation because I thought it would be a really interesting plot device to use to explore this kind of characterisation, as I could write about the same people in different lives.

Fanfiction AUs were a big inspiration for the multiple timelines of The Next Together – I love reading about my favourite characters in different situations, and seeing how the same core relationships play out in a variety of ways because of their environment. I wanted to explore that in a novel.

Kate and Matt are the same people, but sometimes they are equals and sometimes they aren’t. In one timeline Matthew is Katherine’s servant, in another the opposite is true. This allows a lot of variety in their relationships development, but at the same time I wanted to make sure I kept an element of continuity throughout the book, so that the book felt like it all tied together, rather than being a collection of stories about separate people.

The Next Together follows multiple timelines (with notes as to how each timeline is progressing monitored by somebodies elsewhere). Did you write each sequence in chronological order and then rearrange to better fit the story?

I started out writing the most modern timeline, and when I hit a plothole I moved onto another timeline. When I hit a wall, I went back to the other one. Having so many storylines helped keep me writing even when I wasn’t sure what happened next in a particular plot strand.

It was a little complicated to keep track of, though – especially during editing, when I struggled to remember which plotlines I had written, which I had removed from an earlier draft, or had yet to write! As the plot involves time travel elements, this made is especially confusing, both for myself and my editor. I did have to make a lot of posters keeping track of plots!

After it was written, everything got shifted back and forth until it fitted together well. I printed out the manuscript and sat on the floor with a pair of scissors, rearranging scenes like I was attempting the most complicated jigsaw puzzle in the world.

With the help of a kickass grant, you’re working on more stories! Including the sequel to The Next Together, which includes a lesbian couple. What details can you give us about your next project?

I’m so lucky to have been awarded an Arts Council grant, which allows me to write full time. I’m currently working on The Last Beginning, which continues the story of Kate and Matt, as well as introducing new characters (who are lesbians, yes!). I’m not sure what I can share about it yet, except to say that it’s just as timey wimey and romantic as the first book. I like to think of the series as Jane Austen meets Doctor Who, and that is even more appropriate for the sequel than for The Next Together.

Do you think we’re entering an era of a different kind of creator? I’m thinking of you and Noelle Stevenson – both very young, successful, and VERY transparent about the work they do, as well as being heavily involved with their own fandoms and having fun with the worlds they create.

Noelle Stevenson is a huge inspiration for me. She is an expert at carefully navigating her origins in online fandom alongside her work creating original work, something which does have the potential to be a little problematic.

I get a lot of messages from teenage girls asking for advice about becoming writers, and I always try to advice and support them. I would have found that kind of resource invaluable when I was first starting to write, so I want to make sure I encourage as many people to get into writing as possible!

Obviously, social media plays a huge part in that as well, and​ you’ve admitted that the AU posts on Tumblr partially inspired The Next Together. Can you tell me more about that? And how do you think posts like that on Tumblr – that inspire creativity, both for fandom creations and original content – will affect creators and creations down the line?

I think that fandom is now so mainstream that it would take a very oblivious author not to know about it these days. For me, people loving my characters and creating fanfiction or gifsets has been one of the biggest joys of writing so far. It’s incredible that something I created exists in other people’s heads too!

I do a lot of brainstorming on tumblr, often based on text posts like this, which is the most perfect thing to come across on your dash when you’re struggling for inspiration. I think the online community is a brilliantly creative place. In particular, fanfiction is training a huge generation of writers better than any Creative Writing course could – and it’s all based on enthusiasm and enjoyment, which is just incredible!

Fourteen year old girls in the One Direction or Teen Wolf fandom are often dismissed as silly, but they are voluntarily spending their time writing. That is such a wonderful thing that it makes my heart happy just thinking about it.

What else do you want people to know about The Next Together?

That the most romantic relationship in the novel isn’t actually between the protagonists Kate and Matt…….. it’s between Matt and his fountain pen.

Matthew/Fountain Pen is my OTP for life.

If you had to pick 1 adjective to describe Katherine and Matthew what would you choose?

For Katherine: sassy and for Matthew: cautious.

 What is your favorite quote from the book?

“Matthew was hers, had apparently always been hers, and now he was gone. How many times had they done this dance, this horrific, beautiful dance through time?”

Was there anything you had to research or this book, that you would be worried if someone found in your browser history?

HAH. Yes. I end up googling lots of suspicious murder-related things which give me a moment’s pause – just yesterday I was trying to find out the best place to stab someone! Totally innocently, of course.

I think being an author is the best excuse ever for collecting weird knowledge.

What you would you say is harder to write: The first sentence of a story or the last?

The first. Although I heard a great tip that the every first and last sentence should be in iambic pentameter, to really make the words slip off the tongue.

What do you find yourself fangirl-ing over?

Recently people have starting writing fanfiction and making gifsets about The Next Together, and I’ve never been as excited about anything in my life. It’s so bizarre and wonderful that something I created exists in other people’s heads too, and they love Kate and Matt as much as I do.

What is your favorite snack/drink to eat when you read?

I chew peppermint gum and drink Earl Grey tea – though not usually at the same time!

Favorite book of 2015 thus far?

The most recent in The Raven Boys series by Maggie Stiefvater, Blue Lily, Lily Blue.  Excellent world building, slow burn diverse relationships, and a hot like burning male lead in Gansey. What more could you want?

If you could pick one author dead or alive to have a drink with who would you choose and why?

Douglas Adams. I’d love to hand him an iPad and see his face! He’s also the funniest and most brilliant writer, and I’ve adored his work since I was young.

What was your inspiration for writing this book? 

I don’t really know! I started writing The Next Together when I was sixteen, and before that the idea of two people meeting and falling in love life after life was something I always wrote about in English lessons. It’s been with me for a very long time!

2) What were the main challenges that you faced when writing this book?

The historical research! The book includes two storylines set in the past, one in 1745 and one in 1854. I was very naïve when I started writing, and definitely didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I was a very frequent visitor of Wikipedia.

As a child or young teenager, did you want to be a writer and if so, is it as you expected? 

I always loved the idea of being a writer, but I absolutely didn’t think it was possible. I thought people who became authors must have spent their whole life writing, and I was too interested in doing other things for that! Being an author is quite similar to how I imagined it, though – spending a lot of time alone, staying up late at night to write, summoning the devil in exchange for book ideas..….wait, what?

What’s in your reading pile currently?

Lockwood & Co by Jonathan Stroud, The Diviners by Libba Bray, The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich, and The Almost King by Lucy Saxon. I’m on a huge YA kick at the minute!

What is your all time favourite book?

My favourite YA book is a close tie between Lirael by Garth Nix and The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. My favourite non-YA book is Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susannah Clarke.

What 3 things (not including paper, computer, pens) would you like to facilitate a good days writing?

I’m very picky about my working environment. The slightest excuse not to write and I won’t get anything done! I need chewing gum, a spreadsheet of my daily word counts (to keep me accountable!) and lots and lots of music. I’m currently obsessed with Halsey’s album Badlands.

Do you write to a schedule, eg every day or three times a week, set times, etc or do you write as and when the mood strikes?

When I’m writing instead of editing, I usually work from 5pm – 1am. During the day there’s usually too much happening to properly focus, and I can’t get much done! If I’m editing, I’m less picky, and I can work during the day too.

Is writing your main source of income, I read lots of articles saying writers make no money, and my readers asked this question a lot! Can you survive on book writing alone? if not, what else do you do?

I currently write full time. I was awarded an National Lottery Arts Council grant, which funds me while I write more novels. I’m incredibly grateful, because without it I’d have to get a part time job to support myself.

What are your favourite biscuits?

Chocolate covered hob nobs!

Tea or Coffee?

I’m English- definitely tea!

Where do you do most of your writing?

At my desk in my bedroom, or sitting outside in the sun.

What book are you reading at the moment?

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

Do you use social media (facebook, twitter, instagram etc) to engage with your audience, do you think it helps sales and do you find it fun or a chore? 

I love social media, especially tumblr and wordpress. I used to use it a lot before I became an author, and now I have an excuse to use it even more!

Do you own an e-reader? and do you prefer to read digital or paper copy?

I have a kindle, and I love both digital and hard copy books. I think in general I prefer paperbacks, just so that I can keep them on my shelves!

Who are you writing for? Describe your perfect reader (ha! nice hard question!)

Teenage girls aged 14+ who love both Jane Austen and Doctor Who.

If reading and writing were banned, what would you do instead?

Do it anyway.

If you could bring a dead person back from the dead for one day to have tea and a natter with them, who would you choose and why?
Eighteenth century La Maupin, who has to be the coolest person I’ve ever heard of.

FOUR Relationships you love reading about

It is absolute torture to narrow this down to only four, but:

The friendship turned intense rivalry between magicians Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

The adventures of Lirael and her sidekick the Disreputable Dog

The (very) illegal exploits of Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen

The romance between Sue Trinder and Maud Lilly from Fingersmith

 THREE Pieces of advice you’d give yourself if you could travel back in time to before you became a published author

 Don’t compare yourself to other authors. Just don’t. Focus on writing the next book!

Maybe don’t choose to write a story with multiple historical storylines for your very first novel ever. You will survive the research, but just barely!

Go to as many events as you possibly can, and talk to people, even if it’s scary! It’s the best thing you can do in the time before publication, which can feel very helpless for an author.

TWO TV shows you can watch all day long (when not busy writing)

Hannibal, because this show has broken my brain in the very best possible way. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a network to save it from cancellation! (I’m looking at you, Netflix.)

Brooklyn Nine Nine, because this show is surprisingly one of the most diverse, feminist shows I have seen in a very long time – and it doesn’t hurt that every single character is a huge darling!

ONE Book you’d save from a burning bookcase

My copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which I got signed by JKR and nearly the whole cast of the films when I went to the premiere of the last Deathly Hallows. Yes, I am the luckiest person in the world!

THE NEXT TOGETHER is your debut novel. Can you tell us how that came about? How did you meet your agent, and how did your submission process go?

I started writing the novel when I was sixteen, and finished the first draft when I was nineteen. I had absolutely no idea how the publishing industry worked, and I think I read one How To article on query letters before writing one and blithely sending it off into the aether! I get pretty lucky, I think, because I found the absolute best agent after I’d emailed only six agencies.

We submitted to publishers after a whole year of revisions (I was still at university so could only really work on it during the holidays) and within two weeks two publishers had offered! Saying it now, that seems so easy and fast, but at the time it was the most stressful, delirious fortnight of my life.

How did you come up with the idea for THE NEXT TOGETHER, and when did you know it was “the one”?

Honestly, I have no idea. During English lessons from the age of about thirteen, the idea of a couple meeting again and again throughout history was always something I’d go back to if we had to do some creative writing. So I guess it’s been with me since a young age!

Your novel deals with time travel. (My personal FAVE thing in the world!!!) If you could travel to any time/place…where would you go?

Without a moment of doubt, to see dinosaurs. How could anyone turn that down?

I see that THE NEXT TOGETHER is in the “YA Historical” genre, even though it’s Time Travel. Is that a decision your editor made? I think they often have a tough time on where to shelve Time Travel, you know? 

I think it’s officially classified as ‘dystopian romance’, which is funny because it isn’t a dystopian novel either! I’m not going to complain though – the main reason I love time travel novels is because they contain a bit of everything. There’s no way you can get bored.

Lightning Round.

Pantser or Plotter? Plotter. I usually have to stop writing for six months halfway through a first draft, to give my brain time to decide what happens next.

What was your favorite book when you were sixteen? Sabriel by Garth Nix. I must have read that book at least ten times.

What three people (alive, fictional, or from history) would you invite to a dinner party? La Maupin, the very fictional Artemis Fowl and Oscar Wilde.

Robot revolution or zombie apocalypse? ROBOT REVOLUTION. Wow, I answered that suspiciously fast. 

TNT covers multiple plot threads and time periods that all link together in some way. How much planning did that take?

It was a little complicated to keep track of, I admit! Especially during editing, when I struggled to remember which plotlines I had written, which I had removed from an earlier draft, or had yet to write! As the plot involves time travel elements, this made is especially confusing, both for myself and my editor. I had to make a lot of posters keeping track of plots.

If you could travel to one time in the past or future, when and where would you go?

If I went into the past, I would without a moment of doubt have to go and see the dinosaurs. How could anyone turn that down?

If I got to go to the future, I’d want to visit the first human colony on another planet – but I’d like to arrive a few hours before their spaceship first landed, so I could pretend I’d been there waiting for them all along.

 In a film of TNT, who would you pick to play Katherine and Matthew? 

 I have spent far too much time thinking about this, so instead of just one actor, I have a whole selection of them! Matt is mostly Ben Whishaw in James Bond. Kate is a young Gillian Anderson.

 If Katherine and Matthew were real people and you could only be friends with one of them, who would you pick? (Cruel question entirely the fault of Non Pratt.)

 This is the most horrible question I can imagine, and I really can’t answer. It’s physically impossible. How could you do this to me?

(Okay ….. Matt. I guess, if I absolutely had to, I’d pick Matt.)

The cover for TNT is one of my favourite book covers ever! Did you have much input into the design?

I left it all up to my wonderful cover designer, Jack Noel, and he came up with the best cover I could have ever hoped for. I did have a bit of input, as I didn’t want a photograph of any models on the cover. I like to imagine characters in my head without pictures! Luckily the cover he came up with has silhouettes instead of pictures, and it’s absolutely perfect!

Your debut’s been brilliantly received by so many readers — before the book’s even out! What’s been your favourite part of the publication process so far?

 I get a lot of messages from teenage girls asking for advice about becoming writers, and I always try to advice and support them. I would have found that kind of resource invaluable when I was first starting to write, so I want to make sure I encourage as many people to get into writing as possible! People telling me that I’ve inspired them to write is really rewarding.

 What can we expect from The Last Beginning

The Last Beginning contains a lot more time travel than The Next Together. It has a mix of different time periods, past and future. The central plot is a lesbian love story, and it’s just as timey wimey and romantic as Kate and Matt’s story in the first book. I like to think of the series as Jane Austen meets Doctor Who, and that is even more appropriate for the sequel than for The Next Together.

What was it like writing book two, versus book one?

 Book Two was a lot harder! There was a lot more pressure, because I wrote The Next Together just for myself, whereas I wrote The Last Beginning knowing that it was definitely going to be published.

Finally, how will you be celebrating TNT finally hitting shop shelves?

On release day I’m going to see the musical Wicked in London with my family, to distract me from refreshing twitter (and amazon rankings!) all day. Then I’m holding a book launch for my friends and family, which I’m busy planning lots of themed snacks, like cupcakes with iced drawings of Kate and Matt, and cannon biscuits!

I’ll start by asking you what it feels like to have your YA debut novel out there in the wild. Are you more excited or nervous?

I’m ecstatically petrified right now! It’s been two years since I was offered a book deal, so it definitely felt like publication day would never arrive. I’ve put my whole heart into the book though, and I don’t think I could have made it any better than it is. I’m very happy with it!

There are significant historical settings in this book, and scientific concepts as well. How much research did you need to do, and how much of it was from your imagination?

I was a student when I started writing as a hobby, so I didn’t want to spend any money on history textbooks. I actually chose the timelines in the book based on which I could research for free, mainly using my university library and primary sources available to access on Google Books. It seemed to work out quite well!

If there was anything I couldn’t find out through research (even when I caved and bought textbooks, after I realised I wanted to make the story into a proper novel!) I used my imagination, and a bit of dramatic licence.

The science is all hopefully accurate, but don’t hold me to that! I did study Chemistry and Physics at university, so there’s quite a lot of my experiences from lab experiments in the story.

What I loved most about Kate and Matt is that they seemed so real to me. Are they based on anyone you know personally?

I think both Kate and Matt are a little bit of me, but apart from just shamelessly stealing my own characteristics – Matt is based a little on Prince Char from Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. I absolutely adored that book when I was thirteen, and I would have taken a bullet for Char – and Matt!

To start off, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? 

Hi! I’m 22, and during my final year of university I got a book deal! I wasn’t really expecting to be a proper writer, as I only ever wrote as a hobby, so now I’m taking a gap year while I work on being a proper author.

Your debut novel, The Next Together has one of the most intriguing and unique synopsis we have ever read, we’re really curious on how did this idea came to you. Can you share how did the whole concept of the book materialized in your head? 🙂

Thank you! I’ve always had the idea of a couple being reincarnated in my head, since I was about fourteen or fifteen. It kind of grew from that seed over the years until I started writing the book!

How would you introduce your main characters, Katherine and Matthew to us? Did you have a particular muse for them?

Kate is very bossy and confident, and Matt is a little more shy and contemplative. He’s also completely in awe of Kate. I’m really interested in the idea of nature versus nurture- that the environment you are raised in changes you as a person. Every version of Kate and Matt in the different lives varies a little bit, based on the time period. Hopefully that comes across in the book!

Is this the genre you originally want to write? What other genre would you like to try in the future?

The Next Together is ridiculously every genre, almost. It’s a historical drama, a conspiracy theory thriller, a science fiction adventure, and plenty more besides! I think I’m always going to write a variety of different genres, because I’d probably get bored otherwise!

What is the hardest thing you ever did while writing The Next Together? Can you share a bit of your experience?

I think the historical research was the toughest! I spent a lot of time reading old books and diaries and making endless notes. It was definitely worth it though – I hope it adds more realism to the time periods.

What will readers expect from the romance aspect in this book?

Oooh! What an excellent question! I think the best answer to this is to tell you that my editor once told me there was too much kissing, and I had to cut some out! Hopefully there’s still lots of kissing, but not too much.

I made a playlist when I was writing The Next Together. Track list:

  • shine/anna nalick
  • love story/taylor swift
  • tired of waiting for you/the kinks
  • i will wait/mumford & sons
  • rattlin’ bones/kasey chambers
  • back to where i was/eric hutchinson
  • pompeii/bastille
  • radioactive/imagine dragons
  • young volcanoes/fall out boy
  • when the war came/the decemberists
  • to the dog or whoever/josh ritter
  • la meme historie/feist
  • centuries/fall out boy
  • man o’ war/eric bachmann
  • maybe/ingrid michaelson
  • brand new day/joshua radin
  • first day of my life/bright eyes

What originally inspired you to get into writing?

It was originally a hobby to keep me entertained during the summer holidays while I was at university. But once I’d finished the story, I couldn’t bear to put the characters away and not do anything with it, so I send the first draft off to some agents, and one took me on as a client

Was there any particular character that you liked or disliked, or were able to relate to in any way while writing?

I adore my two main characters Kate and Matt. They are like my babies, who are also both really similar to me (is that weird? I think that’s weird!). I love them for all their ridiculousness and occasional stupidity.

Were there any scenes in particular that were particularly challenging or easy to write?

I think the historical research was the toughest! I spent a lot of time reading old books and diaries and making endless notes. It was definitely worth it though – I hope it adds more realism to the time periods.

So your debut novel, The Next Together, is out this September! Could you tell us a little more about it?

 Hi! It does! I started writing the love story of Kate and Matt when I was sixteen, and now I’m 22 – so it’s taken quite a long time to get here! The story takes place throughout history, as Kate and Matt keep being brought back to life, and have to work out why – and maybe save the world along the way!

Did you always want to be an author, or was writing something you’ve only recently got into?

I always loved reading and writing, but I never really thought being a published author was something people could do until they were in their thirties or forties! Luckily I was brave enough to try and get published anyway, and proved myself wrong.

On a scale of ‘it’s okay’ to ‘I’m so excited I’ve already flipped ALL of the tables’, how excited are you to see your books on shelves soon?

I think I’ve passed excited and gone into pure ecstatic terror. I’ve been waiting nearly two years since I found out I was being published for the book to actually come out – so I can’t believe it’s really here!

And a couple of quick-fire questions about you!

Top three movies? The Riot Club, Stoker and Pride & Prejudice!

Favourite pizza toppings? BBQ chicken!

The last book you read? The Girl with all the Gifts by M. R. Carey!

Your favourite book from childhood? Lirael by Garth Nix

Your must-have, can’t-leave-home-without beauty product? Maybelline Superstay 24hr Lipstick

Spiderman or Superman? (Garfield and Cavil, of course!) Spiderman all the way!

What books did you read when you were a child?

I loved Artemis Fowl, Narnia, His Dark Materials and the Old Kingdom trilogy. Anything with sassy sidekicks, talking animals and a hint of magic had me hooked. And of course, Harry Potter – but I think that is a given for any young adult.

 If you could be a storybook character who would you be?

 Probably Ella Enchanted from the novel by Gail Carson Levine. But that might be due to the fact that when I was thirteen I had the biggest crush on Prince Char!

What is the best thing about reading?

I love reading something that exactly captures a feeling or experience I’ve never been able to put into words. It feels like you’ve been hit in the chest, in the best way.

What is your all time favourite book? 

My favourite book changes all the time, but at the minute I love The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. It’s the perfect mix of modern and ancient fairy tales.

Other than reading books what is the most important thing a parent can do to help develop their children’s communication skills?

Whenever my mum and I read books, we would talk about the stories together afterwards. Discussing what I had read from a very young age really helped improve my critical analysis and debating skills. We still do it now whenever we read the same novels!

How big a part did your parents play in encouraging your writing skills?

A huge part! On rainy days I would write stories, and then my mum would help me to draw a cover and make it into a little book. It made writing fun, and made me feel like my work was doing something special, regardless of spelling and grammar mistakes.

How do you encourage your children or grandchildren to read, what books do you enjoy reading with them?

I recently read Fortunately, the Milk to my friend’s son, and he loved it! It’s a great book for any age, from adult to child, because it has lots of different storylines, but is based around a simple concept: where’s the milk?

I was wondering why you chose the time periods that you did, and if there were any time periods that you’d have liked to have written about but weren’t able to?

 I would have loved to include lots more of Kate and Matt’s lives, but I think it would have been far too complicated to read – and I can’t even imagine trying to write it! It was a little complicated to keep track of as it was – especially during editing, when I struggled to remember which plotlines I had written, which I had removed from an earlier draft, or had yet to write! As the plot involves time travel elements, this made is especially confusing, both for myself and my editor. I had to make a lot of posters keeping track of plots.

 Why did you chose 3 main time periods? Also, in your mind were there an endless number of reincarnations or was there a certain amount?

I thought three would be the maximum that readers could keep track of – but there are definitely more. You can read a medieval short story about one of their other lives here.

How long did it take you to write, and was research a HUGE part of the writing or did you just add in the details later?

I actually chose the timelines in the book based on which I could research for free, mainly using my university library and primary sources available to access on Google Books. I was a student when I started writing as a hobby, so I didn’t want to spend any money on history textbooks. It seemed to work out quite well!

You said in your 6 Questions with that this story has been with you a long time, were you nervous to share it? 

I’m ecstatically petrified right now! I’ve been writing this story since I was sixteen – seven years ago! – and it’s been two years since I was offered a book deal, so it definitely felt like publication day would never arrive. I’ve put my whole heart into the book though, and I don’t think I could have made it any better than it is. I’m very happy with it!

Did you find it hard to write a convincing love story and (pls don’t answer if you don’t want!!) were bits of it based on your own experiences?

Their relationship is just based on what I imagine being in the perfect relationship with your soulmate would be like – when you both have your flaws and irritating traits, but those things fit together perfectly, and just make you love each other more.

There’s a very flirty carriage ride near the start of the book, in the 1745 timeline, which is full of unresolved sexual tension and intrigue, and it was the very first thing I wrote which clicked for me. That’s when Kate and Matt’s relationship and chemistry came to life, and after that it all seemed to flow. At that point it really felt like writing was something that I could do properly instead of just as a hobby.

I think the snippets that we see of Kate and Matt’s interactions whilst in a long term established relationship really help to bring them to life and make their love story seem genuine. I hope so, anyway!

 Did you always have a 2 book storyline in mind? My god, that epilogue! I read it over and over and then had to calm myself because I’d gotten a little overexcited about the prospect of a follow on…

I didn’t! It was always going to be a standalone novel, but as I got closer and closer to writing the end, I realised I just needed to find out what happened next. So I had to write it! I like to think of the series as Jane Austen meets Doctor Who, and that is even more appropriate for the sequel than for The Next Together.

How much input did you have regarding the final product of the actual book like with the page design and stuff? I thought the notes and maps were such a fabulous idea because it was like a scrapbook or like a detective’s notebook! 

I designed crude versions of the maps and notes in Microsoft Word (originally just as a way to procrastinate from writing!). Then the Walker designer Jack Noel took all my notes and made them into professional graphics. He did an excellent job, and I absolutely adore the finished book. There are so many little details, like the timelines across the tops of the pages which match up with the time period in the chapter. It’s so rewarding to read!

Why did you choose to write in an epistolary format?

The Next Together follows the various lives of Katherine and Matthew as they meet and fall in love throughout history. There are timelines in the recent future and distant past, and each time a mysterious being is tracking Kate and Matt’s relationship, and making sure they fall in love and save the world in every life….

Each lifetime is very different, so the book is made up of lots of interwoven genres – The Next Together is a historical drama, a conspiracy theory thriller, a science fiction adventure, and plenty more besides! Because of the number of different timelines, I thought the story needed something to tie it together, so that it didn’t feel like a collection of stories about separate people. I decided the best way to do that was to include documents and letters in the novel, as well as prose.

My characters Kate and Matt are the same people, but sometimes they are equals and sometimes they aren’t. In one timeline Matthew is Katherine’s servant, in another the opposite is true. This allows for a lot of variety in the way their relationship develops, so I wanted to make sure I kept an element of continuity throughout the book. I thought it would help to have something to tie these characters together – to each other, and to reality. I needed to make it clear they were the same people, regardless of the time period, or whether they are texting or writing letters in fountain pen.

Do you enjoy writing from historical and futuristic perspectives?

 YES!! But having loads of historical periods in my first ever novel wasn’t a great plan –  it was hard enough to write without the research!

How did you come up with the characters, Katherine and Matthew?

Kate and Matt were inspired by…….myself! I think any character has to have a facet of the writer’s personality to feel genuine and real.

 Which is easier for you: characters or plot?

ALWAYS plot! I develop characters around the knowledge of what they’re going to do in the book – the kind of person who would do that stuff.

 What does all the reaction towards The Next Together mean to you?

It’s a daily kind of awe, esp when people tell me they’ve reread the book. Then I get this feeling of shock, like “They really DID like it!”

Who are your writing inspirations?

Maggie Stiefvater. Sarah Waters. Susanna Clarke. Zen Cho. e lockhart. P G Wodehouse. Shirley Jackson. Neil Gaiman.  Phillip Pullman. LOADS.

Any tips for aspiring writers?

Write for yourself. Always. The book that you are desperate to read. Always put it in a drawer for 6 weeks and reread it before querying it.

Is there anything you find you need whilst writing, or do you have a specific process?

I NEED my music. I can’t get into the book without songs to set the tone. Also the perfect chair, temperature, snack, coffee, nap, laptop..!

Be honest; how difficult was it to answer these questions in 140 characters or less?

I made it extra hard by making every answer EXACTLY 140 characters, which was a true challenge. It was a lot of fun, but….never again, ha!

There’s something about the visual aspect of epistolary books – the documents, graphics and pictures – which makes it seem more real. It makes a story come to life. When you can see that a character has the same handwriting in 1745 or 2039, it adds a satisfyingly rewarding feeling to the story.

I also did a lot of historical research, and uncovered many newspaper articles and old diaries and letters, which really brought the periods of history to life for me. I wanted to recreate that feeling in the novel – of history being about real, flawed people, instead of statistics in a textbook. I wanted to bring the sense of humour and life I’d read about to my novel.