Today I have the great pleasure of interviewing an author that I loved throughout my childhood. Her books, such as ‘The Chocolate Box Girls’ series and standalones such as ‘Scarlett’, are brilliant for young adult readers, often covering important and delicate issues. So, on with the interview!
Q: So, first things first, for those who aren’t familiar with your work, how did you first get into writing, and how would you describe your writing style?
A: I had a strange route into writing. I trained as an illustrator and then worked on the legendary Jackie magazine as the fiction editor, which was a wonderful training for what I do now. I left to be a high school art teacher and freelanced at the same time, selling short stories and illustrations to a range of mags, then became an agony aunt.
I had always wanted to write a book, and when I finally pushed myself past those first few chapters I found myself hooked. My first book, ‘Dizzy’, was published in 2004 by Puffin.
I often write in the first person, present tense, because I want my readers to feel as though they are ‘in’ the story. I keep the language simple because I admire spare, clean language which allows the story to shine and dislike flowery, over-fussy prose as it feels old-fashioned, slow and dull to me. I also want my books to be accessible for everyone.
Q: Do you have any particular authors that influence your work, and what elements of their writing can be seen in your own?
A: I very much admire two American authors, JD Salinger and William Saroyan, both of whom use simple language to tell stories which focus on feelings. They made a huge impression on me as I was growing up, though they are not YA authors.
Q: Your novels often focus on relationships- whether these are between siblings or parents. Do you find you pull on your own experiences when writing about these relationships?
A: Occasionally perhaps, but for me the main attraction of writing fiction is to step into someone else’s shoes and see the world through their eyes. I like to imagine how a very different character to me might handle life.
I also look at relationships that are very different from any I have had, but because I imagine myself in that situation, as that character, it seems to work.
Q: Your novels cover important themes for young people, such as abuse, isolation and bullying. Why do you think it’s important that young people learn about these important, often sensitive, issues?
A: I wish I had been able to read about these things in the relative safety of a fiction book when I was growing up, but there was nothing back then. In some ways I am writing the books I longed to read back then. All fiction requires ‘conflict’ to create a story, and emotions and feelings are what fascinate me so it seemed natural to look at real-life growing up issues as sources for plot and story.
I never consciously look for an issue to include in a book, the idea always unfolds naturally… and the story comes first! I do think that books can help hugely in the growing up years, though. For example, today’s first email on the subject of my new book LOVE FROM LEXIE: ‘This is the book I have needed so badly all these years, the book that makes me feel that I do belong, that I do matter, that however hard things are right now, I won’t always be on the edge of things…’
Q: That’s brilliant that your novels have such a positive impact on your readers. ‘Love from Lexie’ came out earlier this year, and looks at a young girl’s relationship with her mother.
Do you receive many messages from young readers going through similar issues to those experienced by your characters, and do you feel a responsibility towards your readers?
A: I get dozens of emails every day (along with messages on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc.) from readers who have connected with the stories on some level and felt understood. Anyone writing for children and teens has a huge responsibility to their readers, of course – it’s important to be honest, hopeful and empowering.
Q: ‘The Chocolate Box Girls’ series follows the story of each sister in a family. Did you enjoy exploring the same family from different points of view, and what aspects of writing in this way were challenging? Which sister would you say you identified with the most?
A: I loved being able to take the series forward through the eyes of a different sister with each book… I love that challenge and variety of ‘being’ a different character each time. I am using a similar technique with my sew series, the LOST & FOUND – LOVE FROM LEXIE starts the series with Lexie’s point of view, but there are many more characters who will have a say too.
With the CHOCOLATE BOX GIRLS, I identify with dreamy, vintage-loving Skye and also feisty, animal-loving Coco!
Q: In your novel ‘Scarlett’, the action is set in Ireland, and there are tales of magic surrounding the area in which she lives, requiring knowledge of Irish tales and legends.
When writing your books, would you say you do a lot of research into certain aspects of the setting or characters?
A: Sometimes I do, but often it’s more that I write about the things I love! I adore Ireland and its myths and legends, so ‘Scarlett’ was a wonderful way to explore that for me!
Q: Many writers put aspects of their own personality in their characters. Is there a character that you have included in your books that you feel particularly resonates with your personality?
A: There are lots of characters with aspects of my personality traits, but I think the character of Tess in Dizzy is quite a lot like me… maybe!
Q: Do you ever plan on writing novels for adults?
A: There are no formal plans, but never say never! It’s something my readers’ mums often ask at book signings!
Q: Your writing often follows the genre of everyday life- is this also the genre you enjoy reading?
A: It is, absolutely. Occasionally I stray into the realms of dystopia or thriller, but never for long!
Thank you so much to the brilliant Cathy Cassidy for taking part in this interview, it was a brilliant opportunity and I feel like I want to go and re-read all of Cathy’s books again after talking about them!
Do you like Cathy’s books? Which is your favourite, and what do you think of her answers? Let me know all your thoughts in the comments below!
[Picture c/o the author’s Twitter page]