When Johnny moves house and starts a new school he has to deal with a bully who can't leave him alone. But help comes from an unexpected and surprising source and Johnny's growing power soon puts him in a very special place.
A chance encounter with a swan sparks a series of events that result in Johnny playing the lead in a school ballet. His teacher wants him to live the role, and when feathers start sprouting on his chest, Johnny begins to understand his true potential. But will he be strong or brave enough to beat his bullies, take care of his brother, support his mother and find a place for himself among all the chaos that is prevailing in his life.
1. Can you tell me about your upcoming book?
Swan Boy is kind of contemporary fairy tale about a boy who turns into a swan via ballet. It’s a lot less weird than it sounds, honest. Well maybe a bit less weird. Johnny, his mum and little brother have had to leave their life and schools in South London when their dad dies suddenly. After a miserable few weeks he finds an unexpected ally in a swan that stands up against the school bully. And then when he is forced to take part in a school production of Swan Lake as part of a new punishment experiment, things start to get really strange.
2. Who inspires you?
My kids. I have three teenagers (since a few weeks ago when the youngest crossed over to the dark side). Some people might call it exploitation, but I prefer to think of it as payback for all the fish fingers and hours spent pushing a swing. It’s not that I rip off bits of their lives, but having them around reminds me of how I thought and felt at their age, and it makes it easy for me to put myself into he mind of a young teen. I’m also inspired by the kids I’ve met doing school visits since my first book came out. I’ve met several Johnnys when I’ve visited schools. Lovely kids who just haven’t quite worked out who they are yet, but will definitely get there. I can now actually imagine someone reading my book and hopefully being moved and impacted by it, which is rather special.
3. What do you do when you're not writing?
I still work as a freelance journalist. Apart from that it’s mostly housework, making meals, walking my dogs, usual mum stuff. But I do get to hang out with other children’s authors quite a lot, which is great. If I’d known there was so much cake and Prosecco in children’s publishing or I would’ve written my first book a lot sooner.
4. Your new book SWAN BOY talks about bullying, do you have any advice for young people getting bullied?
If you can’t confide in a teacher or parent, get online and look at some of the advice written by experts. It won’t be easy, but there are ways to stop it. Beyond that I’d just say to remember that it’s not your fault and it won’t last. By Year 12 everyone becomes really quite civilised. Yes, I know that’s a long time to wait, but eventually whatever happens, it will pass. However, the same can’t necessarily said for the bully. In Swan Boy I wrote a scene from the aggressor's point of view. It’s actually one of the parts of the book that I like the best because it allowed me to stop seeing him as a one-dimensional character and understand him better. Bullies aren’t some ‘other’ type of kid, they’re scared as well, they just have a different way of getting through the day. I hope that if the bullied kids understand that then they might also understand that it has nothing to do with them, that it’s really tough and unfair, but that they will be OK.
5. What do you love about writing?
Did I mention the cake and Prosecco? OK, I also like… well, most of it. First drafts are quite magical as it’s a chance to write something into existence. Of course that’s a relatively small part of the job, and yes, endless edits are a drag. But watching a book get better is perversely satisfying. I also love the community. Authors, bloggers, booksellers, librarians, readers. They’re all so blooming nice and it’s a real honour to be part of the community. I also like the cake and Prosecco, but I think I already said that.
Author Who Framed Klaris Cliff? (2014)
Swan Boy (May 2016)
Winner of North Herts Book Prize 2015
Shortlisted: Wirral Paperback of the Year, The Calderdale Children’s Book of the Year. Longlisted: The Oxfordshire Book of the Year