The Next Big Thing!

At first I thought this Next Big Thing thing was some kind of chain letter – you know, comply within seven days or we’ll snap all your pencils in half and make sure you never publish anything ever again, not so much as a shopping list.

Now I see it’s harmless, it’s nothing but a meme. Huh? A what? My character, Opal Moonbaby looks words up in her brain dictionary but I had to google that one. An element of a culture or behaviour that may be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, esp. imitation. So now you know. Or did you know already?

Anyway, thanks to Catherine Bruton for inviting me to take part. Catherine and I bump into one another on the school run and do a speedy writers’ catch-up before haring home to work. You can find out all about Catherine’s next big thing here.

Now here’s mine.

What’s the title of your next book?

About Zooming Time, Opal Moonbaby!

Where did the idea come from?

My next big thing is part of my old big thing. This is the second of three books about Opal Moonbaby, an alien girl who arrives on a housing estate, looking for friendship.

The impetus for the books came from my childhood love of stories where fantasy characters burst into the lives of ordinary humans. I always loved books like that – from The Cat in the Hat to Clever Polly and the Stupid Wolf to Five Children and It. Stories set firmly in the real world but with a fantastical element were the ones that did it for me.

I didn’t set out to write a fantastical character though. I began with my main character, Martha and her very real difficulties at home and school. I was genuinely quite surprised by Opal when she first came along. Since I’ve done more writing I realise that fantasy characters are just engraved in me somehow, because I keep popping mermaids and witches into whatever I’m writing. I can’t seem to help myself. It can be a real problem especially when I’m corresponding with the bank or attempting to alter the contents of my veg box. (No butternut squash this week, thanks, just some ruby chard and a kilo of your freshest goblins.)

What genre does your book fall under?

Middle Grade/junior adventure with friendship, fun and fantasy.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie?

Young ones, new ones, maybe even animated ones. Chris Barrie gives all the characters great voices on the audio book of Opal Moonbaby. His Barton Green cracks me up, so maybe he’d consider playing the milkman in a movie.

And there are comic turns for grown up actresses too. Katherine Parkinson (The IT Crowd) would be wonderful as Alesha, the pseudo-Italian hairdresser. And how about Amelia Bullmore (Twenty twelve, Scott & Bailey) for Mrs Underedge, the straight-laced, sarcastic school teacher who is so sadly ill-equipped to deal with Opal Moonbaby? Ooh, or how about Jessica Hynes or Sophie Thompson for Mineral Mercurial? They’d both make marvellous comedy villains. Oh come on, there’s so many jobs for the girls here. Let’s make the thing!

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Friendships with aliens aren’t always what you imagine them to be, but the best friendships will survive anything that’s thrown at them.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Opal Moonbaby books are published by Orion Children’s Books.  About Zooming Time, Opal Moonbaby! is out on 7 Feb 2013

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

This is difficult to nail. It’s an on-off process. I’d love to say I work out the plot and then it writes itself in about five and a half weeks. That formula works for some people but it only goes so far for me. So there’s plotting and thinking, writing the odd chapter, writing a synopsis to see what that looks like, then more plotting, then more writing and some, maybe lots, of re-writing. The whole thing might take about nine months before my editor sees it.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

If we’re looking for an elevator pitch I think it has to be: Girl planning a Jacqueline Wilson sort of journey crashes into futuristic Pippi Longstocking and goes on roller coaster diversion instead.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Apart from the books I read as a child and the ones I read to my two daughters, it’s inspired by the world of children’s friendships, the making and the breaking of them, and what a battleground that can be. Watching my own children going through it all really brought back my own memories of what it felt like to be nine. Friendships going wrong, hormones rocketing around and setting me off kilter – although I didn’t know that was the problem at the time. I just remember my grandparents asking “What happened to that sunny-natured little girl we used to know?” Grrr. Wish I’d met Opal Moonbaby then.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

This is the one where the Mercurial clan finally show their nasty mean little faces and there’s suddenly a great deal more at stake for Martha and Opal than just friendship.

Who are you passing the baton to for next week’s Next Big Thing?

To two writers with whom I share an agent – the lovely Jo Unwin at Conville & Walsh.

So, to Marianne Levy who writes hilarious books about Ellie May, and with whom I think I may be competing for ‘book with the longest title’

and to Piers Torday whose book, The Last Wild comes out next year – can’t wait!