Taken from the new print issue of THE FACE. Get your copy here.
Jacqueline Wilson: Hello PP! Thank you so much for mentioning my books when you were being interviewed. I was very charmed.
PinkPantheress: [laughs] No worries, I’m a big fan.
That’s so lovely to hear! You sound so cool and relaxed. I would be absolutely over the moon if I was 21-years-old and suddenly everybody thinks I’m wonderful.
Oh, thank you! Your books have very much inspired a lot of my writing. No exaggeration, I’ve got a drawer in my bedroom at home full to the brim. At least 30 of your books.
Really? Oh my goodness.
My favourite is Cookie. What’s your favourite book of your own?
I wrote one called The Illustrated Mum about two girls whose mum has got tattoos all over her. Have you got any?
I haven’t yet. Still a bit young.
Being an old lady, I would say: “Yeah, that’s cool not to have tattoos.” [laughs] When the book came out, I thought: so many kids are going to ask me about it. I had henna tattoos put up and down my arms and then I wore a long-sleeved shirt. I would always say, “Yes! I’ve got tattoos, heaps of them!” And they’d all get really excited and say, “Ooh, where?!” And then I’d casually roll my sleeves up.
Which authors influenced you?
I particularly liked [Mary] Noel Streatfeild; she wrote books about children who had to make their own way.
When I was growing up, your books were the only ones I could read. Especially as a lot of your characters are female; I felt like I could put myself into their shoes.
I always wrote in the first person so anybody reading it, it would be like they had a best friend speaking to them. When you’re growing up, even if you’re lucky enough to have wonderful parents and an easy life, there are always things that are going to worry you. People underestimate how children instinctively understand these things.
I’m a big fan of Best Friends. I love The Story of Tracy Beaker obviously, and I really enjoyed Hetty Feather. Is there a character you’ve written that you feel had the hardest time?
If we go back to Victorian times, nobody could have had a more difficult childhood than Hetty [who was abandoned as a baby]. It must have been such a cold way of life. That’s why I made her such a resilient, bouncy character because I think you have to be to survive that sort of upbringing. We’re much more aware of children’s emotions and needs [now], and hopefully try hard to do society’s best to make them feel wanted and happy no matter their circumstances.
I felt, as a young girl reading your books, I was able to relate a lot to the characters’ experiences, innermost feelings and insecurities. Did you hear from boys who felt that way?
It would be 90 per cent girls. But the 10 per cent of boys who wrote to me were often very interesting, sensitive boys who weren’t the leader of the pack or whatever. There is a point up to a certain age when boys are quite happy to read about girls.
Are any of your stories based on real-life experiences you had growing up?
Not exactly. But my mum and dad were better grandparents to my daughter [laughs] than they were parents to me. My dad, I think he possibly would be diagnosed now with very mild bipolar disorder. You walked on eggshells with him. Although, astonishingly, with my daughter he was very gentle.
I can relate in a tiny way with my parents. My dad was quite similar. I don’t think he’s bipolar, but I do think there’s a case of treading on eggshells. I wouldn’t say I was quite as bad as Tracy, but as a child I had a bit of a temper, definitely liked things my way. My father was right to be angry at me a few times, I think I put him to work. Tell me about your next book: it’s called Baby Love, and it comes out in March?
That’s right. It’s certainly not a children’s book. It’s in the arena of young adult books. Set in 1960, it’s about a 14-year-old girl. I wanted to show what life was like before the whole Swinging Sixties movement started. She becomes pregnant and, in those days, a) you couldn’t have a legal abortion and b) it was considered shameful, particularly if you were a teenager and not married. I would say most girls were hidden from their hometowns, sent away to mother-and-baby homes. There was a lot of fierce persuasion that, if you really loved your baby, you would give it up. Such an awful thing.
There are a lot of women, much older now, who even though they’ve had good lives and new families, still get so sad when they think of the baby they had long ago and lost all contact with. I wanted to show how times have changed, how difficult it was then and how attitudes can change so quickly. There was no easily available method of contraception, hardly any sex education. It generally wasn’t the bold and precocious girls who ended up in these circumstances, it was the young ones. It’s a different sort of book from the ones that I usually write. I just hope that it gets an audience.
I’m sure it will. I’m definitely going to be picking one up. I’m honoured to have spoken to you today, it’s been amazing. I can’t fathom this into words. My eight-year-old self is screaming and throwing up and crying. Thank you so much for speaking to me. It’s been lovely.
Thank you! I so enjoyed it, too. I really, truthfully, have. I am undoubtedly going to be your oldest fan. I shall follow your career with huge interest. And any time your name pops up or you’re on the telly, I’ll say: “I know her, I chatted with her!” [laughs]
Wow, that’s amazing.
It’s a mutual admiration. It’s been great to talk to you.
Baby Love is published by Penguin Books on 17th March