Your first novel ‘Flirty Dancing’ is out on the 3rd July 2014. What was your inspiration to start writing this book?
I actually started writing Flirty Dancing over ten years ago, and I can clearly remember the moment the story appeared in my head. I was driving through the countryside with my mum and I said, ‘I’ve just had a great idea for a book. Imagine if a really shy girl learnt to jive… how it might change her life.’ I was learning to jive and it made me so happy and confident. Of course, a thousand other inspirations then poured into the story – a crazy nan, a group of ex-best friends, a TV dance contest, a romantic moment on a trampoline, an even more romantic moment with a pair of socks – but essentially an amazing dance inspired me to write this story.
Is the main character in Flirty Dancing Bea Hogg based on anyone you know or is she a made up character?
Bea is painfully shy at school, but a different person at home. I was like this at secondary school and all the scenes in school are based on my own experience of being fourteen; I’ve got a spookily good memory. Like Bea, I also had a nan who loved doing her nails and wearing huge diamond rings and a sister who enjoyed getting naked and then colouring herself in. Unlike Bea, I didn’t enter a TV dance contest or meet an Ollie Matthews… if only!
You used to be an English Teacher, what made you leave and become a published author?
I taught English for fourteen years and loved it. I particularly enjoyed reading books with my classes like Mortal Engines, Of Mice and Men and Holes, and creative writing of course. It was because I was an English teacher that I became better at writing. There’s a teaching technique called ‘modelling’ where you write in front of your class and explain what you are doing. I probably did a bit too much of this! But I have these stories in my head that I have to tell and getting a book published had been a dream of mine for many, many years.The brilliant thing about writing for teenagers is that I still get to go into schools all the time.
If you could give one piece of advice about writing to our young writers what would it be?
Unlike many writers, I didn’t want to be a writer when I was young although I did love reading. I have always enjoyed creating things: pictures, models, dolls, comics, and I think writing is like any hobby: you have to keep working at it if you want to get it right. People aren’t magically born writers. My advice to young writers is to write and experiment, but to never give up. It’s the people who stick at it the longest who get published. Change your stories, introduce new characters, try out different ways of using speech, but never give up on your dream of one day holding a book in your hands that has your name on the front cover.
You had a group of teenagers on hand to help make sure you got the voices of the characters in Flirty Dancing right. Were these past students and what made you use teenagers for this?
Working with teenagers for fourteen years meant that the voices of my characters came quite naturally. I did use two of my year nine classes a lot, usually to ask their advice with pop culture references. In book two, one of my characters is talking about playing a computer game with a friend. I asked my students for the name of a classic family game, something that wouldn’t go out of fashion and they suggested a game I used to play when I was a teenager - you’ll have to read book 2 to find out what they said. Before I sent Flirty Dancing to publishers and agents, I also asked a group of year nine girls to help me decide how I should start the book, I had two possible openings. I went with their suggestion and that’s how the book starts to it looks like they were right!
Have you started thinking about or writing your next novel yet? If so can you give us any clues to what it will be about?
I finished the second novel in the series a couple of months ago and I’m planning the third book at the moment. The book is about Betty who appears in Flirty Dancing. She’s unique, funny and a big fan of animal hats. The book opens on her fifteenth birthday when a new boy arrives at her school, a boy so amazingly good looking she decides he’s a vampire. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s also about best friends, mums and true love. Betty’s mum died when she was tiny and she left Betty a series of letters to be opened on her birthday. Betty finds the letters depressing: they were written by a person she doesn’t know to a little girl who has now grown up. But Betty’s fifteenth birthday letter is very different… I love this book, and I hope my readers love it as much as I do.
Are you currently reading a book at the moment? If so what?
At the moment, I’m reading a book by Marcus Sedgwick called ‘She is Not Invisible’ about a girl who runs away to New York to look for her missing dad. I can’t put it down. ‘Midwinterblood’ is another of his books that I love; it’s spellbinding and I find my mind wandering back to it all the time. I read YA fiction all the time and I’m rarely disappointed in the way I am sometimes with adult books. Meg Rosoff is another of my favourite writers.
Do you have any other hobbies expect reading and writing?
Yes, loads! I love making things: cakes, pictures, gardens, and I also really enjoy travelling and trying out new sports. I particularly like swimming in strange places and I’ve swum in some very deep dark pools in Australia. I’ve tried to learn to windsurf several times (I haven’t given up yet!) and I think jive / swing / lindy hop is the best exercise ever invented. I also like running and as I run I listen to loud music and channel my inner-teenager so that I can work out the plots of my stories. I had asthma when I was younger so I find it amazing that I can run now. I want to shout out to strangers, ‘Look at me! I’m actually running!’
What are your plans/hopes for the future in your career as an author?
I have around eight ideas for books currently buzzing around my head, like different films playing at the same time. I hope that teenagers love Flirty Dancing and the other three books in the series. I want the stories and characters to be as alive and real for them as they are for me. After that, I just want to keep writing. For a long time, writing for a living was my ultimate dream and as unlikely to happen as winning the lottery, so I find it almost unbelievable that it’s now my job.
Jenny's new book 'Flirty Dancing' is out on the 3rd July 2014 and is available to buy from Bloomsbury at £6.29.