Your first children’s book Threads was selected as the winner of Times/Chicken House writing competition in 2009 , how did it feel to win and be awarded the prize by none other than the man who discovered J K Rowling?!
Hearing from Barry Cunningham was life changing for me. And the fact that he was indeed the man who first published Harry Potter made it extra special. I’d wanted to be a writer for many years before I first had the courage to give up my job and start writing my first novel – and it was JK Rowling’s success with Harry Potter that inspired me to try.
But funnily enough, the life-changing moment wasn’t winning the competition. It was when Barry called me to tell me that I’d been shortlisted. Because suddenly, after years and years of writing books and not being published (by then it was nearly 10 years since that Harry Potter moment), I knew that I had a real chance. I’d gone from being one of 2000 entrants to being one of 5 finalists. That meant my writing must be pretty good! Even if I didn’t win that time, I knew I had the determination to keep going until I found a publisher. As it turned out, though, I did win and Threads was published only a few months later. By then, I was already well into writing book 2 in the series, which came out the following year.
Before writing children’s books you wrote adult detective stories what made you start writing Threads?
I’d always wanted to write children’s fiction, because I was an avid reader throughout my childhood. I loved Noel Steatfeild, Anthony Buckeridge, E Nesbit and Frances Hodgson Burnett, as well as series fiction like the Jill’s pony books, Veronica at the Wells and Nancy Drew. However, until I had children of my own I didn’t feel confident enough writing for today’s teens, because they lead such different lives from mine in the 1970s and 1980s. I mean, can you imagine life before the mobile phone?
By the time I wrote Threads I had two stepdaughters and two sons, and I was surrounded by children at home. Threads is the book I’d have loved to read as a child, but didn’t exist. It takes fashion seriously and explains how inspiring it can be as an art form, even to people who don’t care much about clothes. Or at least, I hope it does. I’d had the story going round in my head for years, and I’d told it to my kids many times. They always wanted to know more about it, so it seemed like a natural book to write.
You have lots of writing tips on your website, www. sophiabennett.com, but what would you say is the most important tip you could give a young author?
That’s a very easy question to answer (though hard to do!). Write. Just write. Write a lot, whenever you can. Read a lot too, try out different genres and practise different styles. Oh, and finish things. That’s often the trickiest part. If anyone gives you an opportunity to write, for a school paper or magazine, for example, take it. Every time you practise, you get better. Don’t waste your time wondering what it would be like to be a writer – just BE one!
Except your love of writing do enjoy doing anything else that not many people know about?
It’s not exactly a secret, but I’m a huge art fan, so I love visiting museums and galleries. I also enjoy dancing whenever I get the chance, and listening to and making music. Since I wrote You Don’t Know Me, which was about the joy of writing songs and being in a band, I’ve also taken up the bass guitar. Not many people know that I secretly enjoy pretending to be Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. My bass rendition of ‘Give It Away Now’ something I’m rather proud of!
You lived in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Berlin, Norway and France what was it like travelling the world throughout your childhood?
I went to Malaysia when I was six months old, so my first memory is of coming back to England when I was a toddler, and it being cold, and not wanting to wear socks and shoes. Then I settled very happily into my primary school and going off to Hong Kong when I was six or seven was a wrench. I hated leaving my friends and really didn’t want to go.
On school visits, I often tell people that the move to Hong Kong was what first made me into a writer. It was tough, to start with. I felt like an outsider at my new school and it took a while to settle in. Meanwhile, I read and read and read for comfort. I think all writers have had a moment in their lives when they feel like they’re looking in from outside, observing what’s going on. You never really lose it. It’s hard at the time, but very useful later on.
Then I started really enjoying the fascinating life out there, with all the strange creatures in the garden - from poisonous spiders to stick insects - the shops selling jade sculptures and silk purses, and the completely different Chinese culture to learn about. From then on, I’ve loved to travel and counted myself very lucky to be able to live and study in so many places around the world. Give me a passport and a travel bag, and off I go …
Are you working on any new books at the moment, if so can you give us a sneak peak into what it will be about?
I’m working on a story about a girl forced to live out her worst nightmare: pretending to be the girlfriend of one of the boys in a super-band. It’s early days yet, but we’ll see how it goes.
Do you have a favourite author that has always inspired you to write?
I think Noel Streatfeild has been my biggest inspiration, because like me, she chose to write about girls who are creative and have to make their way in the world. But I’m also grateful to Hilary McKay, for writing about families so well, and Louise Rennison, for being so funny, and PG Wodehouse, for writing such perfectly-constructed stories that have made me weep with laughter. And there is always Jane Austen. One of the first, and still one of the best. I love her tongue-in-cheek, ironic style.
What are your plans for the future?
To keep writing novels for as long as I possibly can. To write another series soon, because I love developing characters over the arc of several books. To get this book about the girl and the band working the way I want it to … It’s always about the next book.
You can find out more abour Sophia at sophiabennett.com or doublecluck.com.
The Castle (£6.99) is out now, for more information about this book please visit doublecluck.com.