A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
What’s your relationship with festivals?
I went my first festival (Reading) at seventeen. Me and my best friend Lora, to whom REMIX is dedicated, shared a tent amidst a camp of boys from our village, one of whom was my ex. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’ve plundered some of that first festival experience! I’ve been to more since although there was a decade gap before I went to Reading again a couple of years ago for ‘research purposes’ – it was exactly the way I remembered it. Festivals are a timeless teen experience.
How did you finally settle on a title (I remember you tweeting about this process and trying to get it right)?
There was a stage towards the end where I lay down on the kitchen floor and cried because I JUST WANTED IT TO BE OVER. Then the gifted Daisy Jellicoe, who is currently an editorial assistant at Walker and will one day rule all of publishing, came up with REMIX… and we all liked it. Thank God.
How do you pick your character names?
They usually emerge along with the characters. I made Kaz’s up and I’ve always wanted to write about a Ruby. If I get stuck, I usually look up the popular baby names used about 12 years ago. I also write down interesting names in the back of one of my notebooks whenever I hear them.
Does music play a big part in your life?
Incredibly so. My relationship with the songs I listen to is in many ways more important and more personal than the relationship I have with the books I read. Music brings back memories and makes me feel things that I’m not sure I’ve felt for real – there are certain songs that make me want to stop whatever it is I’m doing and sit down and write.
As a parent what are your thoughts on festivals? Would you let your child/teen go to a festival?
It would be hypocritical of me to say I wouldn’t! It would scare the life out of me, but 90% of being a parent is dealing with the overwhelming fear that Bad Things might happen to your offspring. All you can do is try to bring them up sensible and strong.
What are the pros and cons of going to festivals?
Festivals are a good trial for real life ahead of leaving home (maybe to go to university) and live alone for the first time – it’s a taste of complete freedom from adult intervention. You can choose what time you go to bed, what you eat, who you talk to… you’re free to make decisions and make mistakes. I’d guess those mistakes would count as the cons. The one thing I’d say to anyone going to a festival is to have your mate’s back. Know where they are and know whether they need you.
What do you think the common stereotype/assumption is about teens and festivals?
That it’s all about getting drunk in a field and having sex in a tent. I think there’s a lot more of one and less of the other – and these things can happen on any holiday. A festival is as much about staying out late and dancing, or bonding (platonically) with strangers around a campfire and a love of music.
Could this heart/core of this novel have worked in a different setting, (not at a festival) or was it essential to the story?
I always saw the festival setting as essential to the story because REMIX is as much about Ruby and Kaz’s relationship to music as it is about their relationship to each other. As the drafts evolved, this aspect of the book got filtered into fewer words, but it’s no less important to me, or to the characters.
Did you have a playlist whilst writing REMIX?
Yes – all the chapter titles are named after songs!
Did you suffer the pain of the dreaded 2nd novel syndrome while writing REMIX?
Understatement of the year. I will simply refer you to my last Allsorts post when I wrote a letter after hitting rock bottom on the book. I think my expectation that everything would be fine because I refused to buy into the myth* was my downfall.
*Not a myth.
Close female friendships form the foundation of this novel, how important have they been in your life?
I can probably divide my life into three eras of close female friends from junior school to my twenties. True best friends are people with whom you share all of yourself; the best and the worst and although it’s a great gift to give someone, it does leave you open to a huge gaping loss when it doesn’t work out. It takes time to recover from that and in the interim periods, I’ve learned to make peace with only giving little bits of myself to a lot of different people.
I love the way Lee’s sexuality is dealt with in such a matter of fact and straight forward manner at the beginning of the novel, did you feel a responsibility to represent diverse characters in any way?
Yes and no. I firmly believe that there needs to be more diversity – in race, sexuality, disability and more – across children’s literature and I will always endeavour that my writing reflects this. Having said that, the characters I write tend to emerge fully formed, the way real people do: Kaz is mixed race, Ruby is short, Lee is gay, Owen is a bit overweight… it’s just who they are. The thing that I did feel responsible for was making sure that the reader knows these facts without it being done with some kind of weird jazz hands flourish. (I’m please you think I managed this!)
It is clear that you have a love of literature and I revelled in the references to Harry Potter and Say her Name (?) was this something you set out to do, or simply happened as you were writing? Do you like seeing references to other books when you’re reading a novel?
All characters need a code which is dictated by the things you watch and read and listen to. These are the things you choose to define yourself by – whenever I write up my characters I think about what they’re into and because I’ve recently become a bit obsessed with comfort reading/viewing of Harry Potter, so did Ruby. The Say Her Name reference came about because I was hunting around for inspiration for the sort of things teens do for a dare and saw James Dawson’s book on my shelf – every time someone notices it, I get a burst of joy. These things are like Easter eggs for the reader, in-jokes that you can enjoy if you know the reference, but pass you by unaffected if they don’t.
You highlight the power of words when Kaz calls Ruby a bitch, did you have any battles about any of the swear words used in REMIX with your publisher?
None whatsoever. I adore my editors for this. REMIX spends a lot of time taking it close to the bone on swears – Ruby’s enjoyably creative with how she uses them, but it loses meaning after a while and her recourse for further action isn’t to use words, but to run away from saying anything at all. Because Kaz never swears, when she does, it’s a real burn.
Which character dominates more for you, Ruby or Kaz? Did you look at their word count, is it equal or does one of them have more to say than the other?
I did look at the word count at one point, but can’t remember who had the edge! I found Ruby’s voice much easier to get into than Kaz’s – Ruby is quick thinking and plain speaking, which suits how I write, whereas Kaz is more guarded, slightly more considered and (a lot) more sophisticated. At the start of writing REMIX, Kaz’s story was the one that was driving the book forwards, but I don’t think that’s how it ended – they’re both in this together now.
Did you set out to write a novel about the power of female friendship or festivals or both?
The festival setting was important, but it was Kaz and Ruby’s friendship that lies at the heart of the book.
I loved the sibling relationship between Ruby and Lee, I thought his comments on P.176 about not passing up on the chance to travel because of Ruby really interesting and quite unique. Are sibling relationships important to you, is this something you’ll write about again?
Thank you! Ruby and Lee’s relationship was something I worked very hard at getting right, with a lot of support from my editors. I don’t have any siblings myself and their relationship started off a bit too idealised because I was writing myself a brother that I wished I had. (Actually, if I had to pick a brother from the cast of Remix, I’d want Owen.) My next book features brotherly relations, so I guess it is something I’ll carry on writing about!
Did you cry/laugh/have an emotional reaction to any of the scenes you wrote?
A lot of the things I did to Ruby in the last third of the book made me uncomfortable when I was writing about them – as they should, because they’re uncomfortable things to think about. I spent a good portion of the last part of the chapter called In Motion with my face screwed up as I typed. On the bright and shiny side, I had a lot of fun making up Lee’s nicknames for Ruby and laughing at a fantastic Voldemort joke that I cut from the final book. (Hopefully I can share it as part of some deleted scenes…)
Is there any topic/subject/theme that you would steer clear of in future novels?
I always say religion, because I’m not religious myself and have a fear of being hamfisted with something that means a lot to other people.
I have to ask…what’s next for you as a writer?
Walker have offered for two more books (about which I feel *incredibly* lucky) and the first of those is called Truth or Dare, about two teenagers who team up to film dares and post them online to raise money for a local residential hospital. For Claire, it’s about shaking off a lifetime of being considered a coward; for Sef, it’s about saving the hospital where his older brother has lived since he fell from the local viaduct and nearly died. As the dares get more dangerous, Claire starts to worry less about saving Sef’s brother and more about saving Sef himself…
So I guess I’ll be writing that and playing a lot of Spider Solitaire.
Non is the author of YA books TROUBLE (currently shortlisted for the Branford Boase) and REMIX, both published as of right this second by Walker Books in the UK. She also has an unhealthy Spider Solitaire addiction.
Rhian Ivory was found on the slushpile at Bloomsbury Children’s Books. The slightly quirky title of her first novel ‘When Isla meets Luke meets Isla’ caught the eye of a commissioning editor and 4 book deals followed writing under her maiden name, Rhian Tracey.
Rhian’s new YA novel The Boy who drew the Future will be published by Firefly Press, September 2015.
The Boy who drew the Future is about witches, the workhouse and water.
Rhian has always wanted to be a writer but was told to get a proper job, so she trained as a teacher. Rhian currently lectures in Creative Writing and Children’s literature but spends as much time as possible on her non-proper job, writing.
Rhian is Patron for Reading at Akeley Wood School, Buckinghamshire.
Rhian is also Writer in Residence for The National Trust.
Rhian is represented by Kirsty McLachlan of David Godwin Associates.