Don't Ask is a book about love, friendship, secrets and social networking sites. I wanted to explore how social networking sites have affected the way people communicate, and how easy it is to pretend to be somebody else on one of these sites.
The story follows a girl called Lily, who has suspicions about her boyfriend, Jack, because he's very secretive when it comes to his past. Using a social networking site, she invents a new persona and befriends his ex girlfriend, hoping that she'll find out the truth. But things soon get out of control and Lily finds herself trapped in a growing web of deceit, with unexpected and disturbing consequences.
2. Is there a specific time or place that you do your best writing in?
I'm not one of those people who can write a novel when I have a spare few minutes between finishing work and watching Eastenders. I have to get totally absorbed in my writing and my characters to do it well. So I tend to write in spurts. I'll take a week off work, lock myself away from all distractions, and write solidly for 10 hours a day.
I'm a night owl - I'm hopeless in the mornings - so I tend to start mid-morning and go on till quite late. I usually have my best ideas in the shower. Someone needs to invent a waterproof laptop!
3. How did you get into writing young adult fiction?
I've been writing fiction for as long as I can remember. I wrote my first 'novel' at about the age of seven. It was about an orphan named Annabel! I have no idea what happened to it.
But when I was a teenager, I went through an awkward, self-conscious stage and lost confidence in my creative writing ability, and I didn't really get it back until my late 20s. By then, I was working as a journalist and agony aunt for newspapers and magazines. I covered a lot of young adult issues and, as agony aunt for CosmoGirl!, I talked to teenagers all the time. I sent some ideas to Piccadilly Press and, to my delight, they liked one of them, which became 'Loving Danny', my first young adult novel.
4. Who were your favourite authors as a teenager? Are they different to your current favourites?
There wasn't that much young adult fiction around when I was a teenager, so I mostly read adults books. But I remember loving Judy Blume's books, especially Forever, which was a revelation to 12-year-old me. I also remember reading the Sweet Valley High series, which were a guilty pleasure, rather than good reads. I remember I had one which was interactive; depending on which option you chose you had to turn to a different page, which influenced the character's fate.
I still think Judy Blume is great. I also really like Anthony McGowan, who writes really clever, gritty books, and Gabrielle Zevin. Elsewhere made me cry.
5. You touched on serious subjects such as domestic violence, self-harm and false identities in both your novels. Is this something that you set out to do?
Yes, I think books should be entertaining and have something to say. I've learned so much about life, other people and relationships from reading books, and I'd like to think that readers of my books can take something away with them too. I want to make readers think and feel something, as well as - hopefully - make them laugh and be absorbed by my books. As an agony aunt, I get so many letters about relationships that have gone wrong, people who self-harm, violence, eating-disorders etc. and I know these are issues which affect lots of teenagers. I hope that by tackling them in fiction I can provoke thought and even provide some answers, without preaching!
It's interesting you picked up on the issue of identity. I think that's probably the most important theme in both my books. Being a teenager is a time when your identity is changing, growing and being challenged all the time. It can be very scary and confusing, and also exciting, as there's so much future possibility. I try to capture that in my novels. And, to be honest, I'm still trying to work out who I am and where I'm going too!
6. Are you a fan of social networking sites like Katie is of ‘Topfriendz’?
I'm not a fan of them, but I have joined a few, notably Facebook, because so many of my friends badgered me! I caved in to peer pressure, I'm afraid. They are a terrible distraction - I can't help myself checking Facebook about 40 times a day, when I'm supposed to be working. But I am now back in touch with some friends I'd lost contact with, which is great.
On the other hand, I'm not sure if it's healthy the way social networking sites have made friendship about quantity rather than quality. They say you only ever have four or five true friends in your life - people you can really trust and count on. Most people on Facebook have hundreds!
The site from Don't Ask - Topfriendz (www.topfriendz.com) - is now a real, working social networking site, so readers can join if they want to meet some of the characters in my books, talk to each other, or ask me anything.
Danny, from Loving Danny, has his own myspace page too: (www.myspace.com/wonderfulls).
I like messing around with truth and fiction...
7. Both of your novels feature boys in bands. Do you think every girl likes boys that can sing or play an instrument? (I know I do!)
Well, that's not entirely true. Loving Danny is all about a guy who is the lead singer of a band, but the boy in the band in Don't Ask doesn't exist - he is a figment of Lily's imagination...but I don't want to give anything else away. You'll have to read it if you want to know more.
I don't think every girl likes musical boys, but I'd hazard a guess that the majority do. Otherwise, why have guys from Elvis to the Beatles to Duran Duran (big in my day!) to McFly etc. etc. been so popular with teens?
There's something very sexy about a guy who can sing or play an instrument. I think it's the mixture of talent, creativity, good looks (usually), passion and edginess that does it.
I actually ended up marrying a singer-songwriter, so clearly I never grew out of it!
8. What are you working on at the moment?
I am working on a couple of ideas for novels, which I can't really talk about at the moment. Watch this space...
Thank you very much, Hilary. You can see my review of ‘Don’t Ask’ here. You can read a bit more about Hilary and her books at Piccadilly Press website. I highly recommend Hilary’s books; they’re brilliant.