YA Shot! Q&A with Jenny McLachlan


A few months ago, I  was asked if I would like to take part in the YA Shot B/Vlog Tour 2016, and immediately thought it was a good idea!
For my post, I'll be doing a Q&A with Jenny McLachlan, author of the fantastic Ladybird series.

About Jenny:
I have always loved reading and I studied English at university just so that I could read a bit more.  Next I found my way into secondary teaching and discovered that I loved it too: I got to read more books, show off and hang out with very funny teenagers.  What a great job!

Teaching English also encouraged me to write.  Soon I had planned and started lots of different stories, but they were all abandoned and shoved to the back of a drawer.  Then, one day, the plot for Flirty Dancing came together; Bea’s story was so alive it was like a film running in my head and I knew it was a story I would finish.

Over the next few years, various exciting events distracted me from Flirty Dancing: I got married, travelled the world, was chased by an angry elephant (and a pack of dogs) and I had two babies.  While I was sitting on trains, swimming in the Outback and raising two crazy girls, I kept thinking about Bea, and her friends, Betty, Kat and Pearl, until I realised I had planned three more books.

In 2013, after attending the Winchester Writers’ Festival, I plucked up the courage to send Flirty Dancing to Julia Churchill, a brilliant children’s fiction agent at A.M. Heath. With dazzling speed I was then signed by Bloomsbury to write the four books in the series.

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You can see my reviews for Jenny's books here:
 - Flirty Dancing (The Ladybirds #1)
 - Love Bomb (The Ladybirds #2)
 - Sunkissed (The Ladybirds #3)
 - Star Struck (The Ladybirds #4)

Now onto the questions:

1. How old would you say you were when you realised that teaching, and later writing, was what you wanted to do?

I never planned to become a secondary school teacher or a writer. After I finished university, I trained to become a primary teacher, but quickly realised it wasn’t for me. I was observing a lesson in a secondary school and I was struck by how happy I felt – teenagers are really funny! It was a bit like coming home and I knew that this was where I wanted to work. I suppose I’m on the same wavelength as teenagers (or I’ve never grown up?) and writing stories for them seemed like a natural progression. I was thirty when I started writing Flirty Dancing.

2. Can you tell us a little bit about the Ladybirds series?

 This series tells four coming-of-age stories of four very different teenage girls: Bea, Betty, Kat and Pearl. When Flirty Dancing opens, the girls are leading separate lives at secondary school, but they were once best friends. Over the course of the books, the girls rediscover the friendship that once tied them together.

3. How did Bea’s story come to you? Was it all at one, or more of a gradual process?

 The whole story came in a bit of a flash, but of course it had been bubbling away in my mind for years, probably since I was a shy teenager at secondary school. When I was in my twenties, I learnt to jive and it gave me so much confidence that I wished I learnt to dance when I was a teenager. One day the pieces all fit together in my mind and I sat down and planned the book.

4. Whose story was your favourite to write, and why?

 That’s a tricky question! I think Sunkissed was probably the most enjoyable one to write as I got to imagine I was spending the summer on an idyllic Swedish island, eating cinnamon buns and night swimming.

5. This will be a bit of a Sophie’s Choice type of question, but which of the girls is your favourite?

 That’s an even trickier question! I’m going to have to say that Pearl is my favourite because she has come such a long way since she first appeared in Flirty Dancing. She’s still very vivid in my mind; I could easily imagine her walking into the room and talking to me…or possibly swearing at me.

6. Further point- which love interest did you most enjoy writing about?

They’ve all been pretty enjoyable. Falling in love for the first time is magical, but I think I most enjoyed writing about Betty’s love interest. There are a lot of goosebumpy moments in Love Bomb. Having said that, nothing beats the sock scene in Flirty Dancing. I still read that if I need cheering up!

7. Did you know when you began writing the series how it would end, or did it develop as each book was written?

I had planned out all four books but they did develop as I wrote them, especially Star Struck, Pearl’s story. When I planned this book in detail I realised that I’d made Pearl fall in love with the wrong person. There is only one person in the book mighty enough to take on Pearl!

8. What type of research did you do as you wrote? Is anything taken from your own life?

With each book that I’ve written I’ve moved further and further away from my own life and experiences. I suppose I’ve used them all up! Jive, poetry, Swedish islands, funny little sisters and eccentric nans all come from my life. The book that I’ve just finished writing – Star Gazing for Beginners – has required the most research. The main character, Meg, is obsessed with the stars and astrophysics so I had to learn a lot very quickly. It was brilliant. I spent a month reading books, watching documentaries and speaking to scientists at Sussex University. Now when I look up at the stars I understand how tiny and insignificant I am!

9. What type of advice would you give to teenagers reading your books now? Or to any aspiring authors out there?

I think the key to becoming a writer is developing the ability to step back from your writing and be critical about it. It took my ten years to write Flirty Dancing, and the final manuscript was virtually unrecognisable from the original one that I wrote. There were lots of points when I nearly gave up – in fact I once gave up on it for four years – but I’m glad I persevered!

10. What has been your favourite part of being an author since the beginning until now?

Watching the stories come alive on the page. I always feel a bit terrified when I start a new book – and it doesn’t seem to get any easier - but I force myself through the difficult first chapters and then one day I realise that the story has taken on a life of its own. It’s amazing!

11. Now that the series is finished, what are your plans for the future? Are there any books currently in the works you can talk about?

 I’ve already mentioned Star Gazing for Beginners which is out next year, and right now I’m writing a book set at the start of sixth form. It’s a love story and, in my humble opinion, the heroine is awesome!

Thanks, Jenny, for taking part in this Q&A! I'm really looking forward to Star Gazing for Beginners, and your other future books.

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