Wednesday 15 October 2014

The Write Way with Vanessa Curtis

After reading and adoring, The Baking Life of Amelie Day, I managed to convince Curious Fox to let me interview the author, Vanessa Curtis. Keep reading to find out  how well she copes under interrogation…
Vanessa Curtis Photo
1) The Baking Life of Amelie Day has just been published.  Can you tell my readers a little bit about it?
The novel features fourteen-year-old Amelie who is totally obsessed with baking. She lives with her mother in a converted stable block and has a best friend called Gemma and a very supportive boyfriend, Harry.  The novel opens with Amelie about to find out that she has been selected to appear in Best Teen Baker on television – but there’s a problem. Amelie also suffers from an illness called Cystic Fibrosis and there’s no cure.  Sometimes she’s so ill that she can barely stand up straight. So her mother isn’t happy about her attending the competition in London and things reach a dramatic climax when Amelie takes matters into her own hands.
2) Where did the idea for the book come from?
I watched a TV documentary a few years ago about some young adults who had Cystic Fibrosis and were waiting for lung transplants. It really shocked me to see how they could hardly breathe and were desperately waiting for donors. When I decided to write a book about a girl who bakes I wanted to give the book a ‘heart’, too – some emotional depth. I also found out that people with CF tend to eat a lot of extra calories to prevent weight loss, so it seemed the ideal combination to feature a girl with CF who was also obsessed with baking.
3) I thought you dealt with the topic of cystic fibrosis extremely well, but I am not overly familiar with the condition. Have you had anyone  with cystic fibrosis read it and give an opinion?
Yes, I have. I followed the blog of Victoria Tremlett, who lives with CF, and wrote to her while I was penning the book. She read a copy of it recently and said that it actually moved her to tears and felt very realistic. Since then another teen with chronic illness has also said similar. So I am relieved that I have managed to do the right research for the condition and I’m also pleased that I’m able to raise awareness of Cystic Fibrosis at the same time.
4) Have you tried and tested all the recipes in the book? 
Oh yes – of course! Any excuse to do a spot of baking! I either devised the recipes myself or was given them by friends and family. I’m particularly fond of the German Gingerbread recipe and often make that.
5) Are you a plotter or a pantser when it comes to starting a new book? 
No idea what a ‘pantser’ is, but I’m guess it might mean ‘flying by the seat of your pants?’ I’m more of a plotter, although I don’t write very detailed synopses, just the bare outlines of key events in the novel and where I want them to happen.
6) Do you try and aim for a daily word target when writing?
I do try to, but sometimes more words come out and sometimes less. On a good day I can pen up to 4,000 words, which is very gratifying.
7) Do you edit as you go along or do you wait until the first draft is finished?
I tend to rattle off my first draft without paying too much attention to the finer details. Then I put the draft aside for a few weeks and come back to it with a red pen in hand,  scribble all over the text and then start the re-write.
8) Which authors inspired you whilst growing up?
I used to love reading autobiographical novels like ‘Frost in May’ by Antonia White and also mystery stories like ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ by Joan Lindsay. I’ve always loved ghost stories, so authors like M.R. James and Susan Hill have always been favourites.  I also love a humorous book, so the Diaries of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend are sitting on my bookshelves at home.
9) If you could have written any other book in the world, what would it be?
I was full of admiration for ‘The Glass Tree’ by Simon Mawer. That’s not a book for kids, but for adults. I loved the fact that the story was all based around different people coming and going from a striking glass house against a backdrop of war and social change. I’m also a big fan of the novelist Lionel Shriver – she seems to be able to get inside the head of her readers and transcribe their innermost thoughts and concerns onto the page, whilst making her writing sharp, funny and intelligent.  And of course like many children’s authors, I may occasionally have wished that I came up with the idea for ‘Harry Potter’!
10) What are you working on right now?
I’ve just completed a ghost story which my agent is in the process of selling.  I also have a YA novel about a girl in WWII Latvia, 1941, coming out in January with Usborne Books. The next novel will also be historical and will be set in 1950’s Munich.
11) What advice would you give unpublished authors?
I’m often astonished that new authors don’t read books set in the style/genres that they are hoping to succeed in. I think it’s so important to read everything you can get your hands on – without doing this, you have no idea what’s selling, what’s popular, or how to write a novel which keeps YA readers gripped and turning the page.  I’d also advise unpublished authors to consider the services of a good literary consultant, who can help with editorial issues and also with putting together a package to send to publishers. I run my own literary consultancy and really enjoy working with new authors to make their books as good as they possibly can be before submission to publishers/agents. 
The Baking Life of Amelie Day was published by Curious Fox in September 2014
Amelie Day loves to bake - cupcakes, biscuits, bread, tarts and muffins - so she's thrilled when she's invited to compete in Britain's Best Teen Baker of the Year. But Amelie has Cystic Fibrosis and some days she can barely breathe. Determined not to let her condition or her mum stop her, Amelie musters all her flour power, but will it be enough to get her there?

To find out more about Vanessa Curtis:

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