Thursday, August 02, 2012
MFB interviews: Cathy Hopkins
When S&S offered me the chance to interview Cathy Hopkins, one of my favourite teen and tween writers, I jumped at the chance. I read through her most recent title: Love At Second Sight and came up with a set of rambling over-excited questions that she kindly answered for us:
1. Can you tell MFB’s readers about Love at Second Sight?
It’s a love story about Jo, a teenage girl who has been unlucky in love while her mates are all happily paired off. When she’s dragged along to see a clairvoyant by her best friend, Effy, she’s told that the reason she hasn’t found love is because she has already met her soul-mate but in a past life in the 1800’s when her name was Henrietta and she worked as a governess to a doctor. During this time, she fell in love with the doctor’s son, Howard but the family kept them apart. The clairvoyant goes on to tell her that as Jo is back in this life, so is the boy and she won’t find true love or happiness until she finds him again. At first, Jo thinks it’s all a load of nonsense but events start to happen that make her think – could what the clairvoyant said be true? And if so, how is she ever going to recognise the boy who is The One?
2. I loved Jo’s character – she is such a lovely sensible girl. In this instance, did you find Jo first or did the story of LASS come to you first?
The story of Love At Second Sight came first. It was after I’d been to see a clairvoyant with a friend and she told me that, like in the book, in a past life I had been a governess called Henrietta who lived in Bristol around the 1800’s and, as in the story, had been governess to a doctor. She also told me I’d had many lives before that but that was the most recent! After that, I started thinking, what if? And the story started to unfold. I wanted Jo to be cynical about the idea of reincarnation but her friend, Effy would be the open minded one who would urge her to pursue the idea that if she was back, so maybe would be the people she had known including a boy who had been her soulmate.
How much research did you do into past lives and hypnotherapy? I was told by S&S that this was an interest of yours before you decided to write LASS.
I did a lot of research. I read lots of books and watched whatever DVD’s I could find out about the idea of reincarnation and case histories of people who had said that they had some recall of previous existences. All fascinating stuff. I have always asked questions like, where have we come from? Where do we go when we die? So I enjoyed giving those questions to my characters and tried to represent all the different viewpoints in how Jo and her friends approached the idea that maybe we have lived before and that the physical body is like a cloak that we wear when we’re born and shed at the time of death while the spirit lives on through many lives.
Personally I don’t know if it’s true that we live on or not. I guess there’s only one way to know and that’s to die and find out!
4. I liked how you showed Jo’s sessions with her hypnotherapist – made us understand why she was having these chats with Fiona. Do you think kids still have a preconceived idea about why adults and kids visit therapists?
I suppose some kids, teens and adults have preconceived ideas about why people visit therapists - that it’s for the mentally ill or hypnotherapy is only for smoking, weight problems or insomnia. Others recognise that with the right therapist, the value of therapy at a difficult time or turning point in life can be far reaching. In the book, Jo is going for help to a therapist because of the difficulty she is having sleeping but her sessions lead to much more.
5. Jo’s character goes through this great character arc – do you sit down and consciously plan how your characters develop or do they have a say in it too?
Both. When I’m writing, I do aim for my main character to have an arc of change so that they are different in some way, either in thoughts, attitude or appearance by the end of the book, to show that they have evolved through the story and what has happened to them. That said, when writing, as the character develops and becomes more real in my mind, they start to have their own say too. It’s great when that happens.
6. How long is LASS? Did it take you longer to write as your Million Dollar Mates and other Cathy books (as I refer to them) tend to be smaller books?
It’s 309 pages long and the idea had been cooking in my head for many years before I sat down to write it. I researched the idea over a year and a lot of the story and details came from the books and case histories I read about. After that I worked on the outline and characters. Then when I finally sat down to write it as a book, it took about eight months.
7. Are we seeing you focussing on books for older teens after LASS? And then a completely self-serving question: will there be more Million Dollar Mates?
At this moment in time, I’m not sure. I have another idea for a one off novel which I am working on at the moment. Again, the theme will be to do with finding a soulmate. Is it choice or chance that you meet someone?
I’m not sure about another Million Dollar Mates book either. There are four book in that series out so far and a fifth, Super Star, due to be published next spring.
I have also been thinking of a new series with a whole new set of characters. So far, a girl has come into my mind and a name. Beatrice Brooks, known as Bea to her friends. And I know she’s a Scorpio. I’ll have to see how vocal she becomes but so far, she’s looking interesting to me with a lot to say for herself. For the next month or so, I will put some thoughts and ideas down and see which ones come to life the most – and of course, which ones appeal the most to my publishers.
8. I loved your descriptions of North London and especially Highgate and the cemetery. Do you visit there often? And tied in to this question, do you ever feel yourself being a bit Gothicky?
I set Love at Second Sight in North London and parts of it in Highgate cemetery because yes, I had visited there a number of times and used to live just down the road from there – so all very familiar territory. The cemetery is the most wonderfully atmospheric place, like a film set for a Gothic movie, in fact I think it has been used in a few films: Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Dorian Gray both have scenes set there amongst others. There are regular daily tours around the cemetery because as well as the atmosphere, there are many famous people buried there. I also liked the idea that if we have lived and died before, how weird would it be to come across the grave of someone you once were. Woohoo. Shiver down the spine time…
I wouldn’t describe myself as Gothicky but I do like some aspects from the Victorian era – the buildings, architecture and interior décor in particular. Not sure I liked those long dresses though, too hot and constricting.
Who from the Victorian age would you like to meet over dinner if you had the chance to do so?
I’d like to meet Elizabeth Siddal, the model and muse for the Pre- Raphaelite painters. I’d like to ask what her the painters in the circle were really like and what it was like to have modeled for them and how were women like her treated. In the book, Love At Second Sight, Jo has a few Pre-Raphaelite posters on her bedroom wall including the one of Elizabeth Siddal when she posed as Ophelia for Rossetti. Also, Elizabeth Siddal is buried at Highgate cemetery.
10. The boys in your novels always feel so true to me. Ben in this, along with Owen and Finn really ached with realness – do you have a secret stash of boys that you watch and write about for your girl characters to fall in love with?
The boys in my books are part imagination – the kind of boys I wished had been around in my teenage years and part real, a mix of my friend’s teenage boys or someone I have observed when out and about. I base my characters on real boys as opposed to the boy band pin ups or current A list teen stars.
11. I loved the three friends’ relationship – Tash and Effy are such good kids – and I know from your Million Dollar Mates how important friends are to you and your characters. Do you have really good friends you still hold dear and do you use them / situations you’ve been in your writing?
I write about the importance of friendship in all my books because I think the friends you meet in your teenage years can last a lifetime whereas boys can come and go. I still see two friends from my teenage years, Annie and Nicky, and value them highly. We’ve known each other through such different phases of our lives, know each other so well and are always there to support each other or just hang out and we can go back to being fourteen in an instance. I feel very lucky that in my life, I do have the best group of female friends, some from the old days, some more recent. They make me laugh like anything, are there when I need a shoulder to cry on plus will always tell me if my clothes are wrong or my eyebrows are the wrong shape (thanks Carol…)
And yes, I use many instances from my teenage years and the experiences I had back then in my books. It was a very happy time for me. That said, certain things don’t change whether you’re fourteen or forty so I can also use a lot of current stuff too – like after a date, how soon is too soon to call a boy/man without seeming uncool? That kind of thing never changes.
12. How many books do you write a year now and when you get the chance, how do relax? Do you ever have the chance to read for pleasure and if so, are they adult titles or do you prefer other kids’ books?
I write between one and two a year now, though Love At Second Sight took longer because as I said earlier, I was researching it for a long time before I sat down and plotted the storyline then began to write it.
I do read for pleasure, both adult, teen and kid’s books. I have piles of books all around my bedroom waiting to be read – all genres, some modern, some classic. I am endlessly curious and love the insight that a book can give, whether into another culture or idea or person’s angle on life. I like nothing more than having lots of books waiting to be read. They’re like parcels that haven’t been unwrapped yet and I don’t know until I open them what’s inside.
Find Cathy's website here and do pop by tomorrow for my review of Cathy's newest: Love At Second Sight.