Quickfire Questions with... Times/Chickenhouse competition winner Sophia Bennett

Which 3 writers, living or dead, would you invite to dinner?

Noel Streatfeild. All-time heroine, and apparently the first children's writer to make book tours into an event and be really glamorous. I'd love to ask her about that. JK Rowling. For all the obvious reasons. And to talk about how she's getting on with changing the lives of children in Eastern Europe. Petrarch. I once got to hold his Rime in the Vatican Library (long story), with his own writing and rubbing out! Was overwhelmed by a sense of kleptomania, held in check only by the Swiss Guard at the door. I'd love to talk to him about how great the South of France is. And poetry. If I could have a fourth, it would be Caitlin Moran. I've admired her since she was a teenager and I've just discovered her on Twitter. And can I have Meg Cabot too? Please? And Aaron Sorkin, so I can fall at his feet about how good the West Wing was? Plus Petrarch will need another bloke to talk to. The writer who's given me the most pleasure over the years is PG Wodehouse, but I feel as if I know him so well already, so I'm happy with six.

What's your favourite writing snack?

Homemade popcorn. The people in the library must hate me for this. I make a real mess. But usually I forget to make it and take it with me, so I end up with an Innocent smoothie, a banana and a Twirl. They can keep me going all day if necessary, reinforced by cappuccino from local coffee shops. Getting them out of my rucksack and laying them round my laptop is one of my favourite bits.

Longhand or computer?

Computer. Except for the final read-through, where the words suddenly look different on paper and I change loads of minor stuff.

Win Booker prize or land Hollywood film deal?

Carnegie Medal. Then Hollywood deal. But actually, it was really just 'see copies of book on shelves of local bookshop' and I've done that now. Everything else is icing.

Tabloid or broadsheet?

Both. Broadsheet for actual information, and tabloid for essential gossip, such as finding out what trouble Liz Jones has been causing on Exmoor, or how Kanye West is feeling about Swiftgate. Love it.

Independent bookshop or Amazon?

Independent bookshop. Had my launch party there. Love it to bits. It's where I find out what to read. Amazon to feed my ranking obsession, though, obviously.

Hacker or adder?

Hacker every time. I love taking stuff out. And if I've rewritten a sentence four or five times and it still isn't working, I just bin it. It always reads better.

Plotter or panter?

Plotter to start with. A chapter will be 1000 to 1500 words and I have a paragraph explaining who the main character is (of the 4 I'm working with in this series) and what happens to them. Then panter, which is my favourite bit. How to start? How to follow on from the scene before? What precisely are the emotions involved? How will the characters surprise me? What will the rhythm of the scene be? Will I be able to pick up on unexpected themes from previous scenes, or seed new ones? That's when I feel like I'm earning my popcorn.

Leave on a cliffhanger or tell all?

Oh, SO cliffhanger. Until the final chapter, when I do a Miss Marple and cover all bases. I care about all my characters and I want my readers to know about all the lovely things that happen to them. Or, occasionally don't.

You really must read…

Fermat's Last Theroem. Simon Singh is brilliant at making maths fascinating and cool. The Tipping Point. Malcolm Gladwell is brilliant at making virology as applied to merchandising (neither of which I fundamentally cared about until he put them together) fascinating and cool. How Not to Write A Novel. Makes writing fascinating and cool. We knew that anyway, but they make it funny too. Notice no fiction. I can't read fiction so much while I'm writing, and I've just finished a book. A little while ago, though, my son was into Cressida Cowell's How to Train Your Dragon series and I used to beg to be allowed to read them to him. Brilliant and hilarious. She's a genius, that girl.

I get most excited by…

One of my characters doing something unexpected and brave and a little bit dangerous while I'm panting. I'm that girl in the library staring at her Mac and silently going 'Yay yay yay!' with her arms in the air.

If I wasn’t a writer I would be…

Someone who really, really wanted to be a writer. And possibly still a management consultant. So far, it's been better at paying the mortgage than writing. But MUCH LESS FUN.

An author should never…

Believe that what they've just written is good. Until they've pulled it apart and checked and tried to make it better and surprised themselves. According to Stephen Fry quoting Clive James quoting Thomas Mann (I think I've just made that fourth-hand), 'A writer is someone who finds writing more difficult than other people.' When I got that, I started writing much better.

Sophia Bennett won The Times/Chicken House Competition 2009 for unpublished writers of children's fiction, with her debut children’s novel (it kind of had to be, to qualify ...) Threads. Her great loves are art and design, her four children, fashion magazines, cappuccino, her husband and her job. Not necessarily in that order. She lives in London, where she is currently working on book 3 in the Threads series. She has also written for The Times and The Guardian.

Threads website here
Buy the book here


Caroline Green said...

I love your comment 'everything else is just icing', Sophia!
Thanks so much for this and wish you huge amounts of luck with Threads and its sequels.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Caroline! It was lovely to talk to you.

Luisa Plaja said...

Great interview! I particularly loved 'everything else is just icing' too.

Administrator said...

Great interview, Sophia!

I'm intrigued, why do you work in the library? You could make as may popcorn crumbs as you wanted, at home!

Essie Fox said...

Thanks, Sophia!

Lizzie said...

I think I might have missed some vital part of being a writer – what's a panter?

Can someone tell me, please!

Caroline Green said...

So sorry, should have explained that! We had a post here:

...last summer about how writers tend to either plan everything or write by the seat of their pants...hence 'panter'!

Lizzie said...

Thanks for that Caroline. I was imagining a lot of heavy breathing writers ... And who know, perhaps there are!

I think I'm a bit of both; planning the first few chapters and key moments along the way, but after that it's just seeing where my characters take me.

Caroline Green said...

Yes, me too. I'm neither one nor the other strongly. But I don;t think I have quite found out what sort of writer I am yet though...despite the hefty pile of manuscripts 'under my bed'

Anonymous said...

Hi Samantha
About working in the library ... apparently Stephenie Meyer wrote Twilight with her one year-old on her lap (as you do), but if I work at home, my three year-old uses me as a climbing frame. Plus I have wifi at home and tend to spend my time on Google. Or blogging sites ...

Administrator said...

Sophia, i am the same, googling and all sorts at home.

I can understand, now that i know you have tiny tots around! I admire anyone who writes with kids under school age.

Fionnuala said...

What fabulous answers. Thank You! I LOVE the West Wing and was in official mourning after I watched the last episode...

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