1 As you were so recently a 'teenage reader', what is your view of teenage or 'young adult' fiction as a genre? What were you reading when you were 15 years old?
As a genre I think teenage fiction has a long way to go. There is still a tendency for authors and publishers to condescend to teenage readers and foist on them novels that are are too cliched or under-developed for the the adult market. I think there is still a perception that writing for children and teenagers is easier rather than simply different. Children find inaccuracies and inconsistency just as annoying as adults, if not more so, and are equally rigorous about pointing them out.
However, there is a great deal of excellent teenage fiction out there which should not be ignored and a lot of writers are attempting to gain a greater standing for the genre. When I was fifteen years old I read everything I could find. I don't discriminate about what I read and tend to give most authors a second or third chance even if I haven't enjoyed their work in the past. What I remember the most about being fifteen was being deeply engrossed in David Eddings' Belgariad and Mallorean and Weis and Hickman's Dragonlance series.
2 Your favourite author is Diana Wynne Jones. What is it about her books which works so well for you?
I enjoy the way she uses myths and legends as part of the background to her novels and I find the worlds she creates interesting and unusual. I almost always feel an empathy for her characters. I especially like the way her novels always go somewhere. There's always something to be discovered which adds to the richness of the entire story once it is found out. Her novels are an adaption of the quest motif which doesn't involve an endless trog across the same old fantasy landscape.
3 Your authorfile says that you like reading with a cat on your lap and a cup of tea at your side. This is not quite the image of the author conjured up by Hex! As your mother (Mary Hoffman) is an author, you must have met many writers. Do you find it strange connecting books with the people who wrote them?
Not really. The whole business of writing and publishing is very separate from reading and books. The writers I meet are often very entertaining and interesting people but I rarely think about them in terms of their books. The way I feel about writing is that the story already exists and the writer is the means it uses to get told.
4 How did you get to write the Independent article about 'Absolutely Fabulous'? You are now reviewing for the Daily Telegraph. Do you intend pursuing journalistic work alongside novel-writing?
The Independent article was the result of having a friend whose father worked on the newspaper. I didn't really get interested in journalism until later when I started reviewing for the Telegraph. It's something I'd like to pursue because I enjoy talking and writing about books and it's something I'd like to be able to do well.
5 You remember a number of teachers who influenced you at school. Have you ever been tempted to become a schoolteacher yourself?
I've considered it. It's very difficult to support myself as a full time writer and I've considered teaching as an option. I think I'd enjoy it, but the responsibility is a little alarming. It would be exciting to inspire children in the way I was inspired by some of my teachers, but I'd hate to be the teacher that everyone disliked!
6 Had you met Douglas Hill before sending him the manuscript of Hex, and how significant was his liking of the story?
I'd met Douglas at several publishers parties and always liked him. I was very flattered when he said he enjoyed Hex and since then I've got to know him better. Douglas has always treated me like a writer which is great, since the publishing world can be intimidating for a first-time author.
7 We have been told that you wrote Hex when you were nineteen. You are now (I think) in your early twenties. Does the delay indicate a lengthy process of re-writing, or is there another reason.
I came up with the idea for Hex when I was seventeen and wrote most oof it at eighteen. It was accepted for publication shortly after my nineteenth birthday. Since then the manuscript has been trudging through the publication process and has been delayed by things like my exams and deciding on the cover art. It did take longer than we expected it to, but having my first novel published is exciting no matter how long it takes. I'm now 21 and hopefully the sequel should be out next year.
8 Hex is set in London during the 23rd century. Although it is very much a futuristic novel, there are elements of life that have remained the same. London is still recognizably London, despite the five mile high buildings. Did this vision of London as it might be in a few centuries time develop as you wrote the book, or did you construct it before beginning?
I wanted to set Hex in London because it's a city I know well but when I started writing Hex I came up with an image of a city with incredibly high buildings where the heights were gleaming and beautiful and the depths hidden from sight. It occurred to me quite soon that the two ideas were complementary and from that was created a London which had swallowed its own history, building on top of the ancient parts of the city in an effort to progress.
9 Transport is by flitter and by skimmer. These feature prominently throughout the novel. They help to convey a graphic picture of moving across and in between the bridges connecting the buildings of the five-mile-high city. Are these your own invention or are they based on futuristic video games or sci-fi comics?
The specific images are my own invention, I could see them quite clearly in my head while I was writing the book, but this kind of image is familiar to anyone who reads graphic novels or plays action based games, or watches science fiction films. I wanted to draw on those elements so people who read Hex will see the images as clearly as I do.
10 Did you write Hex as a 'science fiction' novel?
Yes. I didn't think about the age group I was writing for so much as the kind of novel. As the characters developed it became clear that this would be a book for teenagers, but I concentrated on the sci-fi element more than the age-range.
11 The search and quest storyline carries the reader along at a hectic pace. I read the book in two settings. There is a terrific shoot-out at the end. We mustn't give too much away here, but this is very much a book with an exciting climax and a clear resolution (albeit one which opens the way for a sequel). Do you have any feelings about novels which do not resolve themselves in the way that Hex does?
Hex turned itself into a trilogy almost without me noticing. I was half way through writing it when I realised that I could never fit the whole story into one book. Once I'd realised this I started thinking about how I could turn the first episode of an adventure into a novel with a beginning, middle and end. I hope I've succeeded in that. I tend to prefer series in which each book can be read alone. Something like David Eddings' 'Belgariad' isn't really five books - it's one big fat one.
12 Clearly the two sequels to Hex will be a similar types of book. Do you aim to establish yourself as a writer of futuristic fantasy, or is it likely that you will later turn to contemporary fiction?
I don't know what I'll end up writing. But I'd to continue with sci-fi and try out some fantasy and magicial realism as well. After that, I don't know, I have a lot of ideas I need to get down on paper.
13 There is friction in the brother-sister relationship between Wraith and Raven which gives the novel depth. Was this relationship based on personal experience (do you have a brother?), observation, or imagination?
I have two sisters, who I'm very fond of, but we used to fight all the time. The relationship between Wraith and Raven developed as a dramatic necessity. Raven is very much the focus of Hex, but she is impulsive and often over-confident, Wraith is calmer and more rational (as well have being much more ethical). The characters are designed to complement each other, positive and negative, together forming a whole person.
14 The mousemat distributed with review copies of Hex is a rare but welcome example of merchandising being used to promote a first novel. Walter Mayes and others who have discussed this on ACHUKA believe that the promotion of fiction to older children and teenagers still has a long way to go. What are your own views on this?
I love the mousemat! I think its an immensely cool idea, aomething that's appropriate to the kind of novel and a great promotional give- away. I haven't really thought about it that much, but I have noticed that people who make computer games or market films throw themselves into the promotion with incredible gusto, whereas publishing houses tend to construct a few posters and displays and let books sell themselves. I don't know whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. I'll have to think about it some more.
15 You work in the afternoons or late at night. Do you write by hand or straight to your Macintosh computer? What program do you use?
I write straight to my Mac most of the time but I keep a lot of notebooks in which I jot down ideas and play around with concepts. But the actual story always goes directly to word-processor.
16 Do your friends in London and Oxford all know that you have written a children's book? How has publication affected your life so far?
All my friends know about it and have been very enthusiastic about it. Several of them have read Hex as well. So far it hasn't really changed my life, except that I find being published good motivation for continuing to write, but I think it'll have more of an effect on me once I start to see reviews and get letters from people who've read Hex.