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Can you tell me a little something about yourself?
Yep, I’ve recently had all my hair cut off, I’ve got a big freckle under my left eye and a small scar on my right thumb. I got that scar poking a patch of rust on an old car I once had. What else? I’m hideously close to arriving at a significant birthday landmark, I have a tendency to get addicted to pointless computer games and I always have to get my trousers shortened. Oh, and I wrote those books about Lottie Biggs.
Did you have a role model growing up?
No role model as such; nobody I particularly looked up to or tried to emulate in anyway. But my parents did a good job. Neither of them was particularly into books but they were always happy to buy me plenty of them! And they took me and my brother loads of places. Castles, theme parks, zoos… I’ve got lots of memories of interesting holidays and exciting days out. We were lucky in that way. I’m quite sure that my love of Wales grew from a holiday we had in North Wales when I was about seven. I was really amazed by the landscape and also completely fascinated by the people I overheard speaking Welsh. It was that initial romantic impression of Wales which made me choose to study at a Welsh university when I was eighteen and after that, I spent many years living there. This is why Lottie Biggs is from Cardiff. So to get back to your question; beyond my parents, I had no obvious other role models. But I don’t think I needed any others.
Who do you look up to now?
Most people. I’m only 5 foot and a half an inch.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Oh this is such a cliché I know but I ALWAYS wanted to be a writer. When I was about eight or nine, I remember that we had this classroom helper called Mrs Burrows and I remember her explaining the word ‘ambition’ to us and then asking us what our ambitions were. Without any hesitation, I’d said, ‘My ambition is to write books.’ I’ve actually written a few books now so I suppose it’s fair to say I’ve fulfilled that ambition. It’s funny how the goalposts change though. I now want to go into a bookshop and see a whole shelf of books with my name on.
Tell me something about the women in your life who have been an influence on you?
Well obviously my mum has influenced me. And also my female friends. Those I knew when I was a teenager and those I met when I was a student and am still very good friends with now. But to be honest, I don’t really have many women in my life! But I love this question so I’m going to talk about the women who I really admire. This could go on for a while so I’m going to restrict myself to picking four. And first is:
PJ Harvey - the British singer song-writer. I’ve been thinking about her a lot just recently because I’ve been listening over and over again to her latest album ‘Let England Shake.’ It’s not an easy listen; it’s all about war so in places it’s actually rather depressing. But I think that CD is a total masterpiece. The more I listen to it, the more I hear. I think PJ Harvey is amazing. She’s been making music for more than twenty years and she still sounds totally unique. I think she’s a very good example of what happens when someone is left alone to be creative in their own way.
Harper Lee – the author of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. So she only ever wrote one book. But OMG – WHAT A BOOK! I’d love to have half an hour to have a cup of tea with Nell Harper Lee. Unfortunately that will never happen because she wisely shuns adoring admirers like me.
Harriet Tubman – one of America’s greatest heroines. Except that hardly anyone has ever heard of her. She was born into slavery, escaped from it and then over a number of years, helped hundreds of other slaves escape up to the free states of the north or to Canada. She was a tough old bird make no mistake. If a slave panicked and was too afraid to escape with her, it’s said that she’d hold a gun to that poor person’s head and say, ‘Come with me or die.’ Whatever her methods, she risked her life again and again to help other people and was one of the few women to fight during the Civil War and campaigned for women in the U.S to be given the right to vote. Her name should be much more well-known than it is. The fact that it isn’t suggests that we still live in a white man’s world.
I also admire the sixties French singer Francoise Hardy. Because she was cool and beautiful and played the guitar. I think it would’ve been quite nice to have been her actually.
Who is your favourite fictional character? And why?
Ooooh. Let me think. Oh crikey, what a good question. There are so many. From ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ I’d have to choose Mrs Henry Lafayette Dubose who is this horrible, rude old lady who sits on her veranda and shouts stuff like, ‘Don’t you say hey to me, you ugly girl,’ to little Scout Finch – who is only about seven. I think it says something deeply disturbing about my own character that I like Mrs Dubose and can identify with her in some ways ;-)
I also like Henry Sugar from Roald Dahl’s short story ‘The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar.’ He’s a bit of a rogue and learns to see through playing cards so that he can travel the world ripping off all the casinos. But then his conscience catches up with him and he uses all his winnings to set up orphanages. Which is very good of him but actually I think it’s his earlier wild streak that I’m attracted to.
Who else? Well I have to finish with Adrian Mole. To my mind, Sue Townsend created the most perfect comic creation ever. And he’s just so real. I’ve grown up with him. Adrian Mole made me laugh and cringe and howl with disgusted delight when I was twelve years old and he still does. I’ve never been a big one for fantasy. If you look closely enough at life, it’s weird enough. The Adrian Mole books perfectly illustrate this.
What were you like as a teenager and how did you cope with all the changes that occurred?
Oh God… [insert long pause]. I’d love to say that I was terrifically cool and funny and popular but actually I wasn’t any of those things. I found the ages eleven to sixteen to be extremely difficult. Within school, I had no confidence at all. This was probably because I looked about ten years old the entire time. And I had really rubbish hair. Also, I never really had any close friends and so I just sort of muddled along in my own way. I read a lot of books and I listened to hours and hours of the radio. Every Sunday, I’d listen to the chart countdown and make a list of all the records in the Top 40. One year, I managed to do this every single week! So I was very well-read and I knew a lot about music. Neither of those things are bad in the long-term; in fact, they’re both very handy and probably helped me to make interesting friends when I was a little bit older. It didn’t feel like much fun aged thirteen though. Still, I don’t worry about any of that now. It’s all part of life’s weird plan, isn’t it?
If you had any advice for yourself as a teenager, what would you say?
Hang on in there kiddo, when you get to university you are going to have such fun. And one day, you’ll marry a bloke you are totally mad about. (And I mean ‘mad’ in a good way)
Of the issues and concerns that women are faced with today, what's the area you most like reading/writing about?
Pffff. Deep. I haven’t got a clue, sorry.
Thank you Hayley! Such fun answers :)
For other interviews and posts in my Awesome Women feature or to take part yourself, please see here.