I’m sure I don’t have to tell anyone how very proud and delighted I am to welcome my daughter Victoria to the Reading and Writing blog today! I’ve watched her creative talent grow since she was about five or six and rejoiced when she developed her love for reading and writing to the stage where she began submitting short fiction and being published. But this has been her dream – to hold her own novel in her hands and her dad and I are celebrating with her! I couldn’t resist interviewing her but first a bit about Follow Me. It’s a cracking story, and I can’t wait to read it properly at last.
What is the deadly allure of the Barn?
17-year-old Kat Sullivan has been devastated by the loss of her twin sister, Abby, the most recent of five teenagers to have died in the town of Eddison, all within a year. No-one seems able to explain the circumstances surrounding her death.
As Kat struggles to move on, she is introduced to an underground hangout – the Barn – by Abby’s friends. There, she meets the enigmatic Rob and his friend Michael, art students who have re-created pop artist Andy Warhol’s infamous Factory, where creative types can construct art and socialise.
Drawn into Rob’s social scene, and seduced by the attention of this attractive stranger, Kat relishes the freedom and escape offered by the Barn’s non-conformity and creativity.
But the Barn holds a strange influence over those who frequent it, and soon Kat begins to realise how little she knew about her sister’s life.
Kat needs answers. She also needs to stay alive.
Follow Me is available in print from Amazon, Foyles, and to order from Waterstones and other bookshops. It is being launched by her publisher, Strident, at Waterstones, Argyle Street, Glasgow at 6.30pm on Friday 9th October. The e-book will follow in a few weeks.
Thanks for taking time to answer these questions, Victoria!
When did you start writing and why?
I started writing stories when I was in Primary School. I always loved reading and the idea of constructing my own stories appealed to me. It also helped that my Mum (you!) wrote, so it was something which always seemed a natural thing to do. I like the feeling of getting lost in a creative ‘flow’, which I think occurs when you write, draw, paint, play music... I can’t imagine ever not writing. It feels like a part of who I am!
How do you fit your writing around your full time day job?
It’s a challenge! I used to complain time was a factor, but then I realised it’s not always about time, it’s about head space and being able to switch from a work brain, to a ‘creative brain’. Once I’m completely lost in a story, which happened pretty much from the start with Follow Me, it becomes a lot easier. I had a good routine of writing Follow Me in evenings after work, and at weekends, but I’m not always so disciplined! I find a novel can live in my head for a while, and lines and scenes will appear at random moments throughout my day - I make good use of the notes section on my phone, so I don’t forget any ideas that appear throughout the day (or when I’m just about to go to sleep at night).
Have you always written novel length fiction?
No, I also like writing short stories and flash fiction. I also went through a phase during my University days writing quite angsty poetry (I wrote a slightly better poem a couple of years ago). I think writing shorter pieces helped to improve my writing, as it encouraged me to be a bit more experimental with my style. Sometimes an idea will come to me quickly and I don’t always want to explore it in a novel length piece – it can be satisfying to explore an idea in as little as 500 words.
What attracted you to YA fiction and do you enjoy reading it?
When the story of Follow Me started to form in my head I knew it was going to be a story about teenagers so it fitted into the YA genre, but ultimately I wrote a story which I wanted to read. I love reading YA as I think a lot of these books tend to be driven by character and plot and the authors aren’t afraid to explore emotional and current contemporary issues. I think it’s more recognised now that even if a book is labelled Young Adult, a lot of the time that readership extends way beyond teens, which I hope will be the case with Follow Me.
Definitely – I love this type of fiction!
There are a lot of Pop culture references as well as poetry – is this something that particularly interests you?
During my undergraduate degree in Communication and Mass Media one of my favourite modules was Popular Culture. I developed a fascination with Andy Warhol, one of the leading Pop Artists and I continued to read about his art, and life, long after I graduated, all of which influenced the idea to feature an underground hangout in Follow Me, called the Barn, modelled on Warhol’s infamous ‘Factory’ studio. Warhol was very perceptive about the direction society was heading in, with his art mirroring society’s increasing obsession with fame, celebrities, and ‘the surface image’. These are themes I touch upon in my story.
I always enjoyed analysing poems during Higher and Sixth Year Studies English (though focused on more contemporary poets during that time), and grew up surrounded by book cases containing a wide variety of poetry. I liked the idea of incorporating some quotes from poems into the story. Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn (quoted in Follow Me), is a brilliant poem, and I like the layers of meaning you can get from it.
Why did you make your story about twins?
When the plot was developing in my head, my main protagonist, Kat, came to me first, and I knew she was going to be struggling with the unexplained death (an apparent suicide) of someone very close to her. I thought it would be interesting to explore the relationship of twins and the guilt Kat would feel knowing she had distanced herself from Abby, wanting to forge her own identity. It also allowed a couple of instances of mistaken identity and confusing emotions between her and Rob (who knew Abby first).
Also Andy Warhol was a big fan of repeating images over and over in his work, to reflect sameness and the loss of originality. I think my subconscious was at work a lot of the time during the creation of this story!
Is music important to you and do you listen while writing?
Yes, I rarely write without music on in the background. It really helps me to get into the ‘mood’ of a story and I find some songs are a really good emotional soundtrack to help me get into a certain state of mind. I love the band The Silversun Pickups and a lot of their songs became the ‘soundtrack’ for Follow Me.
How did you feel when this first YA novel was accepted?
Amazing! My publisher sent me an email one night telling me he had finished reading Follow Me and wondered if I could meet with him the next day. Due to personal and work commitments I had to wait a very long two days before I could have the meeting, and I still didn’t let myself believe it was good news as I’d had so many ‘nearly there’ moments with this book. So when I heard the words, ‘I loved your book and want to publish it,’ it was a brilliant moment. I really appreciated the fact my publisher told me face to face and talked me through a lot of things during the meeting. It made it all the more exciting!
Are you writing another?
Yes. I’m not going to say much, but it’s another YA mystery.
Any tips for new writers?
Read lots – you really learn your craft from paying attention to good writers. Write lots –experiment with different genres, styles and lengths. Join a writing group and attend festivals/events, to get feedback on your work and to speak to other writers. If you believe in your story, there’s a good chance someone else out there will too (and if you’re lucky they’ll appear in the form of a publisher).
Good advice! Thanks a lot for sharing your interesting answers and have a great time at your launch!
Victoria Gemmell lives in Renfrewshire and her debut Young Adult novel Follow Me is due for release this week by Strident Publishing Ltd. Whilst studying an undergraduate degree in Communication and Mass Media, Victoria developed a fascination with pop culture and Andy Warhol, which has influenced a lot of the ideas in Follow Me. She works with teenagers on a daily basis as a careers adviser and loves films, music, art and chocolate.
Victoria has had shorter works published in journals such as the WordswithJAM anthology An Earthless Melting Pot, The Grind Journal, The Puffin Review, FlashFlood, Word Bohemia and The Bohemyth Literary Journal, writing under the name Vikki.